Sunday, December 15, 2013

Film Review: How I Live Now

Copyright: Magnolia Pictures
Daisy arrives in rural England to visit her relatives. She is from New York and wears an outfit straight from the first row on a Ramones concert in the early 80s. With her style, she also brings a bad attitude, followed by a hectic stream of consciousness that reveals an obsessive, negative, self-undermining mental attitude. Daisy is complex and broody, while her relatives are easy-going, cheerful kids from the English countryside. In the background, information about an undefined conflict between the Western powers and an unknown enemy are shown, but no one is taking too much notice. While Daisy tries to fit in and stand out at the same time, slightly interested in one of her new neighbors, a strong detonation is heard. Soon, it starts to snow in the middle of the summer, and the kids retreat to their family home, where they learn that a nuclear explosion occurred in the London metropolitan area.

How I LiveNow is based on a novel by the same name, written by Meg Rosoff. It, just like the film, is targeted at the young adult audience. I didn’t read the original work of art, but I was glad to see that the movie isn’t in the Twilight zone – it is a romantic tale at its core, but it’s also a serious drama about the bewilderment of war and its impact on the human condition. 

Saoirse Ronan leads this film very confidently. At the beginning of the film, she is a lot of things, but always seems oriented solely on her feeling, thoughts and wants. As the movie progresses, she becomes tied to Piper, her younger cousin, and slowly begins to take responsibility for the both of them. Her process of growing up is painful and the story doesn’t remain optimistic, but instead gets more and more realistic as she and Piper begin their trek to the family house. Ronan excelled especially in the parts of the movie where she can’t verbally express herself, but rather has to present her feelings only using her face and body language. She does this with a lot of tact, and doesn’t trivialize her character, even when Daisy finds herself confronted with terrible sights and decisions. At this rate, 19-year-old actress will soon become one of the leading artists of her generation. She definitely already has all that is needed for this status.

How I Live Now is also one of those movies that apply the post-apocalyptic setting in the English landscape. In spite of the plot, this film doesn’t use this card in the regular way, focusing on the mental and emotional state of the main character a lot more than on the broader geopolitical picture. The story involves killings and other brutality, but only as devices that shape Daisy and other people.

For me, the film was a tender story about war and the suffering it brings. I’m not so impressed with the underlining message that awful events help people with emotional problems (Daisy is presented in the beginning as a stereotypical self-consumed neurotic). I interpreted this idea as another variation of the old “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” message, and thus a wider mentality that still sees relatively mild psychological problems and difficulties as something people choose for themselves. This simply isn’t true, and more often wars and any other hard, traumatic periods only add to the emotional suffering of the afflicted individual.