The Perks of Being a Wallflower
A vivid and honest story about modern adolescencePhotographs via Gretchen Burnton
When “Come on Eileen” by the Dexy’s Midnight Runners blasts over the loud speakers at Homecoming, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) grin.
“Living room routine!” Sam yells.
Clearing their way onto the middle of the floor, they break out into a choreographed, perfectly synchronized dance complete with lifts, spins and shimmies.
Meanwhile, Charlie (Logan Lerman) quietly sips his punch, leaning against the darkened wall of the cafeteria. As he watches Sam and Patrick participate, he decides to join his new friends. Awkwardly bobbing his way to them, he smiles when the step-siblings accept him with open arms. However, this carefree attitude quickly dissipates as The Perks of Being a Wallflower storyline enters the post-dance party scene.
The plot uncovers underage drinking and drug use, abortion, death, bullying, sexual abuse and unhealthy relationships between family, friends and love interests. These themes caused the American Library Association (ALA) to place the novel on their top 10 list of banned books on five separate occasions.
“We all know, not all kids do drugs … and they don’t get pregnant and they don’t go through the things that some of the characters in the book and in the movie go through, but some do. I just think [the ALA wishes] that it wasn’t true or they think I’m encouraging it. It’s like a chicken and the egg thing. I didn’t come first,” Perks author / director Stephen Chbosky said.
Even though Chbosky knew he would turn Perks into a movie someday, he waited thirteen years to do so in order to take some time away from the story. Perks is a “semi-autobiographical story” for Chbosky who is personally connected to Charlie, the main character. While he didn’t go through all of the tribulations Charlie went through in the novel, Chbosky experienced or encountered many of them. This emotional connection is so intense that Chbosky can‘t even watch the breakdown scene in the film anymore.
“It took so much out of me to create that, that I can’t do it for a while,” he said.
This thirteen year gap allowed Chbosky to marry his wife, Liz and have their first daughter, Maccie Margaret this August.
“I now speak fluent parent, just like I spoke fluent kid before and I consider myself on some levels a translator,” he said.
But the film’s more matured Charlie allowed Chbosky to heal further.
“When I was a little younger, I was going through a very tough time and a bad breakup and I was a little messed up. And at that time I needed to find something that was going to give me hope in my life. And Charlie was my hope in the form of a character,” Chbosky said.
While writing the novel, this hope allowed Chbosky to get over his hardships and start moving on. The film allowed him to wipe his slate clean and truly start life with his new family.
“It exists in film and I don’t have to think about it anymore which is great,” he said, “But I always watch the … tunnel [scene].”
Filmed in Chbosky’s own home town, Fort Pitt Tunnel provides a symbol of hope and growth in Perks. There, the characters feel alive, warm and free as the lights go flashing by them and the tunnel opens to the view of downtown Pittsburgh. This inspired the quote blogged by thousands and tattooed on many:
“I feel infinite,” Charlie says.
That feeling, that validation of what’s happening right now is what Chbosky hopes people get out of Perks.
“What I want the audience to feel is that what they’re feeling and going through is valid and it’s respected. That they understand, I mean more than just feel, that they fundamentally understand that they’re not alone. A lot of people feel that they are. … My hope is if you sit in [the] audience … and if you’re laughing and a person in front of you is laughing or the girl next to you is crying when you’re feeling choked up that [you realize] that’s how much other people understand what you’re going through,” Chbosky said.
Ultimately, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a film for the ages. As Chbosky says, “we’re all coming-of-age all the time,” making the story vibrant and real for new viewers and avid Perks fans alike. Successfully demonstrating what it's like to deal with real-world issues from a teenage perspective, the storyline is not only thrilling, but also life-saving for those who need to hear the messages it delivers.
- Alexandra Dersch, Editor-in-Chief