“All the Bright Places” did what “13 Reasons Why” failed to do: Address mental health and suicide in a respectful manner without using violent scenes for shock factor.
The movie is based onJennifer Niven‘s novel of the same name. It starts out with Violet Markey (Elle Fanning), standing on the ledge of a bridge grieving the death of her older siste. But she was stopped by her schoolmate Theodore Finch (Justice Smith), who was jogging in the area. The two then develop a friendship while working on a school project where they have to write about “wonders” in Indiana. Finch also helps Violet in dealing with her grief and teaching her that she shouldn’t let the death of her sister stop her from pursuing opportunities.
Niven has said in several interviews that she wrote “All the Bright Places” based on a boy she’d met when she was younger. “I wouldn’t have written ‘All the Bright Places’ if I hadn’t loved a boy years ago who was a lot like Finch,” Niven said in a 2019 interview with WHSmith. “I met Finch first. As I mentioned, I once knew and loved a boy, and that boy was bipolar. While I did do some research into mental illness, it was the experience of knowing and loving this boy that informed my writing the most. It was amazing and cathartic to give him life, to spend that time with him.”
What “All the Bright Places” did right is show how grief and trauma can affect people. Violet isolates herself from her friends and family after losing her sister to a car crash. She also refuses to ride a car in fear of getting into an accident. Meanwhile, Finch is traumatized by his father’s abusive behavior and vows to “stay in control” so he doesn’t get into a “dark mood” like his father. This is also why he disappears for days and weeks, meets with a school counselor and goes to a group meeting where he can talk about his feelings.
Just like how Finch tries to help Violet get over her grief while they do their Indiana wonders project, Violet also helps him open up. The two of them didn’t set out to “fix” each other but provide companionship during the darkest moments of their lives.
On the other hand, “All the Bright Places” also received flak before it premiered. Those who’ve read the book said on Twitter that people shouldn’t watch the film because of its sensitive themes and how Netflix didn’t have a good track record (read: “13 Reasons Why”) in tackling mental health and suicide in their original films and series. It’s understandable considering that the trailer made it seem like a cute rom-com, not a film that delves into heavy topics. In terms of the story, Finch can come off as a bit pushy in his interactions with Violet and readers/viewers may find it off-putting because it can be interpreted as him insisting on fixing Violet.
Ultimately, it’s the viewers’ choice whether they’ll watch “All the Bright Places” or not. Niven, a mental health advocate, created this story to honor the life of the boy she fell in love with. We’re sure she wouldn’t want people to watch it and feel uncomfortable.
If there’s one thing we learned from both the film and book, it’s to be more empathetic, regardless if you know about a person’s struggles or not. To loosely quote Violet at the end of the film, anyone can be someone’s bright place through acts of kindness.