An Incredible Emphasis on Family

By: Camille Carloss

There was once a time where inappropriate shows were saved for night time- after little eyes were closed and fast asleep. Now it seems that nothing and no time is appropriate television for the entire family.  Many movies need to be censored and the lines of PG and PG-13 are getting blurrier by the day. Alongside this, we are in a time of political unrest and transition towards more liberal agenda: mainly, questions of gender and equality seem to steep into everything, especially media.  Some blogs ago, I wrote about Netflix and how we need to guard ourselves and be careful of what we watch and what media we consume. At the time, I felt a little near-despair at the media choices available. But then I went to see Incredibles 2 and I got pretty inspired…

Browsing Netflix options left me feeling a little hopeless.  But leaving Incredibles 2? I felt hopeful.  I felt joy.  I was overwhelmed by the sense of family that the movie encapsulates and felt like this was how movies are supposed to be. This is how you are supposed to feel after watching a movie.  And then I thought about the fact that the last movie I had seen in the theaters was A Quiet Place, which didn’t leave as many positive feelings as Incredibles 2, but which had the same factor that made both movies so great- the emphasis on the family.  

I also find it incredible (no pun intended :P) that both movies are vastly different, but have so many similarities. Both Incredibles 2 and A Quiet Place are primarily about one “nuclear” family.  Each movie discusses different family roles, including mother and father (and all the gendered issues that arise with stark roles). Heck, each family even has the same child sequence in both gender and birth order.  Without giving away too much (but potentially containing small spoilers), here are some of the reasons of why I found these movies relevant, complex, and great:

Both Incredibles 2 (I2) and A Quiet Place (QP) have nuclear families with “stereotypical” mother/father roles. In QP the roles of mother and father are very stark and conventional: the father is the provider and protector, while the mother deals with matters of the home and nurturing.  Some critics might scoff at these stereotypes and rail against them as rigid gender roles, which is an issue in the movie, but I would argue that the family is doing what comes naturally. John Paul II professes the beauty and ingenuity of the human body.  What we call “gender roles” and try to erase, he affirms as fitting and directed by the male and female anatomy. The man’s body is stronger and points outward: he naturally tends toward protection and works outside the home. The woman’s body, as hidden and complex as she is, is nurturing and points inward.  A woman’s body provides the first home for a child, therefore, it is fitting that she tends toward the home, toward nurturing, toward the little hidden intricacies a man may not notice. Now, this certainly does not mean that every father needs to be the one with a job and providing for his family through hunting, or making large amounts of money, and guarding the house with a shotgun to protect them, nor every woman be confined solely to the home.  The society we live in is a little different.  We don’t live in a world, like QP, where the man needs to be actively protecting from a vicious physical threat and needs to be hunting and providing food.  But, men do carry the responsibility of providing for their families in some way, and especially in the spiritual sense. Through concupiscence and the fall, some men may throw themselves into work to provide for their families’ material needs, while they neglect their spiritual  responsibility of the protecting and providing for the souls of their children and wife. Though the family in QP does have these roles, which the parents accept, the issues of gender roles arise when the same roles are imposed upon their children.  

Gender roles and what it means to be masculine, feminine, father, and mother are large themes of each movie. In QP, the large tension comes from their children: their eldest child, a girl, wants to provide and protect- she wants to go with her father when he leaves, but she is instructed to stay and learn the ways of the home with her mother.  Similarly, the second child, a boy, is commanded to join his father, so that he can provide the male role if anything were to happen to Lee (father). The boy is terrified of leaving the home and clearly does not want to accept the role placed upon him.  This provides interesting questions of whether it is okay to impose these roles so harshly (though, in this context the situation is life or death) or if the child should be able to have a voice.  Clearly this isn’t some sort of 50’s stark role imposed because of parental choice, but out of dire necessity.  It does raise some interesting questions and, I think, like I2, the gender role issue becomes resolved. But, first, let’s see what Incredibles 2 tells us about parenting and gender.   

I2 also plays with the idea of mother and father and their typical and atypical roles.  QP is more complex and intricately woven, while I2 is pretty stark and humorous, these portrayals give us different insights and appeals to the very different audiences of both films. I2 left me with a little taste of overt feminism, but I think it resolves itself in the end.  This films tackles the issue of Helen (Elastigirl/mom) as she goes to work and Bob (Mr. Incredible/dad) has to take care of duties around the house.  Essentially, they swap roles in their particular family and they swap the stereotypical roles. This provides humor as Bob has to juggle teenage emotions, new school curriculum, and a- previously undiscovered super- baby.  Bob ends up a wreck in just a few days, which shows that working in the home is a job and it is a difficult one, at that.  But the movie doesn’t stop here, as many do, making the father a bumbling and incompetent fool, who is lost without his wife. In this film, after much needed rest, Bob shows up and learns how to juggle this new role- he excels and pushes himself for the needs of his family.  Bob doesn’t provide for them in the bringing-home-the-bacon way as before, but he sees what their specific needs are and works diligently to provide them. In an interview, when the producer of I2 was asked “What do you think is core of this film?” she responds eloquently and beautifully:

Parenting is an act of heroism.
— Nicole Grindle

Both movies encapsulate this message. Later in the interview, she says about parenting: “You have to push yourself through exhaustion to do the right thing.” This is what Bob does when he takes on the “mother” role and, after much hard work, he succeeds.  

Outside of the home, Helen is working to provide for her family and work to legalize supers.  Now, in the beginning of the movie, and throughout, one can definitely see a politicized and pretty blatant feminist agenda. I think QP is definitely more compelling in the complexity of gender issues, but again, that movie is for adults.  Though, I think I2 can be viewed as pushing a political agenda, I think both films redeem themselves in the end.  Not to mention, (spoiler alert!), that a big warning against over-feminism can be supposed in the fact that the most feminist female character turns out to be the villain. Though I2 is, perhaps,  a little more overt, I would argue that the endings of both I2 and QP assert that male or female- gender roles, or not- the family unit is most important and both families are willing to face whatever may come, for the good and prosperity of their respective families.  I will try not to spoil either movie, but I will simply say that at the end of each film everyone must come together to survive. Each family member has to make sacrifices. In I2, Violet (sister) and Dash (brother) fight about who gets to participate in fighting and who has to care for the baby.  In the end they realize that one person needs to sacrifice their, somewhat prideful, desires and watch the baby. In QP, the daughter has her chance to help in a more protective role, but the son must also face his fears to serve as a protector for his siblings and parents.  In the end of both movies, the entire family is needed- father, mother, daughter, and son. Ultimately, being a family and protecting that family trumps any issues over gender roles.

In a time where watching prime time television is questionable, my past two cinema experiences have acted as a matchstick amid the dark abyss that I felt the media sinking into. This experience, of such drastically different movies, both ultimately focused on the nuclear family gave me hope and gives me hope for the future.  Sure, television is becoming more and more permissive and standards are lowering. Sure, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my (future) children being in the room while the news is on (because Viagra must have a monopoly on after-work commercials). Sure, most Netflix movies and TV shows make me feel a little cringey. But, despite the seemingly overwhelming cause for despair in media, the fact that two of the most celebrated and anticipated movies from the past few months are both so life affirming and filled with great messages of family, community, and self-sacrifice gives me an incredible amount hope.

Postscript on pro-lifeness of A Quiet Place:

One of the most intense issues in this film is that Evelyn is 9 months pregnant and living in a world where sound kills.  Birth, itself, is not usually quiet… much less high-stress, doctor-less, epidural-less birth. And babies… they make noise.  Some may think that conceiving a child in literally the worst and most perilous conditions for one is, at best, stupid and, at worst, irresponsible.  The family raids pharmacies for prescriptions, couldn’t they raid one for condoms? They probably could have, but they didn’t. And, though I don’t think conceiving a child was intentional, it is not perceived as a burden, but as a gift.  Evelyn doesn’t try to have an abortion. Though this birth is likely to kill herself and possibly her baby, the family chooses life. And this makes sense. Through the movie, though grim, life is celebrated and family is a blessing. The family even says (well, thinks) grace to themselves before meals.  In a world where despair should be evident, this family fights for life, fights for hope, and fights for the family.