As the school mourns the death of Hannah Baker, her friend Clay receives a box of tapes with messages she recorded before she committed suicide. From Netflix.com
Trigger Warning: This TV series features scenes of rape and on screen suicide. This review also discusses the suicide in detail.
My review will contain minor spoilers. Do not read if you're yet to watch the TV show.
I want to start off writing this review saying that it's been three years since I read the book, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, that this TV series is based on. There were some things about the story I remembered, a lot of things I didn't. What I remembered most was how powerful I felt it was at the time, how much of an affect it had on me. How much I loved it.
I finished watching 13 Reasons Why yesterday, and, for various reasons, it impacted me even more than the book did. This show is incredible.
This is such an incredible adaptation, but to say it stuck "closely" to the book wouldn't be completely accurate. It's more like it expanded on it. From what I remember of the book, we only ever see Clay listening to the tapes, and through Hannah telling us about her experiences, we see them. With the TV show, we actually learn a lot more about the characters who hurt Hannah. There's a lot more in the present tense; Clay reacts to the tapes, and confronts the various people that are mentioned on them - as far as I remember, this doesn't happen in the book. We don't stay with just Clay and Hannah, either; we see what the other characters are getting up to in the present away from Clay. At first, this really annoyed me. I didn't care how they felt about the tapes, I cared about Hannah, and I wanted the show to focus completely on her and Clay hearing her tapes. But after a few episodes, it was actually really interesting to see what was going on beyond the tapes.
We see the Bakers, Hannah's parents, struggling to come to terms with their daughter's suicide, wanting to know answers and trying to find them. We see the people included in Hannah's tapes deny what Hannah says, claim it didn't happen that way, or that she got things wrong. We see how they react to Clay; his confrontations, and see them worry about what he'll do, and scheming to stop him revealing what's on those tapes. We get more of an insight into these people. Some of them are the scum of the earth; some are selfish and think only of themselves, and some are really struggling with Hannah's death and their part in it. Where I didn't like it at first, I came to enjoy getting to know these characters, and getting to see their side of the story. All are guilty, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they're all bad people. I don't want to say too much more, because I'm worried I'll give things away, but I really enjoyed this aspect of the programme.
I do wish we got more of Hannah, though. Hannah is narrating the tapes, but, being TV, what she talks about on the tapes in the book, in the show we actually get to see it. We see what happens to her, and although these parts are partly narrated with Hannah's voice over, we don't get as much as we do i the book. I didn't feel we got into Hannah's head as well as we do in the book. When she talks about how she feels empty, I felt that more in the book than I did with the TV show. And I think that's down to the script - what Hannah narrates versus what we see. Plus, with seeing all the other characters, which isn't in the book, some things have to be sacrificed. It's not a huge deal, though; if you come to the TV show without having read the book, I don't think it would be a problem. But I did, and so I wanted to hear more about how she felt as well as see what happened. The show still worked really well this way, though. It affected me in such a big way.
I thought the actors who played Hannah and Clay - Katherine Langford and Dylan Minette - were amazing. Minette was perfectly gawky, geeky and socially awkward. Clay was just adorable. But he was also strong; he doesn't just want to listen to the tapes and pass them on, like Hannah wanted, he wants to people to pay, in some way, for what they did. He's super angry on her behalf, and he won't back down from trying to do something. Langford was just incredible as Hannah. Her facial expressions were just amazing; she was sad and empty and angry so often, and it was all shown through her face, seeing how she felt. They both completely embodied their characters, and though I knew I was watching a TV show, they felt so incredibly real to me; it didn't feel like watching actors play parts, but like watching these people. They were both perfect. And they both broke my heart.
I can rave all day about how this is such a great show, and such a brilliant adaptation, but I now want to talk about how important the show is. The book really upset me, but there's something about actually watching these things play out that's even more powerful. It's happening right in front of you. With a book, I think you're able to put a lid on what you imagine if it's too upsetting; you can read it, but you don't necessarily have to "see" it in your mind's eye. But with the TV show, it's right there, and you can see it. You can see how, one after the other, Jessica, Justin, Alex, Tyler, Marcus, Zach and so one, hurt Hannah. How they chip away at her self-esteem, her sense of self-worth. You see it happening on screen. Chip. Chip. Chip. Until there's nothing left, except pain and emptiness. You can't hide from that. And like Hannah says, some of the things that happen to her may not seem like a big deal, but you can never know how someone will react, how it will affect them, what they are already going through and dealing with. 13 Reasons Why is powerful. It shows us, it says "This is what bullying does. This is how bullying affects people. And this is what happens when nothing is done about it."
Watching this show isn't easy. It's so bloody hard. So hard. My mood, for days, was at a low. I was thinking about Hannah when I wasn't watching it. Like when I read the book, I was desperately hoping that someone would see, would intervene, would do something and help her. But it's already happened. You know she's dead. And as you watch, you know things are just going to get worse with each episode. It shows the affects of bullying, and the depth of depression. The loneliness, the emptiness, the pain that never abates. And you see Hannah commit suicide. You actually see her slit her wrists. I don't mean the camera focuses while it happens, I mean you actually see her put a razor blade to her wrists and slice her arms open, you see the blood pour out. It might just be one of the most disturbing and horrific things I have seen in a TV show or movie. (I can't remember how Hannah commits suicide in the book. But seeing someone slit their wrists over swallowing some pills, for example, is just so incredibly powerful. )You don't just see how badly she is affected by all that she's experienced, you see what it leads her to do. There's no hiding away from the realities of bullying and depression. And no, not everyone who is bullied or has depression commits suicide, but there are those who do, and this time, we see it. "This is what happens," the show is telling us. "You can't hide from this. This is what happens when bullying and depression get so bad, you don't feel you can live with it any more. This is the reality of suicide. Look. Look and see." And you do. Or, I did. I couldn't look away. It's a TV show, I know, but as I've already said, these characters felt real. And I couldn't look away - for Hannah, I couldn't look away. She wasn't seen, nobody knew, but I was seeing her now. It's strange and possibly stupid, but I couldn't leave her alone. I watched for her. I watched for those who actually take their lives. I felt sick. I felt physically sick, and thought I was going to throw up. But I watched, and I saw. And when Hannah's parents find her, I just about lost it. It was too much. It was so much, but it was real.
13 Reasons Why is incredible. But more importantly, it's goddamned important. We need this show. We will continue to need this show, until we get it. Until we notice. Until we see how our actions affect others. Until we start treating people differently. Until we start showing people kindness, compassion and understanding. Until people like Hannah get the help they need, rather than be ignored, dismissed, and pushed aside. Until we can save them.
I want to finish by saying, after finishing the show, definitely watch 13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons. Its a half an hour episode where the actors, creators, child psychologists and people from other organisations talk about the importance of the show, the reasons they filmed the show as they did, and the very important, horrific topics the show shines a light on. It's just as important as the show, as it can explain the why behind a lot of things, and what we can do to help others. Watch it. It's important.
This whole thing is complete perfection. Heartbreaking, affecting, unbelievably disturbing and deeply upsetting perfection.
Released: 31st March 2017
Writer: Brian Yorkey
Starring: Katherine Langford and Dylan Minette
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One of the things that drew me to #13ReasonsWhy was the message. If you need help go to https://t.co/4rQXMn6H0y to find an org. in your area pic.twitter.com/tEMewTlPQJ— Kate Walsh (@katewalsh) April 10, 2017
13 Reasons Why Crisis Information
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