Saturday, June 10, 2017

13 Reasons Why (2017)

The first thing that came to mind was the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer. Somehow tapes were made naming the 13 people who killed somebody which seems to be the voice on the tapes. Suicide disclosure on the trailer notwithstanding there was an implied darker reason to it all. 

It made some sense. 13 people, un-sportsman like odds, one girl dead – got to be a murder conspiracy. After the first episode I realize the operative word was ‘reason’ hence the title 13 Reasons Why

Hannah Baker committed suicide and there are thirteen reasons that pushed her in that direction. 

What I find surprising is that I’ve grown to see 13 Reasons Why as a story of a haunting, the most unique I have ever seen, if only for the fact that there are no ghosts but still there is a relentless voice from the grave.

The voice is from Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). Prior to her suicide, at 1 reason per side, she used 7 cassette tapes recording all that she wanted to say; 13 sides to a story as she describes it. When she was done she passed it on to a guardian. 

That threat of the unknown guardian with copies assured that the tapes passed on through persons concerned. Thus guarantees that Hannah, who was already dead at the beginning of the story, was always talking. 

I would always think of 13 Reasons Why as a story of a haunting instead of drama because it is more endearing in that light. A girl despite being dead keeps the friction and the mystery alive – like a ghost. 

After haunting what follows the helplessness, the sense of loss, feelings of waste, and for some introspection which basically is the story’s dramatic weight. Most importantly the 7 tapes in unison, the voice, paint a picture of Why. That's what we all want watching a series. That's what people look for in suicides - why, why, why?

Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) the current listener of the tapes is the embodiment of the helplessness, feelings of waste, sense of loss. He represents the audience. Though Dylan Minnette has a name that will make me wince on bad days but as far as acting chops go, being able carrying the emotional weight of the story, I’d say he did a great job.

Of course Clay and Hannah are a one-two punch; one is the victim who was in pain and the other is the loved one who seeks to understand. They come together in a feat of nonlinear story telling; Hannah’s timeline is also played out and fades in and out into Clay’s. 

The effect is almost like a literal ghost especially with Clay walking where Hannah had walked, see the places where everything happened as the tape plays out. Clay can almost see Hannah as he does his walk through – there are shots of them in the same frame – but it’s all a memory. They can’t talk to each other now and make a difference.

Every episode you feel this 'lost opportunity' for things that could have been done or said makes you ask, what if.

Hannah’s manner of speaking is not as whiny as I expected. Let’s face it that was all on our minds upon learning there’s a suicide in the story. High school girl who offs herself – geez what was she thinking. 

Hannah tells it, recorded it quite calmly but with visible pain in her words and sometimes in her voice too.  She speaks in an inviting manner, sometimes sounding like a poet. The story is not a 13 episode angry rant.

Take the first episode for example, in a I-Know-What-You-Did-Last-Summer universe the line would be: I trusted you. Then slap in the face. What Hannah said was: “a rumor based on a kiss ruined a memory that I’d hope would be special.” Say what? You’d have to watch the episode to see the pain behind it because it looks painlessly attractive just reading it.

13 Reasons Why is beautifully paced. No question that the atmosphere is foreboding especially with Hannah the dead girl narrating, but being high school there’s always an innocence to it. Every episode starts with an innocent aspect of school like a first kiss, friendships, jocks; even the inability to express love which at that stage of any of our lives can be cute. Watching it pulls you in and then Hannah tells how it all went wrong. 

Back to that first episode, side 1, it was about Liberty High Basketball Player Justin Foley whom Hannah was infatuated with. I’m not sure anyone plans a first kiss but the perfect someone is easy to picture. Hannah liked getting the attention of a varsity man and yet ended up with: “A rumor based on a kiss ruined a memory that I’d hope would be special.” 

How it went wrong felt organic. It was not evil plan of one mischievous boy and neither was it a conspiracy. Boy sees the ‘open’ shot to Hannah’s panties and takes that picture which he then shows to his friends. 

His friends tag the picture as a full conquest instead for what it really was, but boy doesn’t correct the impression thinking it adds to his masculinity. One of the boy’s friends forwards the panty shot to everybody. Girl, based on a rumor, is now thought of as easy – a slut.

How the issues of episode one played out shows that not all hurts are a results of a grand Machiavellian conspiracy. While she may have pointed out certain persons like culprits, it is how they reacted to situations that made it all go wrong. I think that made Hannah’s issues ageless than being just innately a juvenile concern. Of course the last straw, side 12, will forever be wrong at any age, in and out of school. 

13 Reasons Why is not just a rant of a teenage suicide but a statement of what’s wrong in society. Among those issues are lost friendships, objectification, stalking, loneliness, unexpressed love, useless authority figures. 

I like the way how the created characters that are at times wrapped in irony. There’s a lesbian raised by gay marriage that guards her proverbial closet with the fierceness of a snake. 

On loneliness, there’s a jock who feels that he’s invisible because his character was far from what a cool jock should be. Now that was a beautiful episode; a jock, in a way a god at school, yet feeling invisible. That feels like the most painful of Hannah’s hurts. How can you get help if you are invisible?

Then there are the lost friends of Hannah’s. I can’t say I have done better when the friendship triangle I had was divided when the 2 dated. It was just weird. What is painful is that Hannah’s friends have the spark of outsiders in them – how do you call non-jock anyway? – yet they hangout with the jocks as if they sold their soul just to go up the school’s social hierarchy. 

And the school paper’s photographer is a stalker; not ironic. We watch people’s photos and posts everyday; we take selfies and other photos everyday. With social media and up-to-date news feeds aren’t we all stalkers? 

Of course one of the most memorable ironies in the story was the only character who said suicide was for the weak yet she had a wrist full of scars. With 13 Reasons Why facing controversy with the suicide of its main character, the fact someone said suicide is for the weak will be a welcome development for some.

It still needs to be asked, what does it say of those who are living and yet staying painfully quiet? Do they get to be called strong for just living? The elites of Liberty High, those whom Hannah has named, have been living less than perfect lives. They too are hiding as much as the girl who is thought as weak and escaped life. 

I think Hannah knows too. She may sound hurt or angry but never hateful of her schoolmates. She knows how imperfect they are.

On Hannah's death, my mother would have shrieked had she seen me all bloodied in a bathtub; window bursting shriek. Olivia Baker greatly played by Kate Walsh did not shout as much. That scene was painfully beautiful. In all the insensitivity Hannah has been narrating I guess I was expecting, hoping, that there’s this one character who’ll give her the emotion she deserves.

Olivia seeing Hannah in the tub was a slow build. It pulled me right in because someone needs to cry. Another effect of Olivia not shrieking is that it also gave me hope as she was also hopeful. Barely able to keep herself together, on the verge of tears, she talks to Hannah calmly - 'you'll be ok'. Maybe I get to see a goodbye? 

Olivia’s last words shouting before cutting off to the next scene was “call 911”. Without a scene where I can grieve with it me feel empty, as much as Hannah’s parents feeling empty that there was not even a suicide note.

Is 13 Reasons Why a danger of influencing suicides? I can see the attraction but if revenge motivates them they should realize that this is all a show. The people whom Hannah named, all of them, looked like they have been battling a ghost. In real life, if Hannah's schoolmates are as insensitive as they are; they will most likely just ignore.

Still there are people vulnerable, experiencing bullying, battling mental disease; I don’t think I’ll ever give that point of view justice so let me quote from Hattie Gladwell of She battles with mental disease and has history of self harm.

She said the story doesn’t focus on the weakest and in need of help which is Hannah (emphasis mine):

Firstly, while the series really was all that it set out to be – a lesson, a realisation, a genuinely tear-jerking experience, I found it to be somewhat glorifying of self-harm.
Instead of focusing on Hannah’s feelings, the show concentrated on the things other people had done – and how they dealt with it after the suicide.
While some of the characters were in denial over what had happened, others were remorseful and saw Hannah as being this beautiful, tragic character – as opposed to someone who desperately needed help. 
I found this to be a rather dangerous move, especially for anyone who was able to relate to Hannah in the feelings of sadness and loneliness, and anyone who may be thinking, questioning or even planning suicide.
The series doesn’t tell that person that they need to get help, it tells them that people will realise what they’ve done if they’re not around anymore – and that’s one very dangerous message to send out, and one that’s untrue.

She also calls the graphic suicide scene especially dangerous:
However, the show depicted it to be a very quick process, disregarding the length of time it would’ve taken for Hannah to lose her life, or any further pain bar the initial cut – which would have been excruciating.

I get Hattie’s first point. 

Cinematically I guess (I haven’t read the book) the decision was to show society, in this case Liberty High, in pain of their mistakes. That had things been different, people nicer, probably less people fall through the cracks.

Clay Jensen’s outburst points exactly to that fact. 13 Reasons Why is more about society to reach out not for Hannah to do the reaching out herself. Anyway she did ask for help, it just didn’t go the way she wanted.

I can't think of a rebuttal if the graphic death scene was excessive. 

Ultimately I don’t think the show on its own will increase suicides. As a final straw or a final push into self harm, that I cannot say; maybe it will. But I believe, as the title implies, it needs more than one reason to get to that point. 

Trick is finding and reaching out to those who are in need. Or as a general rule , as the 13 Reasons Why has phrased a few times, we can just be nice to each other.

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