Monday, October 4, 2021

Connection vs. Escapism

I had a conversation with a friend about Dear Evan Hansen. She said, "Oh, I couldn't stand that movie. It was so dark and depressing. When I go to the movies, I want to ESCAPE! I don't want to be reminded of all the problems in the world." I countered, "Not me. When I got to the movies, I'm not looking for escape from my problems. I'm looking for CONNECTION. I want to relate to what I'm seeing, and gain perspective that help me with my problems."

I think this is a fundamental difference in approaching movies, and even in approaching the world. Neither is more right than the other (except the one that's my viewpoint -- that one is more right, of course). 

Dear Evan Hansen was definitely heavy. I wouldn't call it dark and depressing, even though it certainly dealt with big topics like suicide and depression and mental health. But to me, what was more important than the tone of the movie was its relatability. 

I first saw DEH on Broadway, just two months after my best friend died by suicide. It was gut wrenching and raw and difficult to watch. But cathartic at the same time. I related to Evan being the last one to talk to Connor before Connor's suicide. I related to his feelings of helplessness and despair. I related to Evan's own suicidal ideations. 

Watching the show anew, two years later, all the feels hit even harder. I still connected with the messages about suicide and feelings of hopelessness, even though I'm further removed now from witnessing my friend's death. But watching the film version of this story brought about different connections for me. I related to the social anxiety Evan exhibits, and couldn't help but think of my own kids and the struggles they have. I know this is not what Evan Hansen has, but I have a child with autism who is amazing and has the most incredible brain. I have another child who struggles socially, and often feels like they "have always been that barely-in-the-background kind of guy". 

Watching Dear Evan Hansen in the movie theater, I didn’t want to escape life. I wanted to connect. I wanted to feel my feelings, as raw and ugly and complicated as they might be. Feelings can be tough to face sometimes, and it feels like they are somehow easier to access when watching a show with a story or characters I can relate to. At least, this is my experience. I don't want to escape my feelings, I want to feel them. Because in the end, just like Evan learns, I want to let the sun come streaming through, I want to live my life. I want to be alive. I want to connect, not escape.

I don’t want to disappear.

If you are having suicidal ideations or you don’t know where to turn, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. 

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