The opening scene alerts the viewer that a catastrophic event has just occurred at this secondary school. A school locker has become a shrine to someone who is no longer physically present, becomes the focus. A photo of a beautiful young girl is glimpsed among the decorative tributes. Students capture the moment on their IPhones as #neverforget.
I mentioned not physically present; however, as the movie unravels we will realize that she is an absent presence in every interaction and in people’s thinking, which will become a source of torment for some as they are forced to reflect on their interactions with her in life.
Our curiosity is aroused. How did she die? What happened to her? No one has articulated what happened to her. Conversations are somewhat cryptic, hinting at something sinister. All we know is that her name is Hannah Baker, who invites the viewer as she narrates the events leading up to her death, to settle in, and become involved in her life that once was.
Her narration is interrupted with scenes from her lived life and the moments she pinpoints as being pivotal interactions. She believes those who are connected to them should be held responsible for their behaviour or in some instances lack of intervention, either through ignorance or intentionally looking the other way, when they should have stood up for what she perceived was an injustice toward her.
Hannah will hold people to account through 13 taped messages, which must be circulated as part of the rules established in tape #1. The tapes have been passed onto Clay, a best friend in life. The burden falls to him to progress through the confronting messages demanded by the voice from the grave. In so doing, he will not escape facing his own interactions with Hannah; a prospect he clearly fears, the more he listens.
As the scene shifts to the classroom discussion, a teacher executes her duty of care by informing her students in the wake of the loss of their class mate where they can find assistance if they are in need of support.
A student abruptly interjects that he ‘doesn’t want to be reminded of her death’, being reminded was ‘depressing’, and ‘recommends that everyone just move on’.
Up to this point we have not heard that dreaded word SUICIDE. We have no idea how she died, merely that she has gone. We see the camaraderie between students as they comfort one another and attempt to make sense of her death.
Don’t Miss The Forest For The Trees!
Despite not covering all the first episode, in this little snippet of the movie there is much that needs to be offered by way of comment.
Firstly, we need to remember that we are being offered a perspective through the eyes of a young teen who interprets life and what occurs in a way that is unique to herself. She has expectations of relationships, be that in the realm of friendships or love, and when those ideals are not realized and derailed, they have a distinct effect on her psyche.
The discussion is not whether she is right or wrong, as this evaluation is somewhat subjective. It is a discussion of what do we do when our experience of life is dissimilar to our ideals. And it will be. When I speak of ideals I refer to – values, principles, standards, ethics, and sense of justice that are unique to each individual, although some we might hold in common.
The mere existence of these tapes and the forethought that went into their distribution offer interesting insights.
- They highlight from the get-go that Hannah did not have a support structure around her where she could turn to and share her inner turmoil.
- Lacking this support structure, she was unable to gain perspective on these pivotal events as they unfolded derailing her cherished ideals.
- She had no way to process them, which meant that each pivotal event compounded upon the previous, until one would become the tipping point.
- The symbolism of the number 13, considered by some an unlucky number, no doubt carried for her a sense of irony, as these 13 interactions contributed in her psyche, to her ill-fated death. 13 interactions that would come back to haunt the living; unlucky indeed for those who acted with impunity.
THE WORD SUICIDE
Notably absent from the outset is the frank mention of the word SUICIDE. In fact, it will not be mentioned for some time. This is nothing new. The irony is that in a school setting, where everyone knew how she died, the word became the elephant in the room. This is not a new phenomena. Historically, we have been deterred from using the word suicide, because of a notion held by the minority, that mentioning the word will lead to more deaths.
This view is not conclusively proved. Camps on this are divided. Silence and avoidance have historically been shown to reinforce felt shame in the minds of those who might be struggling with suicidal thinking; thereby, driving them deeper into isolation. Open dignified discussion that neither glorifies suicide or the mode of death, can be the life raft that those struggling with these profound thoughts of despair can take a hold of, and carry them to the shores of hope.
The student’s reaction is also indicative of the responses to this loaded word SUICIDE, and the complexity that word evokes. Understandably, suicide death confronts people’s usual attitudes to life when some respond to life’s vicissitudes in this way. The reality is, and has historically been, that when discussions revolve around suicide, opposed to some other mode of death, such as death from cancer, car, or another, they predominantly default to avoidance.
The student was quite reactive to the situation, and it would have been prudent for the teacher to pull him aside after class and investigate if he was experiencing any suicidal thoughts that were being inflamed by the conversation.
13 REASONS WHY provokes us to look beyond the Trees – the noise, what initially greats our gaze, beyond people’s responses, and beyond our own pre-suppositions.