“So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.” – Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
We oftentimes hide behind a curtain of normalcy to veil distressing episodes of our past. We get involved in self-deception to conceal the desire of feeling loved or accepted and to evade the fear of feeling left out. Being shy, introvert and excluded from groups time and again makes us think of ourselves as “losers”. We learn to accept things as they are without being willing to stand up for ourselves and without accepting ourselves for who we are. The movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a simple yet complicated and engaging story of one such introvert teenager named Charlie who has sustained a traumatic past including memories of his aunt Helen’s death in a car accident and the suicide of his best friend, Michael. Such traumatic memories hide like shadows in our minds, surfacing as disturbing flashbacks from time to time. If left suppressed for too long, they could even result in serious psychological issues. Individuals with a tumultuous past often live in denial and are so afraid of opening up or asking for help that it further worsens their mental well-being.
When the movie commences, it shows Charlie writing to a pen-pal whose identity is not revealed. Charlie, having had various setbacks since childhood, is reluctant and apprehensive of starting his freshman year at high school. Charlie is bullied at high school, seems to have a difficulty making new friends and finds it impossible to participate in social situations. Initially, the only person closest to being his friend is his English teacher, Mr. Anderson. In today’s world, where socializing is deemed to be a necessity, many youngsters like Charlie question their personality for being unable to make friends. Unlike Charlie, some individuals attempt to behave differently than how they really are in order to gain acceptance of others and at times, they unknowingly become victims to Social Anxiety Disorder. Before their mental health takes a serious toll, it is important for these individuals to realize that it is perfectly fine to be shy and not outspoken. When the time is right, the right people walk into your life and embrace you for your actual self.
At a football match, Charlie meets two seniors, Sam and her step brother Patrick. Sam and Patrick are lively characters with their own share of upsetting issues. Sam tends to underplay her own worth and consequently makes faulty decisions when it comes to her relationships. Self-worth is a crucial determining factor of an individual’s psychology and how you think, feel or behave depends largely on how you see yourself. Patrick is gay and struggles to keep his relationship with his boyfriend, Brad, a secret since Brad does not want his father to find out about his relationship with Patrick. The opinions the society in general forms towards individuals belonging to the LGBTQ community are not very different from the ones formed by Brad’s father. Being queer is only a matter of sexual orientation of the individual. It does not justify treating them as outcasts by denying basic rights to them. Sam and Patrick willingly accept Charlie into their friend circle which includes Mary Elizabeth and Alice. This is when a shared journey towards self-acceptance, recovery and love begins.
Charlie is stunned by Sam’s beauty and is attracted to her. However, since Sam is already in a relationship with a guy named Craig, Charlie is not bold enough to confess to her about his feelings. Later on, Charlie and Mary date briefly. Charlie does not want to be in a relationship with Mary but cannot decide how to break up with her without hurting her. While playing truth or dare, Charlie kisses Sam instead of Mary when asked to kiss the prettiest girl in the room which results in a short period of his exclusion from his group of friends. Sometimes we pretend that we are okay with the way things are going even when we are not. We do so for various reasons, but mostly to prevent hurting a friend or a loved one emotionally. We fail to realize that although we have no ill intentions, not being honest about how we feel causes many more complications in the longer run and impacts our mental health as well as that of our loved ones. At several occasions, including when his sister is being hit by her boyfriend, Charlie gets flashbacks of Aunt Helen who was sexually abused and taken advantage of by her father’s friend and her boyfriends. He blames himself for her death because she had met with an accident while getting a birthday gift for him. Towards the end of the movie, after Charlie opens up about his past in front of his psychiatrist, it is disclosed that Aunt Helen, having been a disturbed victim of sexual abuse herself, used to molest Charlie when he was a little kid and the traumatizing memories had stayed with him.
In the movie, Charlie isn’t the only one struggling through emotional and mental disturbance. When Brad’s father finds out about his relationship with Patrick, they break up. Patrick, who otherwise always appears to be jovial and happy-go-lucky, kisses Charlie and cries himself out in front of him. The incident highlights the fact that every person, no matter how jolly and good-humored on the outside, could have an emotional breakdown due to various personal reasons and be in the need of a shoulder to cry on. Sam eventually breaks up with Craig when she finds out that he had been cheating on her, proving that dating Craig was yet another erroneous decision she took simply because she wasn’t ready to believe that she was worthy of true love. At the graduation party, Charlie and Sam kiss, finally entering a relationship where they are truly loved for who they are. After Sam leaves for her University, Charlie’s flashbacks of Aunt Helen resume, he passes out and wakes up in the psychiatric clinic where he finally realizes and opens up about what Aunt Helen had done to him.
The movie ends on a beautiful note with Charlie, Sam and Patrick driving through the same tunnel through which they had driven after Sam and Patrick had first met Charlie and listening to the same song that Sam had liked. Charlie’s final letter to his pen-pal shows that he is finally learning to cope with his past, live in the present, participate fully in his life, build beautiful memories and admire himself for who he is. The letter is bound to have a positive impact on the viewers because of its deep meaning and touching nature, encouraging them to look at life through a different perspective. It brings to the fore the philosophy that the movie seeks to highlight. It goes as follows-
“I don’t know if I will have the time to write any more letters, because I might be too busy trying to participate. So, if this does end up being the last letter, I just want you to know that I was in a bad place before I started high school, and you helped me. Even if you didn’t know what I was talking about, or know someone who’s gone through it, you made me not feel alone. Because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. And there are people who forget what it’s like to be sixteen when they turn seventeen. I know these will all be stories someday, and our pictures will become old photographs. We all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now, these moments are not stories. This is happening. I am here, and I am looking at her. And she is so beautiful. I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive. And you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song, and that drive with the people who you love most in this world. And in this moment, I swear, we are infinite.”