I saw Perks of Being a Wallflower yesterday at the Gwangju Theater. The Gwangju Theater is a really great indie movie theater that opened in 1934, making it one of the oldest movie theaters in Korea. They don’t normally show recent releases, rather they show a mix of older foreign and domestic movies. There is only one screen, and when you walk in it’s musty and dark with two floors and leveled seating, and it feels more like you’re going to see a live performance than a movie. When I went to see Gone with the Wind there last fall I felt like I had walked into a different time period – albeit one with great projector technology.
Perks of Being a Wallflower was painful to watch. I spent the entire movie with my coat up against my face wincing. It was so well done – a great mix of sadness, awkwardness, and laugh-out-loud hysteria. It was a return to the awkwardness and heartbreak of high school, and a reminder of how everything was exaggerated. Breakups were the end of the world, the embarrassment from trivial incidents never fully went away, days passed by in neon colors and our friends were the ones who made or broke our experiences. Without giving too much away, the movie is about Charlie, a wallflower who had trouble interacting with others, and the friends (mostly Sam and Patrick) that welcome him into their fold. It made me hurt for an interesting reason – I didn’t identify with Charlie as a wallflower in that during high school I wasn’t popular but I had friends, but because I am a teacher now, and I’m sure I have students like Charlie. The scenes that hit me the hardest were the ones where Charlie interacted with his high school English teacher. Charlie is a student that is naturally bright at English, but a shy introvert who refused to raise his hand in class… if the teacher had been less attentive he might have missed Charlie completely. During their interactions, you could see the pain on both of their faces. Charlie thinking that no one noticed him, and the teacher worrying about Charlie.
Mr. Anderson: You know, they say if you make one friend on your first day, you’re doing okay.
Charlie: If my English teacher is the only friend I make today, that would be sorta depressing.
Charlie spends the first three quarters of the movie recounting his friends’ issues, and hanging around in the background helping them. By the end of the movie you finally realize all of the things that have happened to Charlie to make him the way he is, and how as a wallflower you would never realize this about him.
“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”
How many students do I have that fade into background? Inside every mind is a complete other world, shaped by experiences that are foreign to me. I teach my students once a week if I’m lucky, for fifty minutes. How many of my students are struggling wallflowers, getting by from day-to-day and like Charlie counting the days left until graduation. Am I giving up on my students, and students I haven’t met yet, by deciding to pursue another career path at the end of this year?