A Quiet Place starring John Krasinski is a movie that was critically and financially successful at the time of its release. But over four years since its premiere, the film is curiously most well remembered for a seemingly inconspicuous whiteboard that appears in its first ten minutes. The whiteboard is in the main character Lee’s surveillance room and it contains all of the information that they have gathered on the monster, questions they still have about the monster, and the keys to survival in the world they inhabit.
What has gone so viral about this whiteboard to the point of spawning entire articles is that the information written on it is blatantly for the audience’s benefit rather than Lee’s. Lee having inhabited the apocalyptic world of A Quiet Place for well over a year by the time would surely not need to constantly remind himself that the monster is blind, reacts to sound, and has armor, that medical supplies and sound proofing are important for survival, or that they still don’t know “WHAT IS THE WEAKNESS”. The whiteboard is just a way for the director to communicate the premise of the movie and the rules of its world to the audience without having to present it in a natural manner.
This whiteboard is indicative of a larger problem throughout A Quiet Place, that the movie seems both entirely proud of its world building and yet entirely unconfident in it at the same time.
In the movie’s opening scene we see some of the most subtle and effective world building in any movie. The family is exploring an abandoned convenience store taking care to be entirely silent while doing so. We see that noisy foods and pill bottles remain in the shop despite the clearly apocalyptic scenario. To this point in the film we do not know that there are monsters who are attracted to sound, but we understand and are intrigued by the fact that sound is for some reason feared by this family.
The family leaves the store and goes outside where we see the first glimpses of the movie’s lack of confidence in its world building as a conspicuously placed newspaper flaps towards the camera with the message “ITS SOUND” on the front page. The movie has already done an incredibly good job of communicating that something about sound is feared in this world, and yet it feels the need to spell the conceit of the movie out to its audience in the least subtle manner possible.Only moments later in the movie we would see the first large sound be made, and thus discover that there is a monster which is attracted to sound, and yet the movie didn’t seem to think this would communicate the premise of the movie clearly enough.
Throughout A Quiet Place there are so many instances of subtle story telling and worldbuilding that when the movie is so overt it’s all the more unsavory. We see Lee putting more sand paths we see the children playing Monopoly with felt game pieces, we see the mother cooking using a steamer, the family eating without cutlery on plates of lettuce. All of this, while not immediately obvious, shows us the life this family has created in a world where sound is a death sentence. It’s intriguing and sad and most importantly feels real.
This raises an interesting question: is it more important for a movie to be presented in a believable manner or for the audience to have a full and complete understanding of its concept?
I think this is a big reason for why A Quiet Place was incredibly popular upon its release but has looked on less favorably in recent years. While its lack of subtlety and restraint in communicating with the audience was beneficial for viewer comprehension and clarity, on repeat viewings it becomes all the more egregious. You don’t recognize that the chips and pills have been left behind or that the Monopoly pieces are made of felt, you just recognize how dumb it is to have a whiteboard that says “WHAT IS THE WEAKNESS”.
A moment where A Quiet Place finds a perfect medium between natural storytelling and direct communication to the audience is the scene with Lee and his son at the waterfall.After accidentally making a sound near the waterfall, the son is understandably fearful and tries to run away but Lee stops him and explains that it’s okay because the sound of the waterfall is big enough to cover up the sound that they made. The communication of this rule makes sense in the context of the movie as Lee is trying to reassure his son that he is okay in doing so.
We see another scene of the two, now directly under the waterfall, where Lee loudly yells out to demonstrate this rule further. Then we are shown the scene from far away where we see how the waterfall’s noise is able to drown out the sound of their yelling, cementing the rule in our minds.
Later in the movie when this rule comes into practice and the son drowns out the sound of the mother’s screams by setting off fireworks, we understand how this works, and why the characters know this works.