Suicide is Painless? My Two Cents on “Thirteen Reasons Why”

Greetings, bloggers! By now, the majority of the world has binged watched the new Netflix show “Thirteen Reasons Why”, based on the 2007 young adult novel by Jay Asher. Released on March 31st, and dealing with teenage suicide, the show instantly became popular, but just as quickly, sparked up a ton of controversy. It deals with not just suicide, but also bullying, self harm, sexual harassment, consent, sexuality, grief and rape. I was on the fence as to whether or not I was too late to share my thoughts on the show, but as I have some topics to bring up, I figured that I might as well jump on the bandwagon. As always, if you disagree with me on any of the topics, it’s perfectly fine, as it’s just a case of differing personal opinions. Also, I’ll be discussing some plot points in detail, so spoilers abound!

The show focuses on amicable high school student, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), as he tries to deal with his feelings following the aftermath of the suicide of his classmate and crush, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). Before she passed, she recorded a series of 13 cassette tapes . Each tape chronicles the 13 people who triggered Hannah’s decision to take her own life. And Clay is one of them.

The tapes are passed from person to person, in a chain letter format. As Clay listens from Tape 1, Side A to Tape 7, Side A, and follows Hannah’s clues, he soon uncovers dark secrets about the students in his school, and the sinister lengths they will go to keep him quiet…

First, let’s mention the positive elements of the show. I enjoyed many of the flashback scenes, as they really fleshed out the characters, and explained the motivations behind many of their actions. The best flashbacks featured Clay and Hannah together, as their interactions were typically sweet and genuine. Hannah and Clay’s friendship is expanded more here than it was in the original novel, where they were distant acquaintances. They are depicted as having a closer banter here. Although Clay liked her, he held back admitting his feelings for her due to her exaggerated rumours about her alleged promiscuous reputation. In the present day scenes, Clay tries to seek out justice for Hannah, as he grows more unhinged while listening to the tapes.

Another positive that I wish to mention is the addition of story lines. As the book takes place over the course of one day, we really only get to hear Clay’s and a few other’s reactions to the tapes, and don’t get to see  how events play out afterwards. Here, we get to see Hannah’s distraught parents (Kate Walsh and Brian D’arcy James) come to terms with their daughter’s death, as they bring up a lawsuit against the school for not doing anything to help her when she was alive, and the many of the kids featured on the tapes trying to stop Clay from releasing the information to the public to save their own skins. These reactions helped to project the story with a dose of realism, and helped to embrace the repercussions behind their actions.

Now onto the negatives! As you can probably guess from a show about suicide, the mood is somber and bleak throughout, with melodrama added for additional angst factor. Many of the “subjects” of the tapes are downright awful people, adamant that they did nothing to warrant the blame. However, a select few do feel genuinely remorseful or try to atone for their actions. In fact, one culprit feels so overcome by their role in Hannah’s death that they end up attempting suicide themselves, with their fate left ambiguous by series’ end.

In one of the last episodes, viewers find out what Clay did to end up on the tapes. It transpires that unlike many of the others, his reason didn’t plunge her deeper into suicidal notions, but she still feels she owes him an explanation for acting weird at a party they attended. His only “crime”, so to speak, was exiting the bedroom when Hannah suddenly freaked out during a make out session, and she yelled at him to leave, as she recalled other traumas that had happened beforehand. Clay feels that had he stayed, Hannah might have lived. In my opinion, there was nothing that he could have done to help her, since she was so far past the point of saving. In a realistic sense, nobody in that situation would have stayed, and although Clay tried his best to console her, it was ultimately no use.

One thing that bugged me was Hannah’s motivations behind sending out the tapes. Yes, they were designed to make the subjects regret the way they treated her, but at the end of the day, suicide is a decision that a person makes themselves. No matter how despicable some of the “reasons” may have been, it did seem rather extreme to have many of these characters blame themselves for a choice someone else chose to make. Suicide is never anyone else’s fault, and it is never a way to get revenge on those who have wronged you. The show does a good job in demonstrating the affects of suicide on the victim’s friends and loved ones, and how there’s usually more questions than answers.

In summary, my general consensus about the show is that it offers a realistic look, if extremely pessimistic view of high school life. With a topical subject as suicide at the helm of the show, it was inevitable even before it was released  that it would receive some backlash for some of its more harrowing content, no matter how the show runners chose to present it. While some of these scenes, most notably Hannah’s infamously graphic suicide, are deliberately intended to be hard to watch, I feel that it was ultimately the right decision to show them front and centre. It was important that these issues be addressed,as just because it’s an uncomfortable subject to talk about, doesn’t mean that it needs to be ignored entirely.

“Thirteen Reasons Why” rates as 3 and half stars out five. It bravely tackles difficult topics, but may upset more sensitive viewers. Finally, I’ll close out this review by stating that if you or anyone you know have suicidal thoughts, tell someone you trust, or contact the “Samaritans” suicide prevention website. It’s important to note that no matter how lost or alone you may feel, that suicide is not the only opinion, and that things do get better in time!

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“E.T.”is a Magical Classic that Never Fails to Enchant

Greetings, fellow bloggers! For my Halloween review, I have decided to review the 1982 Steven Spielberg classic, “E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial”. Spielberg considers it to be a loose sequel to one of his previous works, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). It’s regarded as a children’s film, but it appeals to the entire family as well. It’s undeniably a classic, for both old and young alike, and is iconic for featuring memorable scenes and quotations. I had originally penned a review for “E.T.” elsewhere on the site, but decided to revisit the movie again, after binge watching many a “Stranger Things” episode!

The Plot in a Nutshell: 10 year old Elliot (Henry Thomas) is a lonely, alienated kid living with his sarcastic older brother Michael (Robert McNaughton), precocious little sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), and his single mother Mary (Dee Wallace), who is still reeling from her husband having left her several months previously for another woman. Elliot is fetching a pizza in his back yard when he gets the feeling that something, or rather someone, is closely watching him.

It’s none other than the eponymous character, E.T., an alien who has been left behind by his own kind. Elliot is at first petrified of E.T., but then discovers that E.T. is just as lonely as himself, and wants to “phone home” to contact his own family, and alongside Michael and Gertie, makes it his mission to protect his new found ally from being discovered by their oblivious mother. Alas, sinister government agent “Keys” (Peter Coyote) seeks to take E.T. away…

My Favourite Scenes of the Flick: In a word, this movie is… timeless. Everyone remembers one significant scene from their childhood memories from this movie. That’s why it’s hard for me to choose just one moment. There’s the famous moon shot with the bicycle levitating across it, Elliot using  “Reese’s Piece’s” to lure E.T. out of hiding, E.T. going out treat or treating with Elliot and Michael at Halloween, and gleefully mistaking a kid dressed as Yoda from “Star Wars” to be one of his own kind, and my personal favourite, E.T. getting drunk off of some beer in the fridge, which causes Elliot to feel the effects of this in class, and revolt and unleash a gang of frogs from being dissected: “back to the rivers, back to the forest”!

While this is happening, E.T. watches “The Quiet Man”, the classic 50’s movie starring John Wayne as a retired boxer. As soon as the scene where he forcefully kisses Maureen O’Hara materialises, this causes Elliot  in his inebriated  state to kiss one of his pretty blonde school mates (Erika Eleniak)… only to find that she’s much taller than him. Thankfully, one of his buddies decides to help him out by allowing Elliot to stand on him so that he can have his kiss. This was a major “Awwww” moment for me when I was younger!

My Least Favourite Scenes of the Flick: It’s tricky for me to find a scene in this movie which I don’t like, but as a kid, the scenes towards the end of the movie where the government officials are invading Elliot’s home wearing spacesuits always gave me the chills as soon as they find out that there’s evidence of an alien in the dwelling. Watching it years later with a more mature perspective, it doesn’t come across as scary as it had been, but it’s still a tense moment.

Cast and Actor  Observations: For me, the casting in this movie is truly perfect. Henry Thomas is superb as the lonely Elliot, who finds solace in a similarly lost soul, and Robert McNaughton gets in a few comical moments as the initially aloof brother turned protector. Dee Wallace convinces as the mother who, for the most part, is unaware for the goings on surrounding her, as she’s so engulfed in her own grief. But the star performance for me was a young Drew Barrymore as Gertie. I just find her acting to be cute and endearing, and not irritating, as some child actors can be. I never fail to crack up at her declaring that she doesn’t like E.T.’s feet, in that matter of fact way that kids sometimes are particular to. As an additional note, Harrison Ford was to be cast as Elliot’s school principal who reprimands him after the frog incident. However, Spielberg felt that having such a well known thespian would distract audiences from the story, and ultimately sacked Ford.

My Take on “ET”: Part of the reason that “E.T.” is such a memorable movie even 34 years after it was first released is that it illustrates what it’s like to be a kid, especially during the chase scenes towards the end. (Word has it that Spielberg deliberately filmed the angle from the kids’ perspectives, so as to evoke a clear cut sense of opposition against authority). It’s without a doubt my  favourite movie by Spielberg, and one which I never get tired of watching. Plus, as I outlined in  my review of “The Goonies”, it gave me an appetite for “Reese’s Pieces” candy, an opportunity which “M and Ms” turned down, as they believed that the film would be a complete and utter flop. Needless to say, they ultimately came to regret the decision when “Reece’s Pieces” trumped them in sales.

Rating and Recommendations: “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” earns a full distinction of 5 out of five stars from me. It’s a fantastic movie which has aged well. It spawned several parodies, most notoriously in the form of the blatant rip-off that was “Mac and Me” (1988), but that’s for yet another review. The oldest I’d recommend a kid to be to watch this movie is 8 years old, as there are several scary moments. Also, the ending still manages to tug at my heartstrings, and likely will with old and young alike.  Happy watching!

Steel Magnolias is a Fantastic Weepy about Female Friendships

Upon hearing the premise of “Steel Magnolias” (1989) – a group of southern women share secrets and advice in a Louisiana beauty parlour- I was a tad skeptical as to whether this flick would be any good. However, the inclusion of renowned actresses such as Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Daryl Hannah and Shirley MacLaine in the cast, not to mention the successful stage play off which it is based, I was convinced to check out this movie. And boy, am I glad I did.

As the story opens, nurse Shelby (Julia Roberts) is due to be wed to Jackson (Dylan McDermot), a hotshot lawyer. Her loving, yet shielding mother, M’Lynn (Sally Field), frantically assists her in preparing for the nuptials. Also at the centre of the story are sunny beautician Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton), Annelle (Daryl Hannah), her demure, recently appointed assistant with a questionable past, and Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine) and Clairee (Olympia Dukakis), a pair of wealthy widows who occasionally butt heads more often than not.

These six women are there for each other, through thick and thin. When Shelby, a diabetic, announces her pregnancy shortly after the wedding, M’Lynn is cautious of the risks having a child could potentially bring to her daughter’s body, but is nevertheless supportive of the decision. As Shelby’s disease starts to take its toil on her, M’Lynn soon realizes that she needs the friendship of the group at the beauty salon more than ever…

The playwright behind “Steel Magnolias”, Robert Harling, based the character of Shelby on his sister, Susan, who also battled against diabetes for most of her life, and eventually finally succumbed to the condition. Harling himself cameos as the pastor who marries Jackson and Shelby at the beginning of the movie.

While the male actors are decent enough, with Dylan McDermot, Tom Skeritt and Sam Shepard all delivering strong performances, this is ultimately a woman’s picture, as their distinctive personalities and problems drive the story along. They are all given a chance to come into their own. MacLaine and Dukakis offer some comic relief in addition to the harrowing main story line with their witty verbal banter. Daryl Hannah is unrecognizable as the initially frumpy Annelle, who gradually becomes her own person throughout the flick, thanks to the nurturing of  Dolly Parton’s  Truvy. Hannah was seen as being too attractive to portray Annelle at first, but the filmmakers reconsidered when Hannah turned up to her audition dressed dowdily.

At the heart of the story is Shelby’s relationship with M’Lynn. The two actresses are suitably effective, with Field giving her performance her all as the distraught mother determined to do right by her daughter. Roberts is just as impressive in one of her earliest roles, going on to receive an Oscar nomination in the process.

I hereby award “Steel Magnolias” a total of four out of five stars for its ability to tug at the heartstrings. Be warned, you will need plenty of tissues on hand towards the end! I would also recommend the 2012 television version, featuring Queen Latifah as M’Lynn.