Hope and Reciprocity in The Spectacular Now

September 16, 2013 at 12:35am

I kept putting off going to see The Spectacular Now because the only theatre running it (only once per day) near me was a longer drive than I like to make in weekend highway traffic. I was delighted that a nearer theatre picked it up this week, over a month after its release, and gave me the opportunity for convenient hanging out time with someone I don't see super often. It was a happy happenstance and better than we should have expected as fans of indie movies (Upstream Color didn't even premiere in my city). I have a mound of work to get done right now as I'm typing, but I've really missed blogging since summer ended. While I'll try to be brief, I think it's important for me to sit down and process my feelings on the story through writing.

There's More to a Person than Just One Thing

The film is framed by Sutter's response to an essay prompt about hardship, and his ever-changing perception of what the hardship in his life means. At first, he thinks the end of his relationship is the biggest thing he's had to face. He's so engrossed in the present that he can't fathom a future where he isn't just one half of "the life of every party." Others discover, though, that he's "not the joke everyone thinks he is," something that he probably didn't even realize himself. His teacher recognizes his thoughtfulness, but can't imagine why he's so unmotivated. He coasts, admits in his essay draft that his life really isn't that hard, but does so incredibly complexly. He thinks he's just trying to help Aimee out, but it really isn't that simplistic for him; she catches him off guard, causes him to make plans and pass geometry. (I love how in two teen romances involving characters played by Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars, one of the initial bonds is formed over a book of some sort. Sharing stories is the new communion.)

This is the Youngest We'll Ever Be

Life slams Sutter with lots of things throughout the story. When he meets Aimee, who is ridiculously good to him, he sees the juxtaposition of her dreams (I love that space and working for NASA holds hope for her) and the settled lifestyle of his sister's family and his teacher, who are exactly where they supposedly wanted to be, yet somehow still aren't fully happy or satisfied. He meets his father, who isn't the idealized figure he expects (ideas always disappoint), and sees an extreme version of what he could become. His obvious alcoholism (he's buzzed for the majority of the movie and I freaked out every time he got in a car) aids his in-the-moment escapism, but then turns around and hits him hard when it starts pushing away the precious few things that are good to him: his boss (Drinking and driving? Better Call Saul!), Aimee, his mother. He recognizes and appreciates the beauty in the now, which is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but he can't seem to translate it into the possibility of a hopeful future. It hurts him as he rapidly approaches that giant transitional period in life where everyone is graduating and moving on into uncertainty and he is expected to keep pace.

I Want More Than a Moment, I Want a Future

By the end of the movie he realizes that the most difficult thing he faces is learning to let himself reciprocate the love he has in his life and overcome his dependence on the now to deal with his inability to accept the future as it comes. He learns to accept the good things in his life and overcome the idea that he doesn't deserve what he has or is bad for everyone around him or will end up like his father; the fears cowing him into inaction. Any time I talk about inaction I also like to compare things to Hamlet; may I submit that Sutter had bound himself in the nutshell of the present and declared himself king of infinite space, all the while ignoring the bad dreams each flicker of opportunity for a brighter future Aimee presents him? He finds his capacity to love and deserve love and there's a nice montage of all the people that are important to him and all the feels are felt.

This, Right Here, This is Beautiful

I feel ambiguity toward whether or not the ending was meant to be ambiguous. Aimee sees Sutter and smiles, but the smile seemed reserved to my perception. It's like the end of Inception, but with the extra layer of "was that really supposed to be ambiguous or do I just not feel feelings correctly" added on top. Either way, The Spectacular Now was fantastically sincere and made me feel fortunate for what I have in the now and what promise the future can hold.