Before I Fall, based on the 2010 book by Lauren Oliver, centers on a young lady that relives the same day over and over – the day of her apparent death.
The day starts normally, with her friends picking her up for school on Valentine’s Day (here: Cupid Day). Normal for Sam means preparing to have sex for the first time later that night, hanging out with her shallow Mean Girl friends, making fun of and bullying other students, and going to a party where she and her friends – all underage – will drink until drunk. After bullying a young lady at the party, and after drinking quite a bit and possibly being drunk, Sam and get friends set off for home but hit something in the road, crash and Sam dies. Then she wakes up again and does it all over.
“What do you think people will say about you when you die?” Asks Sam on her first repeat. Even as an awareness of her shallow lifestyle starts to dawn on her, Sam still considers depth from the perspective of selfishness.
By her second repeat, Sam continues the narration from the opening lines. Now she wants to make positive changes and starts asking questions about her life choices. She smartly rejects her planned sexually encounter with her boyfriend recognizing that she “shouldn’t have to have sex with him to get him to say ‘I love you.'”
After she wakes for her third repeat, though, she says, “I did everything right and nothing changed.” Which sets off uncounted days of despair. So instead of being nice, she decides to be even more selfish and lets her anger out on everyone around her as she self destructs.
At one point Sam asks her mom if she thinks Sam is a good person. The mom says, “Of course I do, but what matters is what you think.” Sam replies, “But why do you think I’m a good person?” And that’s the most important question this movie may ask of us. By what criteria can
we say Sam (or anyone) is “good?” The story seems to suggest the answer is by being true to yourself (literally in a big sign on a boy’s wall) and being nice to people around you. But those are not actually good answers, because so many characters who are being true to themselves are simply not good by any criteria. Since the movie struggles to find a good definition of “good,” the ending isn’t as powerful or permanent as it could have been.
[SPOILERS]The resolution and final conclusion of the story is when Sam somehow realizes that she needs to save someone else from suicide by effectively committing suicide by jumping in front of the truck to push the other girl out of the way. There are so many issues with this resolution it’s hard to cover them all. How is her dieing somehow the best resolution? Why couldn’t she have tackled the girl or got in her way? What about telling an adult? (Isn’t that the best answer for a teenager dealing with this?) And even if this was the best way to end things, it’s done in such a selfish way that it’s unclear exactly what Sam learned, only that she got a bunch of positive memories in her final last days. She tells a boy who loves her that she loves him then runs off to her death. She tells her friends how much they mean to her but doesn’t teach them any lessons about how underage drinking, sex, distracted driving, or being mean and bullying all made their lives and the lives around them bad. She never calls her friend Lindsey on how She bullied everyone (in her final day). She leaves them pretty much how she found them. The girl didn’t commute suicide, but was Sam really save by her? I’m not so sure.[END SPOILERS]
Those are not the only reasons to be concerned about this film. Without giving too many details away (see spoilers above of you must), there are some really troubling things that happen in the film that are often portrayed positively. Things that make this story significantly more appropriate for an adult than a teenager – the intended audience. Underage drinking and sex are portrayed in a mostly glorified way and lessons learned through the film don’t really counter the negative messages throughout.
In the end, this is a film that tries to send the right message but ultimately fails for lack of a standard on what “good” actually means. As a Christian this makes sense to me, because apart from God no one can be good, so a film set with a purely atheistic worldview cannot come to a clear conclusion. We are left with a weak answer: Sam must learn to be nice in high school, but she can still participate in any sins she may want to so long as she doesn’t bully people. While I think it is “good” to be nice and not bully people that can’t be the end of the journey. True love for others warns of dangers, it doesn’t just smile and say the words. Lessons need to last, not be covered up by a single day or act, then everything goes back to normal.
2/5 stars. Tons of bad language of every stripe, with an emphasis on B*****. Strong focus on sexuality. No nudity. One repetitive view of an underage girl’s chest in a bra. Sexuality is discussed along with slurs made towards a self described lesbian. Underage drinking and drunkenness. Bullying. Drunken and distracted driving. Suicide. Immorality doesn’t often have consequences. Agonist no violence other than the car crashes, which doubt show anything.
Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.