‘13 Reasons’ brings mental health to Netflix spotlight

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 at 8:11 PM
‘13 Reasons’ brings mental health to Netflix spotlight by Kimberly Firestine

The highly anticipated television adaptation of Jay Asher’s “13 Reasons Why,” produced by Selena Gomez, was released on Netflix on March 31. Led by Katherine Langford (“Hannah Baker”), the series follows the story of a teenage girl’s suicide, told through recorded cassette tapes and maps she leaves behind to explain her decision. Each side of each cassette represents a different person, and each story intertwines to reveal how each person played a part in her death.

The 13 episodes — one for each reason — are a no holds barred look into Hannah’s last year of high school and her life. While it’s not until the last couple of episodes of the series that Netflix attaches a discretionary warning, topics depicted in the episodes include rape, drug use and a lot of partying.

Up until the second half of the series, there isn’t anything too graphic or vulgar that would make most people uncomfortable. It’s not until the episode containing the details of the first rape of a character — yes, the first — made me wonder: how graphic is too graphic?

Granted, “13 Reasons” is rated TV-MA, meaning it’s suitable for mature audiences. It’s not a campy, unrealistic Disney Channel show for tweens. I believe that issues such as those in the storyline should always be discussed with honesty, and we could do a lot better as a society to hold people accountable for their actions when it comes to sexual assault (i.e. the failure to call rapist Brock Turner exactly what he is, instead
of crying about his future in swimming). But seeing Hannah kill herself made me extremely uncomfortable and was triggering to my own mental illness. In short, it really hecked me up for a few hours.

That being said, I feel like the story would not purvey the same amount of emotion and depth of character as it would if it left it out or if the scene was vaguely depicted. Yes, it was very hard to watch, but it was not done without purpose.

The show itself is definitely worth investing 13 hours in.

Having not read the book, I wasn’t initially into the idea of watching it, but showrunner Brian Yorkey did a phenomenal job with this series. The dual storyline of the program — told from the point of view of Hannah and “Clay Jensen” (Dylan Minnette) — is highlighted with great cinematography that helps the viewer avoid any confusion between the constant back-and-forth.

For fans of the book, I can’t say if I recommend it or not. I don’t know the differences between the two media. For fans of good, heart-wrenching television, I 100 percent recommend it. Just be warned if you’re sensitive to any of the aforementioned topics.

13 reasons to watch "13 Reasons Why"

1. Cinematography: The visual differences between shots from Clay’s point of view and Hannah’s point of view make it easy for viewers to be able to tell which story is which. Hannah’s storyline is brighter, with more color in each scene while Clay’s show a greyer, more dismal scene in each story.

2. Time: Only have 13 hours to spare for binge-watching this weekend? Perfect. That’s all it will take for you to rip through the series.

3. Relatability: Remember all those times in high school and college when you got yourself into a little bit of trouble? No? Neither do we...

4. Intrigue: While each episode does represent a different part of the story, the way that they all intertwine makes it almost impossible to stop yourself from watching more than one episode at a time.

5. Timeliness: The timestamps on the deposition tapes shows that they take place in 2017, so it’s not as if you’re witnessing a story in the 1980s that would never happen today or seem unrealistic

6. Real-life situations: There are a lot of scary things that happen that nobody ever wants to talk about. Here, not only do they talk about the issues, they throw the reality of those situations in the viewer’s face

7. Character development: At the end of the series, each character involved in Hannah’s death has realized what they have done, and what they must do to remedy their situations as much as possible. Sometimes series can really fail their characters when they don’t tie up those ends and leave the viewer without character closure.

8. Soundtrack: Of all the recent quality television show soundtracks, 13 Reasons is definitely up there. With music from a mix of artists like Lord Huron, The Cure, The Shins and Joy Division (which you see A LOT of), the soundtrack is one that fans of classic bands and newer indie artists will love.

9. Origin: It’s an adaptation of a book! The young adult novel written by Jay Asher hit #1 on the New York Times Best Seller’s List in 2011. Take the time to read the novel and watch the series, then do some of your own comparing and contrasting.

10. It’s emotional: Need a good cry? Throw on any episode. Guaranteed to get your bottled-up, stress-induced tears flowing.

11. Spreads awareness: 13 Reasons helps explain some of the ways that Hannah showed she was struggling without her coming right out and asking for help. It shows the viewers different ways to tell if someone they know is going through a spell of poor mental health such as grades slipping, social detachment and loss of interest in things someone once enjoyed.

12. De-romanticizes suicide and mental health: There are no manic pixie dream girls in 13 Reasons, just depictions of true and raw struggles with mental health and sexual abuse. It puts real situations and emotions into play to help the viewers further understand the toll they take on a person’s life.

13. It’s just good. 

If you or anyone you know struggles with mental health or thoughts of suicide, help is always available.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.): 1-800-273-8255 U.S. Crisis Text Line: text “Start” to 741-741

Trevor Project: 1-866-488- 7386 

Kimberly Firestine can be reached at ae.spectator@gmail.com.

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