A few days ago, I finished watching Netflix’s newest miniseries 13 Reasons Why, based on the book written by Jay Asher, and it has left me pondering. Because the story ends on a cliffhanger, I am left with so many questions. But I am also wondering something else:
Why is 13 Reasons Why such a sensitive subject?
For centuries, there’s been stories told about characters who deal with depression and question life or death (Hamlet). There’s also been stories about lovers who hurt themselves to be with the one they truly love (Romeo & Juliet). Let’s be honest though, watching 13 Reasons Why is nothing like watching the Romeo & Juliet adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio. The original Shakespeare love story is cheesy and not realistic. It doesn’t feel real. But 13 Reasons Why does. Doesn’t it?
We’ve been to high school. We’ve dealt with bullying and cyber bullying. We’ve all met a person who reminds us of Hannah Baker. I know I have met a handful of them. Fortunately, no one close to me has taken his or her life, but that doesn’t make the character Hannah seem any less genuine.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the creators of 13 Reasons Why pushing the boundary too far. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that some of those episodes didn’t make my stomach turn or keep me up at night, because they certainly did. But I give kudos to the writer Jay Asher and all the production staff for this series. They took a risk and I applaud them for that. There are several cringe worthy scenes in the series but without them, we would lose the story. Stories should leave the reader (or in this case, the observer) with anticipation.
What is going on?
Who is this happening to?
Why should I care?
If someone were to watch the first few minutes of Saw, they’d be left questioning the appearance of the scene. It opens with one man chained down in a full bath tub and another man shackled to the other side of the bathroom.
Holy shit, what the fuck is going on?
As the movie proceeds, we learn how these two complete strangers are connected and find out why they are being tortured. I understand that some people can’t handle that type of gore but at the end of the day Saw portrays a slightly sick perspective on what it means to value your life.
13 Reasons Why shares its story through cassette tapes and multiple flashbacks. These flashbacks weave the story of Hannah Baker’s life and the aesthetic cassette tapes give 13 Reasons Why its charm. The cassette tapes are used as the story-telling device. Through them, we are shown and told how specific students were connected to Hannah. What better way to narrate a story that takes place in a time when everyone is obsessed with their iPhones? I find it to be beautifully brilliant.
At the end of the series, we witness Hannah Baker committing suicide. I don’t count this as a spoiler because anyone with a Facebook account has already seen several articles or memes about this fact. We start the series already knowing that Hannah Baker is no longer with us. She has left recordings of herself listing the thirteen reasons she took her own life. Going into it, we already know what the result is going to be so why are so many people bothered by this?
If a story is not for you, it’s not for you. As I mentioned before, not everyone likes gory horror movies and even though the overall message in Saw is a great one to know, a viewer may prefer Nightmare on Elm Street.
I believe this show is a little too close for comfort for some viewers. This show pushes the envelope and it gives us more than we could ever ask for in a miniseries. If it wasn’t for those thirteen reasons, there would be no story. The series would open on Hannah Baker’s locker and you’d hear a couple students walk by talking about how she’s gone and then the scene would fade to black. Am I wrong to think that when someone dies we want to know why?
This even excludes suicide. You hear about a family member or friend being rushed to the hospital, aren’t you going to panic and ask why? If someone passes away, don’t you want to know why?
This series gives us those reasons and we are combatting them. We are arguing with this character’s triggering points. We are arguing with them because they feel a little too real – don’t you think? I read an article the other day claiming that Hannah Baker’s reasons for killing herself were bull shit and it’s not right to pin the blame on someone else. Are we forgetting that 13 Reasons Why is a story? If it weren’t for the tapes, we wouldn’t know who any of the characters are, we would know nothing about Hannah. I look at the use of the tapes as a brilliant mechanism, not a blame game. I respect this story-telling method. I wish I could have come up with something that original.
I’ll say it again, it’s beautifully brilliant.
Disclaimer: Not every book, movie or TV show is going to be for you. If you’re not comfortable with certain content, that’s okay. This is simply my opinion about the series.