Perks of Being a Wallflower Speaks to Universality of Waiting to Belong

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Perks of Being a Wallflower Protagonists Charlie (Logan Lerman) and Sam (Emma Watson). Photo courtesy of: perks-of-being-a-wallflower.com

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not a movie that soon leaves you. Just the opposite, it is so powerful that it has stayed with me all week, ever since I caught the 7 p.m. showing last Friday in LPAC. Which is why, when I received my “Weekend Events” email, the first item I scrolled to find is whatever title follows “Movie Committee Presents:” Attending movies the past two weekends has reminded me of how transcendent a good movie at the end of a long week can be. It is not merely physical distance from our small collegiate world that makes leaving the bubble possible and worthwhile. All it takes is a few hours in a different mindset and faraway setting to see beyond a perspective informed solely by the daily realities of college.

Perks tells the story of Charlie (an adorable Logan Lerman). It is based on a book by Stephen Chbosky—who is also the screenwriter and director of the movie. Charlie is a freshman in high school, facing the start of a school year on the heels of a difficult period following the suicide of his best friend. Charlie is sweet, soft-spoken, smart, and utterly without defenses to the harsh chaos of high school. He soon meets charismatic Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his equally charming stepsister Sam (Emma Watson), and is welcomed into their eclectic group of friends.

The movie takes you on an intimate voyage through Charlie’s year of firsts, a year far more full and exciting than the lonely boy of the opening scenes could have anticipated. We see Charlie at his first party, experimenting with drugs, falling in love with Sam, dating her outspoken friend Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), and receiving mentorship from an extraordinary English teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd).

We are also privy to deep emotional turmoil experienced by many of the characters, and the kind of heart wrenching adolescent moments that brought a significant portion of last Friday’s audience to tears. Charlie flashes back to his Aunt Helen (Melanie Lynskey), his former favorite person in the world, and it is revealed over the course of the movie that as a child, his relationship with his aunt was far more sinister than he is willing to come to terms with. Sam is dealing with a past of sexual abuse: her first kiss was with her father’s boss, and as a freshman in high school, older boys regularly took advantage of her. Patrick, open and secure in his sexuality, is dating a football player who is not merely closeted but vehemently denies their relationship in public.

Early on in the movie, Mr. Anderson tells Charlie “We accept the love we think we deserve,” and through repetition of the phrase, it is suggested that this is the crux of the movie. And maybe that idea plays a large part in the meandering journey that is adolescence; we must learn to think of ourselves as worthwhile people and figure out what we want and deserve in life.

What this movie—and the book it was so closely based on —does so brilliantly is to draw attention to the fact that everyone has or has had difficulty and pain in his or her life. Struggle is universal: as people, as students, and as friends, we must take turns taking care of each other in the moments when the difficulty and the pain eclipse everything else.

As college students, the memory of high school is at once painfully sharp and hazily distant. For these characters, getting out is the goal, the light at the end of the tunnel. Charlie actually counts down the days until he graduates. It is a feeling I remember all too well. For so long, the promise of college kept me sane as I lugged my backpack through hallways of judgmental eyes and the difficult realization that you can outgrow places and people you love. Like Charlie, Sam, and Patrick, I longed for new experiences and a bigger world.

And here I am—here we are all. Our world is small in some ways, but so vast and complicated in others. We have freedom, we have options, and we have each other.


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