Afterschool: Never Forget

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In all of our lives, we must constantly deal with the omnipresent question of what is real and what is fake. Never has this clash of realities been more relevant than with the dawning of the internet. It’s a tool that presents us with unlimited power and knowledge, but also in that comes the herculean task of deciphering it all. In the hands of a young person, this can be both crushing and mind altering at times.

Antonio Campos in his 2008 film, Afterschool, presents us with this struggle in the form of his protagonist Robert, a young boy sent off by his family to a wealthy New England boarding school. During his time there he preoccupies himself with what he calls “little clips of things that seem real”. In his mundane life, he sees these videos of violence and sex as a portal through which he can glimpse something authentic. In many ways, they alter his young mind’s understanding of what is real in the first place.

While filming some stock footage in one of his school’s hallways for his video class he discovers something far realer than he could have ever expected when he discovers the two most popular girls in school as they suffer a horrible reaction to rat poison laced cocaine and die right in front of his eyes, one bleeding out in his very arms.

This tragedy obviously causes quite a few ripples throughout the school. As much as everyone is torn up about their deaths, what truly seems to bother everyone is how lost they are in actually understanding and dealing with these girl’s untimely demise. Most of all the reaction of the school and, in particular, its principle, Mr. Burke, deftly played by Michael Stuhlbarg, seems most perplexing and cold.

Mr. Burke recognizing Robert’s position in the school’s video class gives him the responsibility of making the memorial video for the girls, in the hopes that it would help him deal with their graphic deaths. Along with this the school pushes everyone to go see the school counselor and talk about how they feel, then in most cases get handed a prescription for whatever pill will handle the symptoms of their internal traumas without actually addressing it. Robert as the one to first find the girls is sent to speak to Mr. Virgil. He is obviously quite out of sorts with the whole ordeal. He talks about the videos and the violent porn he watches and how he finds a reality in them that’s fascinating. An authenticity that’s missing from his own life where, as Mr. Virgil tells him, the school had been told about the dead girl’s drug problem and did nothing to help them, in the interest of keeping their rich parent’s money and support going.

Once Robert finished putting the video together for the memorial, he shows it to Mr. Burke who asks, “Was that serious Robert? That was the worst thing I’ve ever seen”. The video wasn’t quite what the school had hoped for. With no music, shaky camera work, and the raw sense of reality that Robert has been searching for through countless Youtube searches. It didn’t try to provide the false sugar coated narrative the school hoped everyone would guzzle down. Instead of idolizing these girls with cheap condolences and ignoring the elephant in the room that they are responsible for allowing things to escalate so far into tragedy, Robert’s video portrayed the reality of that elephant and all its unsightly blemishes. The school and those around him wouldn’t stand for this, though. They aren’t interested in the truth they’re just interested in the most convenient reality where they print “Never Forget” all over the memorial stage and paint it as just another forgettable tragedy. Nothing to learn here, just move on, take another pill. Robert does and so does everyone else, just like Mr. Burke and Virgil reminds Robert, “It’s everyone’s fault” “It’s no one’s fault”, forget.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review

It took me a long time to work up the courage to see this film, not because of the content, but because I was terrified that it was going to unabashedly destroy my perception of the book. Call me Obama and let me be clear- The Perks of Being a Wallflower may soon join the ranks of great american novels along with The Catcher In the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. The book portrays 21st century society through the eyes of a child in a manner both honest and hauntingly resonant. Everyone can relate to it and everyone will be touched in at least some small way. Please, please do yourself a favor and read the book. You will not regret it.

Fine. But what of the film?

Directed by the original author, Steven Chbosky and staring Percy Jackson, Hermione Granger, and a young Keanu Reeves, the film captures the struggles of a standoffish teenager as he deals with sex, drugs, prejudice, love, relationships, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I am glad to say that my reluctance was for naught as Chbosky’s adaptation brilliantly recaptures the spirit of the original and brings this touching story to a new audience. I cannot recall the last time I felt such profound, genuine emotion from a movie, and for that reason Perks is high in the running for my favorite film of the year.

Chbosky’s cinematography is competent yet unremarkable, which perhaps allows for a tighter focus on the story and characters. I did find it interesting, however, that the film’s universe seemed to be an idealized, perhaps even romanticized, depiction of small town America. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the bright colors and clean, crisp use of line and space suggest a cartoonish element, but the apparent lightness of atmosphere contrasts nicely with the sometimes morbid subject matter and keeps the tone from becoming too grim.

Logan Lerman as Charlie and Ezra Miller as Partick both deliver outstanding performances. These young men have bright futures in the industry judging by their ability to infect the audience with authentic emotions which I haven’t seen in film for a long time. Strangely, the supposed heavyweight, Emma Watson, delivers a somewhat stilled performance and seems to be holding something back, perhaps for fear of letting slip her British accent which keen ears might pick up on at certain parts in the film. It’s not as though her performance was bad by any means, but when compared to the knockout performances of Lerman and Miller, she’s a Hershey kiss to their fondue fountain.

Concerning the story, the film is similar to the novel, intricately incorporating multiple story lines as seen from Charlie’s perspective. However, I did want to see a more in-depth view of the Charlie’s family dynamics and the consequences of certain events. For instance, the novel portrays Charlie’s father as a much more emotional and fragile man than how he appears in the film. As such, Charlie’s relationship with his parents is almost completely omitted. Likewise, the interactions between Charlie’s immediate family and his extended family could have been further explored and would have provided more context into Charlie’s shyness.

The only real qualm I have about the film is that it’s charm and meaning may not bridge the generational gap between us millennials and our parents, for the simple reason that they may not have the same perception of high school and of American society as we do. Then again, it’s not really for them; it’s for us. The novel, and naturally the film, was intended to capture a specific place in time where unique struggles and conflicts occur which resonate specifically with our generation.

I you’re like me and are worried that the film will ruin your perception of the novel *cough* Vampire Hunter *cough* rest assured that it will not. If you’re emotional be prepared to cry and if you’re cerebral be prepared to think. You might just find that there’s a little piece of Charlie in you, and when you find it, The Perks of Being a Wallflower will remind you that you’re not alone.

Rating: 4 out of 5