Sitting in Theaters with Girls

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I am going to preface this by saying an outright truth: I have no personality. Unfortunately, I missed the formative phase of my life somewhere between developing object permanence and adolescent scoliosis that must have been crucial for me to gather tangible personality traits aside from my present distinctive ones of: not enjoying The Office, and attending Yale. Nevertheless, I am adaptive and refuse to accept that I have peaked. Throughout my adolescence, I’ve lived vicariously through characters from movies. My outright hobbies are independent cinema and good soundtracks, sometimes with ulterior motives. This in part, is due to my bad habit of adopting hyperfixations (attributed to my self-diagnosis of bipolar disorder from a Tumblr post in 2014) and fear of discovering that I do not actually have an identity.

Watching Heathers (1988) at fifteen. This movie is revolutionary: it comes at the height of your teenage angst. Window Ryder shoots the popular kids and saves the broken social scene1. You didn’t know whether you wanted to be her or drink bleach for her. It inspires you2. After what seemed to be a decade-long strained relationship, you ask your mother to go out with you to buy makeup and a black coat. When you go out, she tells you about her first boyfriend, and it was not your father. In particular, young Christian Slater makes you self-identify as an “anarcho-transhumanist” for a short while and read “the Fountainhead”. You will find yourself hearing these terms again in philosophy section years later, with deep regret. The movie stirs up your interest in poetry and thrift shopping, and heightens your anger at unrealistic high school hierarchies that only Superbad (2007) will later clear up. Consider socialism after your friend tells you that your new label is not the most acceptable. Show them more Winona Ryder and start questioning both norms imposed upon teenage girls and sexuality. This is probably not the best version of yourself.

When you watch Rushmore (1998)3, it’s senior high, and you’ve successfully withdrawn yourself. You are absolutely better than everyone because you play The Beach Boys at your parties. Maybe you’ve lied about trying to die at least three times by now; any more and it would be unbelievable. You regularly hang out with political science majors from a local university, all of which who should probably not be hanging out with sixteen-year-olds. They teach you about life, basement shows, and Foucalt. The initial meeting occurred after a debate tournament, with an opening like “I like your 2001 shirt. Thanks! Want a Marlboro Red?” You wish your life was like Skins (UK). All your friends have converted with you: shared interests revolving around Thai food, feminist prose, angry girl music of the indie rock persuasion, and making references to the same feminist film genres that any other borderline lesbian troupe does4. They’re now all certain they aren’t straight—incidentally, never for you. This saddens you.

You see yourself with the wits of Jason Schwartzman, have listened to Souvlaki and In The Aeroplane Over the Sea, and have curated your record collection from the soundtrack of Almost Famous (2000)5. Safe liberation is to be more open with your body than your mind. Everybody is inevitably sixteen and thinking about death. Less people write about it. Definitely not the popular kids, or even your mother–you think, after looking through her yearbook. Less people make movies about it. Maybe darkness has a threshold. The two boys you’ve dated regularly read Pitchfork and Chuck Palahniuk, are emotionally unavailable, label themselves as “socially liberal and fiscally conservative”, and wear black nail polish with no topcoat. (You learn this accidentally.) You’ve all considered to not participate in capitalism and are settled on liberal arts schools. You are practically ready to face the world.

Near the end of your last summer before college, you watch Lady Bird (2017)6. It is at about this time that you know you are facing a crisis. You have listened to Mitski on repeat for the past 3 months and considered: making zines, taking a 23andMe test, starting a podcast, starting a blog, or recreating the plot of Spring Breakers (2012). Lady Bird takes you back. You love it so much you watch it four times on your 18-hour flight to another country—partial to why it is so enticing is because this is the first time you’ve watched a plane movie directed by a woman. Suddenly, you are afraid again. It makes you think that perhaps you spent high school caring too much yet caring too little. You might even consider rekindling your relationship with your mother, or at least your therapist. You alarmingly realize you identify a bit more with Timothee Chalamet’s character—bass-playing alternative boyfriend convinced that cellphones were government tracking devices and responded to reasonable relationship problems with: “Do you have any awareness about how many civilians we’ve killed since the invasion in Iraq started?”7 You are casually self-deprecating and uncomfortably open about all your childhood traumas on dates. Wholly, you neglect yourself and read more film reviews. You almost consider switching interests to something more stagnant and less intimate, like becoming a music critic—or maybe writing poetry.

In college, you are asked by the Film Society to unsurprisingly, list your favorite films. You are then invited to interview. The Media Studies and History major asks you to explain your application’s list: the von Trier, Wong Kar-wai, even the standard Coppola. (More details go into this about soundtracks, cinematographic choices, the avant-garde choice of the pineapple symbolism in Wong Kar-Wai’s masterpiece—most of this you could lift from YouTube film essays.) When you get to your most recent choice, he stifles a chuckle8 and asks you to continue. Mortified, you know this is a subtle jab at your selection but cannot find anything else to replace it. You wear black nail polish and listen to the Who, after all, this is still undeniably you. Everyone is inevitably eighteen and has tried to die, except for girls, maybe. Get into the society anyway, be that one voice of color. You wonder about the few movies they’ve watched about girls growing up and wonder if they know what any of it means. Watch more films with boys and wish that you were with girls. Text your mother about the movie you’re in for a few minutes that a college friend is directing and then take four days to respond to her. Like the bad movies so much9 that you raise an ironically successful campaign to screen The Breakfast Club (1985) at the university cinema. Go down to basement shows, think about movies that think about death and governments, listen to teenagers talk about schoolyards and invasions.

  1. Featuring well-aged quotes like “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw, do I look like Mother Teresa?”
  2. You continue to revel in this film much more than you did The Breakfast Club (1985) because you find the teen revenge fantasy and gay suicide pact narrative more relatable than watching white suburban teenagers talk for an hour and 37 minutes.
  3. A witty teenager falls in love with his teacher in his prestigious private school dir. Wes Anderson. The failed relationship here becomes a nesting ground for all your next ones. You take after Rushmore’s “most extracurricularly active and least scholarly” motif for your college applications.
  4. For the sake of my few heterosexual readers, this is a bland reference to 10 Things I Hate About You (1999).
  5. 15-year-old aspiring music critic tours with a fictionalized band mixing the Allman Brothers Band, the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Led Zeppelin dir. Cameron Crowe
  6. Saoirse Ronan is strong-willed, has issues with her mother, friend, and boyfriends, and wants to study anywhere but in Sacramento. You love her. dir. Greta Gerwig
  7. “I’m trying as much as possible not to participate in our economy,” Chalamet’s character says
  8. It is known that the only acceptable coming-of-age is probably Stand By Me (1986)
  9. You are still unequivocally angry from your interview, and could not find yourself in Interstellar (2014) or Vertigo (1958), as hard as you tried

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