Over this past weekend I saw the movie “Dear Evan Hansen.” I had no previous knowledge about the movie, so I had no real expectations about it either. I didn’t know it was a musical. But I saw the actor who played the main character on the Jimmy Fallon show and was intrigued. Despite the fact that since the weekend I have heard some negative reviews, I would say go and see for yourself. It is a film I think every teen should see.
The main character, Evan Hansen, is a high school student who feels isolated from his peers, who aches for some basic human understanding, who wishes his life was different and has certainly felt the cruelty of various social media platforms. He’s a high school senior who feels invisible, seemingly has only one friend he hangs out with at school and is on medication to help him deal with face-to-face interactions.
Evan is the son of a single mom who works long hours as a nurse and so he longs for his image of the perfect family. He’s a kid who is in therapy and has as an assignment to write a letter to himself each day talking about positive things in his life. The problem is he can’t really see them. He writes a letter that may well have been his own suicide note, but it is taken by this other troubled kid at school. It falls into the hands of the grieving parents whose son took his own life. This couple is struggling with the teen suicide of their son and the mother, finding the note, wants to meet Evan Hansen who she mistakenly believes was friends with her son. Evan makes some bad choices and what starts out as an innocent lie spirals out of control.
I don’t want to give away the whole movie plot, but what I was so struck by are the multiple messages in this movie. It certainly highlights mental health issues and the anxiety and depression kids feel today. It speaks of the isolation kids feel due to the pandemic lockdowns. It deals with the stresses of being a single parent, trying to make enough money for you and your child and feeling lost and guilty at times in your mother child relationship. It shows how grief is dealt with in such individual ways. It portrays Evan’s struggle to tell the truth and the consequences when you don’t. It points out, through the lyrics of emotionally packed songs the individual struggles of other teens in dealing with invisibility, anxiety, depression, and the desire to simply be known for who you are. As members of the audience it took us through various feelings of loneliness, pain, anxiety, helplessness and fear. What I liked is that it didn’t try to sugarcoat these emotions but to expose them as part of human nature that can be moving and unsettling to say the least.
The lyrics of some of the songs were so poignant and I wish I could remember them all. However, there was one song, “You Will Be Found” that gave you hints of hope that no matter what, you are NOT alone. I only remember this one part of the song’s lyrics: “Even when the dark comes crashing through, when you need a friend to carry you, when you’re broken and on the ground, you will be found.” It was a tender, thought-provoking movie that I hope every high school student is required to see.
Many of our Providence Sisters were or are teachers. I hope you have an opportunity to see this movie and perhaps have discussions with your students about it.
Barbara McMullen, CDP