“I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive.” – Charlie
On Sunday evening, I finally watched the film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I meant to go see it while it was in theaters, and as much as I enjoy seeing movies by myself, I always found a way to talk myself out of spending $12. The reviews I had read were all extremely positive, along with many “I was sobbing in the theater” comments. I already know I’m overly empathetic, and maybe I let loose more since I was home alone, but that movie rocked me. Unlike writing about Take This Waltz, which I felt compelled to write about immediately, my thoughts on this movie needed time to fully form. I liked this movie so much I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch it again for a long time unless I’m ready for another emotional undoing.
Last year when I heard about the movie development I pulled out my copy of the book and reread it. It held up really well, I felt, and I had even forgotten about the big twist ending. Not that the twist is as important as the journey. I don’t have a troubled past the way Charlie did, but I lived my life feeling a lot like him, even through college. Charlie feels way too deeply, can’t stop observing people and tries to do what is best for everyone to ensure his spot remains stable. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t what he actually wanted — he just didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. Finding a place to belong is always hard, and when you think you’ve found something good you try not to screw it up.
It’s not uncommon for authors to be involved in movie adaptations, but somehow Stephen Chbosky got it so right. Maybe it helped that he wrote the screenplay and directed, but translating a book that exists so deeply inside someone’s head to the screen had to have been challenging. The flow works though, with the right moments being shown or told through letter voiceovers. The book is set in the 90s, and so is the movie, and yet the fact that they’re exchanging mix tapes and using huge cordless home phones doesn’t detract the story. I feel that if anyone else had been heading this project, they would have been tempted to make it modern, which would have been extremely disappointing.
The most beautiful, heartbreaking moments in the film are the most quiet. Sam making a milkshake while Charlie offhandedly talks about his best friend killing himself without leaving a note; the blackout of Charlie punching out the jocks after they were destroying Patrick; the cutting shots of Charlie slowly losing control. The whispering between characters are real whispers that only reveal as much as you should hear, and more that you can infer. And the movie ends with the voiceover of Charlie’s last letter, as he embraces a single moment that signifies moving forward and choosing to participate and to be present.
The quote above was the part of his letter that resonated with me the most. I think most of the time in life we’re all trying to have that feeling more than we have doubt or sadness. Or maybe that’s just me. The moments that make you feel alive, and loved, and part of something, are what keep you going and keep you motivated through all the ups and downs.