Updated: Apr 4, 2020
An Analysis of "Perks of Being a Wallflower" and Deconstructing the Effects of Closeted Trauma
"Perks of Being a Wallflower" recently released on Netflix and with all the buzz surrounding the film on Twitter, of course I had to watch it. I watched this movie years ago when I was younger, and I guess I didn't realize how profound a message this movie has because... holy shit.
Charlie, the story's main protagonist, is starting his freshman year of high school as an awkwardly, shy kid who also gets bullied by his peers. He's often alone, but very perceptive and at times shockingly bold. Charlie stumbles upon a group of friends through Patrick, a senior in his wood-shop class, and they expand his worldview. The audience is taken on an emotional journey with Charlie as he discovers hard truths about his past, the past of those he loves, and how closeted trauma impacts everyone and everything around him. Whether seemingly small changes like finally finding the confidence to raise his hand in English class or being honest enough about his trauma to allow himself to heal, Charlie learns he must make himself uncomfortable in order to grow. To do that, he has to trust that those he loves and those who love him will help him achieve the benefits of health and happiness.
"Perks of Being a Wallflower" illustrates how trauma is manifested differently in everyone; however, everybody is backpacking trauma in some way in secret daily. For example, Charlie reveals to Sam he had a friend who k*lled himself; his sister is being physically abused by her boyfriend; Patrick is gay and must find companionship in private; and Sam was repeatedly s*xually assaulted her freshman year. Perhaps Sam thought that abuse was normal because her "first kiss" was by her Dad's boss when she was 11 years old. Furthermore, the biggest trauma reveal of the film was the discovery that Charlie was m*lested by his Aunt Helen.
All the characters are dealing with some sort of trauma and they all cope with said trauma differently. Sam tries to find love in guys who treat her like shit; Patrick wants to bury his sorrow in humor, always making people laugh to avoid addressing how bad his relationship with Brad makes him feel all the time; Charlie buries his severe trauma in books, writing, and isolation until he meets his friends, then he buries his trauma in their company. However, avoidance, deflection , and distractions to avoid trauma cannot sustain. At one point, Patrick is crying with Charlie after Patrick loses his relationship with Brad because they were caught together by Brad's homophobic father. Patrick kisses Charlie in a moment of weakness, and breaks down in his arms. Patrick was the friend who was always using humor to numb his pain and make other people feel better, until he couldn't use humor as a replacement for addressing his problems anymore.
Through the lens of Charlie, the film wants its audience to learn the importance of empathy by forcing us to empathize with Charlie and those around him as we learn all the hardship each character is enduring. Additionally, Charlie and some of his friends are bullied by other kids in school. That illustrates two things: 1. The kids have no idea what people like Charlie and Patrick are going through, what kind of baggage they are carrying around every single day and what effects their actions are playing on people's already unstable mental health. 2. The bullies may also be going through hardship the audience is not aware of and bullying may be their way of coping with some of their own trauma by projecting it onto others. For example, Brad called Patrick a slur in the cafeteria to try and conceal who he really is. No one, but Charlie, his friends, and the audience know that Brad is a closeted kid existing in a hyper-masculine, homophobic environment (i.e.: football, Christian church, his father). The same may be true for literally every other kid existing at that school. Perhaps the film is encouraging us to even have empathy for those we think don't deserve it.
Deconstructing the Effects of Closeted Trauma:
As previously stated, all the characters in the story are dealing with trauma, clearly a central theme of the movie, but in private.
What is the consequence of coping with trauma all on your own?
Life may get far worse, maybe even reach a point that cannot be un-reached. Charlie's friend committed s*icide as a result of closeted trauma. I saw a tweet the other day that was talking about how pulling yourself out of pain makes you realize you don't need anybody. That thought process could not be further from the truth. What would have happened if Charlie's friend had reached out to him and said, "I'm hurting, and I need help."? Charlie even mentioned how he wished his friend would have at least left a note behind. It's not healthy to go through pain and trauma all by yourself, as it will eventually take an even bigger toll on your mental health. You might think it's noble to have gotten through something without help, but you'll one day realize how far removed from being "healthy" you really are.
As the movie progressed, Charlie's mental health worsened until he reached the point of self-harm and had to be emitted to a hospital. While in the hospital, the doctor approached him to offer her help, and Charlie had to make a choice: If he wants to live, he had to be vulnerable and honest about his trauma and allow others to help him through his troubles, as he wouldn't have been able to keep doing it alone.
In one scene, Sam describes to Charlie a fantasy she has about an imaginary scene of her being at some college party only to look up at a guy she's dreamed about and realize everything will be okay. Sometimes our mind can be our worst enemy. To suppress our daily depressing thoughts, we romanticize the future as an escape from ourselves. That illusion can also only last for so long. I think this movie is encouraging the audience to confront their trauma, whatever it is, sooner rather than later. Addressing trauma head on is far more beneficial than burying it for the sake of artificial happiness that inevitably won't last. The film even encourages us to share our trauma with others who care about our well-being enough to bear the weight of the world along with us.
Charlie's English teacher tells him "we accept the love we think we deserve." Like I said, sometimes our mind can be our worst enemy. No one deserves self imposed abandonment. "Perks of Being a Wallflower" emphasizes the importance of friendship, companionship, and empathy because humans need it. We may be infinite, but our pain doesn't have to be.
"We can't choose where we come from, but we can choose where we go from there."-Perks of Being a Wallflower
National S*icide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Chat Services:
Local Mental Health Outreach: https://nami-sat.org/