March 30, 2008

The Trouble with Teenagers

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I put on my favorite sweatshirt. It had one brown mouse on it and one white one. Both dressed like the main characters from Miami Vice. It said in pink lettering: Miami Mice. One of my best friends had given it to me as a going away present when we moved away from New Hampshire just a few weeks earlier. I thought it would show that I was totally in fashion if I wore something that referenced a popular tv show.

As I nervously walked into my first period class in 8th grade, a big guy with a letterman's jacket turned and looked at me. Or rather, at my shirt. He started laughing. "That is the dumbest sweatshirt I have ever seen." I was mortified. I pretty much hated public school in Olympia after that moment. Every class, every interaction was laced with self-doubt and the exaggeration of the pre-existing who-the-hell-am-I syndrome.

This past week I received an email from one of my sisters. Don't you know this guy? she asked. It was the letterman jacket. All grown up and an asset to society. He is now writing for the Seattle Times blog as he serves in Iraq. The feelings that came rushing back to me when I saw his picture were crazy. I couldn't believe how strongly I still felt about the confusion, the self-hatred, the insecurities that enveloped me during those days of teenage-dom.

As my eyes stung with tears and I tried to reconcile these feelings of mortification with the feelings of wow, this guy is serving the country and I should be grateful to him, I came to the realization that most teenagers are wobbly on their self-discovery feet - it wasn't only me who had the who-the-hell-am-I syndrome. Maybe even letterman jacket had it. Maybe he didn't really know what he was saying, those times he made fun of me. Maybe he was just as confused as I was.

Yesterday I went to Cinema 21 and watched Gus Van Sant's new Portland-based movie, Paranoid Park. Walking out of the theater, I had a bad taste in my mouth. Not only because I didn't put enough salt on my popcorn, but because I had just spent 84 minutes watching insecure, unintelligent teenagers screwing up their lives. There is a murder twist somewhere in the midst of this film about confused teenagers. But that is kind of a minor point.

The film was beautifully shot in Portland. Shots of Half and Half, The House of Louie and the Hawthorne Bridge made me feel at home in the movie, and made me feel like I knew about these kids, their homes, the type of people that they were.

The main character, seemingly devoid of emotion if facial expression is any indicator, is in every shot, slumping in his seat, just hanging out, strutting with his pants hanging down, his plaid boxers showing, his face totally blank. It's the moment, when no one else is around, when he almost calls his dad, when he sits and buries his face in his hands, that one moment that shows the audience that this kid is smoldering with anger and regret, but he can't let it out. He can't let his mother know, the cops know, his dad know. He can't let them know that he accidentally killed someone.

It was the most powerful moment in the film, because that was when I related to him. That was the moment that I realized that he is not so different from me. Not because I have killed someone (I haven't), but because I have felt that strange vaccuum of emotion that so envelopes you when you are a teenager.

We are all insecure, unintelligent teenagers at some point, even the smartest of us. And life doesn't turn out the way we think it will. As teenagers, who really thinks with any sincerity I will fight a war, I will be a writer, I will kill someone.

As I have processed through my opinions of this film over the past 24 hours or so, I have decided that I did like it after all - as a well-done film that portrays teenage life the way I remember it and as part of my hometown.

Paranoid Park is being shown nightly at 7:45 and 9:25 at Cinema 21 through April 3rd.

Cinema 21

616 NW 21st Ave.



L. said...

Broke my heart, Lizzy. Straight up.

todd said...

Very well put.

I think we're all teenagers inside, and we never really get over it, despite years of therapy and stuff.

And speaking of teenage movies, I remember really relating to "Pump Up the Volume" and "Heathers." Have you seen those?

Lizzy said...

I haven't seen those movies... at least that I remember. I will have to check them out.