Mad Science In Netflix’s The Silence

May 6, 2019

Welcome to Mad Science Mondays, where we talk about depictions of science in movies, TV shows, and books. We dissect the good, the bad, the comical and the outright irresponsible. Who says learning about science can’t be fun?

Let’s talk about The Silence.

When The Silence popped up on my Netflix browser, I admit I was a bit skeptical (Bird Box knockoff, anyone?). But I watched it because, quite frankly, I consider anything with Stanley Tucci in it to be a pretty solid bet.

Overall review: a pretty good way to rest my tired brain after a long day of research, with some interesting plot points. Except for the dog, because, come on. That was obviously going to happen, and the sheer “of course” of that moment robbed it of a lot of its emotional impact. And I still cry at the end of Where the Red Fern Grows, despite having read it a dozen times, so I’m pretty sure that’s not just me.

From a science perspective, though, I’m going to have to give this one a D. I have no problem believing that creatures who’ve been trapped underground for thousands-to-millions of years would have lost their eyes–we know that cave blindness is a thing that happens, and there’s even an interesting hypothesis to explain how. And if it’s dark, animals are going to have to rely on their other senses, like hearing, to find food.

But also probably their sense of smell. The vesps in The Silence don’t seem to have a sense of smell, as evidenced by how close they get to silent people without seeming to be able to find them. And we all know how I feel about predators not using their senses of smell.

I have a bigger question, though. For all those thousands-to-millions of years the predatory vesps were underground, what the heck were they eating?? It’s dark down there, so we know there’s no photosynthesis to support herbivores. And the herbivores can’t just be wandering into the cave, because if they can get in, the vesps could have gotten out.

Maybe the vesps are eating each other. There’s a lot of evidence for cannibalism in nature, from locusts to chimpanzees. It’s a pretty rare occurrence above ground though, for obvious reasons–if the species can’t reproduce faster than it’s consumed, it’s going to go extinct real quick. Because that’s how energy pyramids work.

Which leads me to question two: how were the vesps reproducing underground, when they apparently lay their eggs in the bellies of large mammals?

Maybe these questions are answered in the book that inspired the film, but as far as the film goes, I just don’t buy it.

Have you seen The Silence? What are your thoughts?

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