It’s the holiday season (well, okay, it’s coming to an end, but hey, it’s only January 3!), it’s winter, and it’s freezing outside – so this is movie season for many Americans, myself included. Over the past few weeks I’ve taken in my share of flicks, including the well-acclaimed 2012 release The Perks of Being a Wallflower starring Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller.
My boyfriend and I saw this movie at a local cheap theater because my friends gave it rave reviews. Overall this movie has garnered generally outstanding reviews (85% approval on Rottentomatoes.com), so we considered it a safe bet.
Maybe I’m in the minority, but I left the theater disappointed, less than dazzled, and heartbroken that this kind of movie is inspiring teenagers across the country.
At moments the story was touching, funny, and even deadly accurate in its portrayal of high school. The theme of friendship is important. I loved how Charlie’s friends banded together in support of each other through hard, painful times. I related to Charlie’s trouble to put himself out there in the high school social scene – I am an introvert too. It killed me to watch Charlie eat lunch alone. That’s why it overjoyed me (and probably everybody who viewed the film) when he summoned up the courage to reach out to spitfire Sam and silly Patrick.
(Also, I loved the touching scene when Charlie’s new friends gave him a spiffy suit so he’d look like the writer he dreamed of being.)
But the story went downhill from there.
I’m NOT troubled by the movie’s message that we all deserve love. This is a movie about supporting and loving your friends. Yes, we 100% need to stick by our friends and love them through hard times, bullying, confusion, and pain. Our world is full of evil and life is full of trouble, especially in those super-important high school years when you’re discovering yourself and trying to discover, who do I want to be? What is my purpose in life? I 100% agree that in order to survive this turbulent life, we need friendship, hope for the future and fulfillment in the present.
But I disagree with the movie’s portrayal of finding this friendship, hope, and fulfillment. The movie occurs mostly at raucous high school parties, and I’m sick of seeing this option presented in movie after movie as an option worth exploring for teenagers. Media and our culture makes partying and playing around with alcohol, drugs, and sex glamorous, but it’s an empty pastime. It has never brought anyone fulfillment and it never will.
Let’s be real – it’s good for art to portray life as it really is. And these are the dark realities of high school – the temptation to lose consciousness in the present and experiment with other mediums of pleasure. Kids know the dangers. They see this wild high school lifestyle in movie after movie.
I really think whether he intends to or not, writer Stephen Chbosky is advertising a wild lifestyle to teenagers, one with no qualms about its morality. Does he show the real, gritty consequences of playing around with alcohol, drugs, questionable drag shows, and sex? No. Not at all. They are actually his characters’ pathways to discovery about self and self-fulfillment. Charlie experiences liberation and excitement having taken part in this “adult world” with his friends by his side.
And there’s my main issue with the movie – friendship united by the bonds of exploring anything and everything that can bring pleasure, without any consideration of a bigger picture beyond your own sexual, sensual self-fulfillment. Ultimately this movie is saying pursue whatever makes you happy. Which is exactly the message of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in which Emma Watson’s character prances around the stage in her underwear, in one scene, and in a glittery outfit with characters in drag in another. In a scene that’s somehow supposed to be triumphant for Charlie, Charlie becomes the star performer in this sexually daring, provocative show.
And I’m supposed to cheer for Charlie’s sudden transformation, for his bravery, supposed to say “Good for you, Charlie, you stepped out of your comfort zone and participated in a sexually explicit show with absolutely no artistic or moral value whatsoever”??!
The Big Fat Lie that this movie promotes is that you can find happiness and contentment through all this free exploration. When will we realize that moral freedom never brings the happiness it promises?
What I did appreciate about “Perks” is its deep emphasis of relationships and friendship. Chbosky is on the right path. He’s just not traveling towards the right answer. Exploring the limits of our moral freedom will not bring us happiness. Contrary to the film’s portrayal of Charlie and his friends, who all seem okay at the end of the film, all this exploration does is leave us empty on the inside and searching for more. More drink to numb us to the pain of life. More sex outside of a committed marriage relationship with partners who have made us no lifelong promises, sex to bring us temporary joy.
None of this brings true peace and joy.
But when we submit our wills and our lives to our Creator, when we recognize that there is a person who can fill our hearts with all the love, joy, peace, and lasting fulfillment there is, and when we recognize all he asks is our faith and commitment to him, it’s surprisingly easy. It’s not about religion. It’s not about rule-following or giving up alcohol or fun. It’s not even about being “good enough” to deserve it, because we can’t.
It’s about a life-giving, abundant relationship with Jesus Christ, who showers us in grace even though we make mistakes over and over again. Jesus loves us and wants to set us free from the destruction we cause in our own lives when we sin, and sin again, and sin again. He died to erase our sins and take away our guilt – and give us something worthwhile to live for. Which is his glory.
Not just sex, drinking, confused relationships, and unhappy searching for something more.
Hollywood just doesn’t want to admit it.