Suicide is a subject that should not be taken lightly. After the announcement that a Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, would surround the topic of suicide, I anticipated watching the series and wondered how they would appropriately depict a life of depression. The series is based on a best-selling novel that I have yet to read, written by Jay Asher.
It was directed by Gregg Araki, Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Carl Franklin, Tom McCarthy, Helen Shaver and Jessica Yu, who all successfully portray the lives of high school students who suffer from pressures that surround them. The plot surrounds the suicide of a transfer student, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who records tapes after her death and forces thirteen individuals to listen to her journey as she holds them accountable for leading her to suicide.
Throughout the series, the music is one thing that a viewer will constantly connect to. Many of the songs are love songs that reference teenage crushes, yet they have a deeper meaning when analyzed. Several pieces that are included on the soundtrack also reference suicide of influential musicians such as Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain. The songs illustrate the setting of each scene and provide a mood that is contemplative and somber. Since the topic of suicide is so heavy, many of the songs are slow, yet more upbeat and joyous songs were also included. The variety of music did not disappoint.
The cinematography also aided in setting the mood. The directors created a high school atmosphere that did not feel artificial. The images of the classes and hallways were, for the most part, rational.
Still, like just about every teenage movie, this series contained characters that seemingly could not be detached from their varsity football jackets. It included many cliches that are expected of every high school drama.
Of all of the characters, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) stands out the most. He plays the role of Hannah Baker’s former love interest with a seriousness that almost becomes comical. As young actresses and actors, each character executed their role with extreme maturity. Justin Foley (Brandon Flynn), conveyed his emotions in a way that provoked the viewers to feel sympathetic for a teen who caused much havoc.
Dialogue between characters was central to the show. It expressed the way that teens talk amongst one another and provoked thoughts about how easily rumors may spread. The directors greatly intensified scenes through the words of characters, especially through the words of the tapes that told a story.
The show rotates between present-day and the time that Hannah Baker was alive. It is essential for a viewer to watch every second or else one may be viewing something that happened months ago without realizing that the times have changed. In order to keep up with what time period things are occurring, Clay Jensen has a cut on his forehead that indicates the present. Realistically, the cut would have disappeared after some time. Though this injury seems to be so trivial, it is a key identifier in the series. For example, when Clay sees Hannah at her locker while he has a gash across his forehead, it indicate that he is simply seeing the ghost of Hannah or imagining her. When he sees her in the hallway and his forehead is clear, he is recalling a memory of Hannah Baker. It is astounding that such a trivial detail coveys such a powerful message.
The Netflix series also contained some inconsistencies. In early episodes, there is a map of the town that accompanies the tapes. Those listening are told to follow the map that will lead them where they need to go, yet the map simply disappears in early episodes.
Thirteen students receive the tapes, and each student carefully obeys Hannah’s requests, yet they do not want Clay Jensen to listen to the tapes, so they attempt to advise ways around it. The students seemingly have no solution, yet they could have simply never finished these tapes, so they would never move on to the next person. Even though they all show extreme terror while Clay is listening to the tapes, they never postpone him from doing so, which makes no sense if they fear his reaction. Still, no one heavily questions whether or not the tapes are true.
Many viewers have expressed that they believe that several of Hannah’s reasonings for her suicide are frivolous matters that many high school students encounter. For this reason, many of the tapes have become a joke on social media platforms. She explained that she killed herself for a number of reasons including the fact that she was chosen as having the best physique by her classmates - a title that many on social media have explained they wish they could earn.
The series is most appropriate for teens. Still, some may need to be accompanied by a parent due to the fact the topics that are covered should not be taken lightly. 13 Reasons Why covers the issues of suicide, underage drinking, peer-pressure and sexual assault, but one thing that is not discussed is mental illness. Hannah Baker’s emotions, like the emotions of many teens, are not consistent. Small things appear to cause her to spiral and downfall, which indicates a mental illness, yet this is never addressed. The mental illness may have been the cause of suicide.
Instead, the series romanticizes suicide and portrays it as a way to climb the steps of popularity. When Hannah dies, instantly, the whole entire school is talking about her. Some believe that Clay Jensen’s way of listening to the tapes and holding on to the last piece of Hannah that he has-her voice, generated the idea that suicide is the easy way out when suffering from pain, and love interests will fight on your behalf when you are gone.
The series was a rollercoaster. There were some questions that were still left unanswered, yet it brought attention to complications in today’s society. Still, I have one major problem with the series: it glamorizes suicide and suggests that it is the only solution to a life, not full of depression but full of typical teenage problems.