Monday, 15 October 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Mental Health, PTSD, and Literature

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, mental health and PTSD
Sam, played by Emma Watson, and Charlie, who appears to have PTSD, by Logan Lerman From guardian.co.uk
Perhaps I enjoyed watching the film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower so much because the novel's author, Stephen Chbosky, directed it. Judging by the frequency of his name on the credits, he did most the work. Therefore, it seemed incredibly difficult for the film to be unfaithful to the book; a novel that I remembered enjoying some years ago.

The film hit home hard on many levels. The story of Charlie, a high-school "wallflower" affected by mental health problems, seemed all too familiar. I was practically his female equivalent when in secondary school. He says the wrong thing, and then he worries incessantly about the consequences. His family believe that everything is fine, and that he will automatically make friends at a new school. He's tormented by troubling memories, including his best friend's suicide and a history of childhood abuse that's gradually unveiled. Charlie cannot blame others; instead he manages to find reasons to relieve them of it. For instance, that they had a hard life, they had relationship troubles, they were treated unfairly. This attitude continues until his feelings bottle over after a breakdown. For someone with PTSD, this film was emotional to watch.

Another aspect I related to greatly was the relief Charlie finds in literature and music. The friendly, supportive bond he forms with his English teacher is admirable, and it even makes me consider the job for myself. The teacher, played by Paul Rudd so well, helps a student like Charlie in what I see as the best way possible: he shares books with him. By giving him literature like Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye, Charlie finds he can trust him. Charlie knows that he can ask him about almost anything, even love. Teachers should take notes on Paul Rudd's performance. For anyone nerdy like me, below is a list of the texts that Charlie receives in the novel. It's interesting to consider how reading the following would shape a young person...

Books mentioned in The Perks of Being a Wallflower:



The Perks of Being a Wallflower cover
I mentioned that I can relate to the music involved in both novel and film. Charlie is very fond of Asleep by The Smiths, as evident in the countless mentions the song receives. Like Chbosky's Charlie, the song (to be clichéd) just struck a chord with me. It would with any troubled person, I imagine. Also like Charlie, I wasn't an attention-seeking person back then - nor am I now - but someone filled with deeply painful memories and feelings. Eventually you need an outlet.

The film's ending is positive, I'd conclude. Charlie's family is now aware of his trauma, and this hopefully suggests that his recovery will be actively overseen by them. Charlie is in contact with his friends Patrick and Sam after a brief friendship hiccup, and he has his typewriter for cathartic release. I'm sure that the post-plot Charlie will pull through, as we all will too.

So, I guess we are who we are for alot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.
Here's a link to the novel, if you're interested in buying it.


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9 comments:

Steph said...

After reading this post, I am even more excited about this movie and novel. Your description of Charlie reminds me of both my daughter and myself. Excellent post, Lucy!

Lucy said...

Thank you, Steph!

Anonymous said...

Hi there! I found your blog from SAS.
I wanted to ask a quick question after reading this.(I love your blog and you are a fantastic writer, by the way.) You mention that Charlie is socially inept and you feel the same, however, you are an avid reader. I've read that avid readers of fiction tend to score higher on tests of social intelligence, due to the reading of various characters, and understanding how to read into gestures and unsaid words. What are you thoughts about this? I feel like I am also socially inept, but I also enjoy reading immensely. Curious to know what you think of the study.
-Daff

Lucy said...

Thanks for such a lovely comment :) That's also a really interesting question. I often say completely the wrong thing in social situations, although that's perhaps because I panic and can't think clearly. I'm also very introverted, and therefore I prefer staying in to read a book than socialising.

I'm not sure if that makes sense - I'll definitely give it a lot more thought!

Anonymous said...

Hmm.. that's true for me also. Maybe the study was directed at people who lead regular social lives with the addition of reading fiction, rather than people who spend most of their time reading. :P Here is a link to an article on it - http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/06/12/20/those_who_read_fiction_better_at_reading_people.htm

Lucy said...

That link is really interesting, thank you for sharing :) I definitely agree with the point near the end of the article that describes how beneficial reading is for mental health!

Caro said...

What a beautiful post. I agree with all of it, especially the therapeutic effect that books can have on people with mental illnesses. I love that you compiled a list of the books mentioned in it!

tolstoytherapy said...

Thank you, Caro! It's a great book, and contains such a positive message about literature. I'm glad that you enjoyed it too, and found my post useful :)


Also, if you haven't seen the film production of Perks, I'd definitely recommend it too!

James Henderson said...

I really enjoyed reading this novel and seeing the film as well. I agree with you that the film benefited from being directed by the author. But the best thing are the literary references and your list of the books. I could relate to Charlie through his reading best of all, just like I have always been fond of David Copperfield in part through his reading life.