Adolescence in the Media – Perks of being a Wallflower
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a 2012 film directed by the author of the book in which the film is based on, Stephen Chbosky, and produced by John Malkovich, Lianne Halfon, and Russell Smith. The movie is a coming-of-age tale of 15-year-old Charlie who is just beginning high school. The film follows Charlie’s journal entries, who he refers to as a pen pal, throughout his freshman year noting his experience on how to navigate adolescence and the process of growing into a young adult. The film depicts many adolescent perspectives of various possible experiences of young people. Specifically, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Malkovich, Halfon, and Smith, 2012) demonstrates the struggles of sexual orientation, interpersonal interactions and development of relationships between peers as well as mental well-being of the adolescent condition by depicting scenes from several adolescent perspectives and experiences.
The struggle that homosexual students face is told through the character Patrick in this film. Patrick is one of Charlie’s first friends at school. They meet at a football game where they talk about their shared class, shop. It is from this event that Charlie joins the “”island of misfit toys”” (Malkovich, Halfon, and Smith, 2012) that includes Patrick and his step sister Sam, along with a few more of their friends. As Charlie grows closer to his new friend group, varying adolescent experiences that occur during development are shared through different scenarios and problems his new friends face throughout the school year. The adolescent stage in life is general about understanding yourself and who you are as a person, but growing pains and socioemotional development make this difficult for many teens. Patrick is portrayed as a stereotypical gay male. His personality is flamboyant, he relates and has friendships with many girls and his interests are opposite of the typical male activities, like athletics, including activities like drama and acting. As the audience learns more about Patrick, it is discovered that he is romantically involved with Brad, a star football player at the school who is not open about his homosexuality.
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Brad has a girlfriend to cover up the fact that he is gay because of his family’s religious beliefs and moral values. This causes Brad to abuse alcohol during his and Patrick’s intimate interactions. Patrick and Brad’s relationship is eventually discovered by Brad’s father leading to him beating Brad, which then leads to domestic violence between Patrick and Brad at school when Brad’s teammates begin to bully Patrick for his sexual orientation. Brad does not stand up for Patrick, out of fear of exposing their relationship, which leads to a physical altercation between the two. This scene in the film demonstrates many concepts of adolescents. Bullying is an evident one in the case of Patrick. He is singled out, picked on, and called names such as “fag” strictly on the basis of his sexuality. The role of the peer group is essential in bullying targets (Santrock, 2014). Peers have an influence on our behavior and our moral decision making. For example, Brad publicly bullies his love interest Patrick because he fears being ridiculed like Patrick for being gay. He would rather be the bully than the victim. A study conducted by Ybarra, Mitchell, Kosciw, and Korchmaros, reports that 59% of heterosexual teens experienced peer harassment or bullying in the past year as compared to 80% of gay, lesbian, or bisexual youth experience bullying or peer harassment, yielding an almost 20% increase in victims (2014). It is evident that this sexual minority experiences confusion of self, as seen in the case of Brad and is conflicting identity, as well as clear harassment from not only peers but partners as well, demonstrated but Patrick’s experience.
As mentioned before, Charlie is introduced to Sam, Patrick’s step-sister and best friend, when he joins the “island of misfit toys” (Malkovich, Halfon, and Smith, 2012). Charlie has an immediate attraction to Sam and his feelings only grow deeper for her as their relationship continues but Charlie does not act on his feelings for Sam for the majority of the film because she is involved with another college-aged boy. Charlie even dates another girl in their friend group for a short period of time to distract himself from his forbidden feelings for Sam, but the relationship ends abruptly due to his undeniable feelings for her. This causes a rift in the friend group that would be resolved after Charlie rescues Patrick from Brad and his friends from their altercation at the school. For the duration of Charlie and Sam’s relationship, Charlie loves Sam from afar but does everything he can to be there by helping her study to re-take the SAT for college as well as being a shoulder for her to cry on when she was going through something.
You could almost say Sam was Charlie’s first love, and love is a crucial aspect in the development of interpersonal strength and socioemotional development during adolescence (Santrock, 2014). During adolescence, social context in relation to love are the development of friendships and romantic relationships (Viejo, Ortega-Ruiz and Sanchez, 2015). A key scene that demonstrates the concepts of how love and friendship influence adolescent development would be with Charlie and Same finally address Charlie’s romantic feelings for her before she leaves town for college. In this scene, both characters express how much their relationship means to one another and how its romantic elements have helped them throughout the school year. This demonstrates how Viejo et al.’s study explains that dating relationships during adolescent development are a major factor when in the lives and are an important source of emotions, implication of health, as well as psychological adjustment and general well-being (2015). This concept is seen in the film when Charlie finally confesses his feelings to Sam the night before she leaves. This interaction is important to Charlie because he expresses how much he has grown in the relationship and interactions and overall that Sam had meant to him. It is here that we discover that both Sam and Charlie have both experienced sexual abuse and a final flashback to Charlie’s childhood is shown to the audience.
These flashbacks are shown to the audience throughout the film and usually pertain to Charlie’s deceased Aunt Helen. The flashbacks reveal Charlie’s deep love for his aunt accompanied by Charlie repeatedly bringing up his Aunt Helen throughout the film because of his love for her and how she was his “favorite person in the world” (Malkovich, Halfon and Smith, 2012) because he could relate to her mental illness of depression, which he suffers from as well and he often writes about his mental health struggles in his journals to his pen pals. We assume for the majority of the movie that these issues stem from Charlie’s best friend Michael’s death from suicide the summer before school. This sad fact is revealed to the audience fairly early in the film, so it makes sense that Charlie’s problems would relate to Michael’s death. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescent youth (Santrock), therefore it can be a somewhat typical event that adolescents may have to navigate during the development. But after Sam and Charlie’s intimate interaction before she leaves for school at the end of the film, a final flashback occurs when Sam touches Charlie’s leg in a sexual manner revealing that Aunt Helen had been sexually abusing him.
This depiction of child sexual abuse in the film is very accurate considering that many victims personally know their abusers. A study found that 69% of abused children knew their abuser. The same study found that 31% of known abusers were relatives of the victims (Fahrudin, 2009). Aunt Helen also suffered from depression and domestic violence, much like Charlie, which could be explanation of the sexual pursuit of her nephew. At the end of the film, Charlie becomes overwhelmed at the resurfacing of suppressed memories of Aunt Helen’s abuse that he ends up in the hospital from the physical and emotional harm caused by his deceased aunt. It is clear that Charlie suffers trauma from these events which correlated with the Fahrudin’s study because post-traumatic stress disorder is one of most common disorders that child abuse victims fall to followed by dissociation, anxiety, depression, and other sexual impedances (2009). Charlie’s flashbacks are a consistent symptom of PTSD, which he is likely to have.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) overall does an excellent job of showcasing the struggles of today’s youth from many different viewpoints crossing both genders, interpersonal interactions, socioemotional development of self, morality’s influence on behaviors, and differing sexual orientations. The depiction of typical adolescent life issues is portrayed through the perspective of the adolescent in the film which helps the viewer understand the thought process of adolescents in these situations that they face during development. It is clear the many of the concepts that this movie portrays are intersectional. The roles teens take during adolescence will ultimately affect their experience and how they develop during this time period in life which is very accurately portrayed in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012).