The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a movie about an adolescent, Charlie, who lost his best friend and tried to make new friends during his first day at high school. The film begins with Charlie writing a letter to his friend. In such a way, the boy is trying to distract himself from depression. Charlie’s parents are hard-working people since they have to support three children. Thus, the viewers find out that Charlie has an older brother, who is playing football at Penn State, and an elder sister, who is dating a “bad guy.” Charlie feels lonely, and his only friend seems to be his English teacher, who gives him books for self-report and assures that the boy will become a good writer. Once, Charlie meets an older student, who is called “Nothing” by his teacher and classmates. Charlie calls him Patrick, which is his real name, and Patrick introduces him to the girl Sam. They become friends, and when Charlie finds out that Sam is Patrick’s stepsister, he falls in love with her. The teenagers begin to spend time together, attend different parties, take drugs and drink alcohol. At one of the parties, Charlie discovers that Patrick has intimate relationships with Brad, a quarterback of their school football team. The boys’ relations are a big secret for everyone, especially for Brad’s father who would kill his son if he knew about his homosexuality. Another secret Charlie has to keep is the fact that his sister’s boyfriend is beating her. Although Candace assures Charlie that Derek does not beat her anymore, he still worries about his sister.
Later, the company of friends gathers to celebrate Christmas and present their secret gifts to each other. Charlie gets an outfit of clothes, and Patrick tells that great authors always wear the suits (Halfon, Smith & Malkovich, 2012). Sam gives Charlie a typewriter and asks him to write about them. Charlie experiences his first kiss with Sam; however, she has a boyfriend, Craig, and Charlie cannot interfere with their relationships. Sam’s friend, Mary Elizabeth, asks Charlie to go with her to school dances, and the boy has his first sexual intercourse with her. Though he does not like her, he cannot tell her about it until he kisses the most beautiful girl in the room during their play “truth or dare.” This girl is Sam, and after that incident, the company does not allow Charlie to come. However, everything changes when the boy defends Patrick from Brad’s friends.
After the last night spent with Sam, Charlie begins to recollect in memory her aunt touching him and calling his sister. Candace calls the police, and Charlie goes to the hospital. The psychiatrist discovers that his fears and memories are connected to Sam’s aunt, who has sexually abused the boy. In several weeks, when Charlie is at home, Sam and Patrick visit him and tell about their impressions of college. The final scene is when Charlie, Sam, and Patrick drive into the tunnel, and Charlie kisses Sam and feels that he is the part of infinity.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Analysis of Charlie and Sam
Charlie is the protagonist of the movie. He is a quiet and calm teenager who has trouble in finding new friends after his best friend’s suicide. Moreover, he often thinks of his aunt Helen who has died in a road accident when he was a child. He has lost his closest people, and he decided to write letters to his imagery friend to substitute this emptiness. Thus, his identity development can be analyzed from the perspective of the attachment theory. According to Bowlby, attachment is “a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (McLeod, 2009). First, Charlie was attached to his aunt. He remembers her living with his family because of some problems with her men. While watching the movie, one may notice that more and more elements from Charlie’s memories become evident. For instance, his aunt spent more time with him than with his siblings. She came to him when Candace was sleeping and did not allow waking her up. The other moments are not shown; however, the viewers can understand that Charlie’s memory tries to block and hinder some information in order to relieve his further existence. Nevertheless, he concealed those events from his parents because he did not want to upset them as he felt sorry for Helen.
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According to the attachment theory, children feel the affective bond to their primary caregivers (American Psychoanalytic Association, n.d.). However, Charlie’s parents are not enough represented in the movie; thus, one can conclude that their role in his identity development is not as important as the aunt’s one. Probably, Helen was the woman who influenced Charlie to feel lonely. He lost his aunt – a person he loved and hated simultaneously. When he was a child, he did not understand what she was doing to him, and he loved her for her attention and their secrets. Today, Charlie says, “If my aunt Helen were still here, I could talk to her. And I know she would understand how I am both happy and sad, and I’m still trying to figure out how could that be” (Halfon, Smith & Malkovich, 2012). He feels sorry for Helen’s personal problems with men; however, some moments from his childhood cannot disappear from his memory. Due to these memories, Charlie gets to the hospital and finally reveals his secret to the doctor.
Charlie’s identity development can be explained by an example of Erik Erikson theory. At the third stage, when Charlie’s aunt died, he felt guilty since she was on her way to buy a birthday present for him while having car accident. According to Erikson, children who are not successful at this stage “are left with a sense of guilt, self-doubt, and lack of initiative” (Cherry, 2005). Later, at the fifth stage, Charlie began to develop a sense of self. First, he was a shy and quiet boy; however, when he met Sam and Patrick, he changed his behavior and became more self-confident and resolute. One can conclude that the influence of peers was highly important for Charlie at this stage, and his friends helped him overcome his loneliness. Moreover, the impact of adults, namely his psychiatrist, was also huge. The doctor helped Charlie make a new step and taught him to cope with his fears and memories.
Sam is another character who changed her identity in the film. First, she was a promiscuous teenage girl who liked music, parties, and drugs. She had a difficult childhood since her father’s friends sexually abused her. As a result, when she became older, she began using drugs and having sexual intercourses with different boys. Thus, when she was at the fourth psychological stage (aged from 5 to 11 years), she received no encouragement but only pain and insult from her father. This fact influenced her further behavior (Cherry, 2005). Nevertheless, she gained a chance to change her future, and Charlie was the one who helped her. He believed that she was able to enter the college of her dream, and he helped her with studying. Therefore, at the fifth stage of her psychological development, Sam got a sense of self and a feeling of control over her future. As a result, she managed to enter the college and began a new life.
After analyzing the characters of Charlie and Sam, one can notice that their adolescent development is modified in accordance with some changes of life events, relationships with friends, and strong attachment to other people. In the beginning, Sam and Charlie were quite opposite characters. She was a promiscuous mediocre student, and he was an introvert, a quiet and intellectual boy. However, when they met and began to discover each other, they helped to reveal new qualities in each other. Consequently, Sam became more independent and successful girl in her study while Charlie became a self-assured and brave young man.
Focus of Treatment for Charlie
Charlie has mental disorders, which are caused by his aunt Helen molesting him when he was a child. One of his disorders is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – “a disorder that develops in some people who have seen or lived through a shocking, scary, or dangerous event” (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). Charlie lived through his aunt’s death and his best friend’s suicide, and these both events became the reasons for his disorder. Although Charlie is not in danger, he still experiences fear and stress in usual situations. Moreover, he often re-experiences some things Helen did to him, and these flashbacks and bad dreams make new traumas to his psyche. Thus, Charlie was in a risk factor since he endured a childhood traumas: death of his aunt, sexual abuse, and loss of his best friend. To overcome PTSD, Charlie needs to get the following treatment. First, he should use some medications, including antidepressants, to control fear, sadness, mood changes, and anger (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). Another important step is psychotherapy, or talks with professional psychiatrists. On this stage, parents and friends should support the patient to achieve better results. One can use cognitive behavior therapy to help Charlie overcome his disease. This therapy includes exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). The first kind of therapy helps people face their fears in a safe way while the second method helps them “make sense of the bad memories” (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). The most significant part of every treatment is Charlie’s desire to cooperate and fight against his illness. Together with his parents, friends, and doctors, Charlie can overcome the PTSD and live a healthy life.
However, PTSD is not a single problem Charlie faces. At the beginning of the movie, he had major depression since he felt hopeless and despaired of finding new friends. Charlie felt depressed because he had to guard his secret from his family and had no one to share his feelings. His depression is caused by his best friend’s death. It was his first year at high school, and Charlie felt lonely since he had to face a new period of his life independently and without any support. Withal, depression was a result of “major life changes” – Michael’s death and transition to a high school (Goldberg, 2014). A treatment of major depression is similar to that of PTSD – a patient has to take antidepressants and visit psychiatrist. To prevent depression in the future, Charlie has to be aware of its main symptoms and reasons and talk to his doctor and parents about his worries.
One can notice that Charlie had some symptoms of social anxiety – a fear of being judged, criticized, and embarrassed in front of others (Bhandari, 2016). For instance, when the teacher of English asked the students who was the first man to invent books with a paper cover, Charlie knew the answer but did not tell it. Instead, he put it down in his notebook. Thus, Charlie was afraid of being called a “wonk.” Moreover, he often imagined how he would tell or do something, but he did not do it in reality. For instance, when Charlie played with his friends and was asked about his relationships with Mary Elizabeth, he thought: “It’s so bad that I keep fantasizing about one of us dying of cancer, so I don’t have to break up with her” (Halfon, Smith & Malkovich, 2012). Thus, Charlie was afraid to lose his friends after such words, and he could not tell about his real feelings. The best treatment for social anxiety disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy and medication (Bhandari, 2016). However, Charlie managed to develop his social skills while being with friends.
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The film The Perks of Being a Wallflower portrays adolescence in a one-sided manner. In the film, all teenagers have some problems with drugs, personal relationships, alcohol, and identity development. However, in real life, there are also other teenagers who never use substances or sexual promiscuity and develop their identities in a positive way. Thus, the movie is focused only on the teenagers with some problems caused by their family issues, social statuses, relationships with peers, and life events. After watching the movie, I realized that family and friends have a strong impact on the formation of human’s identity. The movie arouses controversial feelings towards the characters’ lives. On the one hand, I feel sorry for Charlie and Sam because of their difficult childhood. On the other hand, I cannot understand why they have never discussed their problems with their parents and friends. Nevertheless, I cannot relate their life situations with mine; therefore, I cannot comprehend their feelings.
In spite of some blunders, such as the absence of Charlie’s background, the representation of difficult teenagers only, and the lack of interaction with the adults, the film can be used for identity development course. The movie portrays adolescence of those students who cannot find their places in the world. They do not have particular aims and do not understand how to live with their child traumas. However, the film has happy end, and it encourages the viewers that mental illnesses and depressions can be treated and overcome. Besides, it teaches us that coming of age can be a difficult period in the lives of many teenagers. Thus, the parents, friends, and teachers should pay greater attention to adolescents during their identity development in order to avoid possible negative outcomes.
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