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A (Brief) Existential Analysis of “Before I Fall”

The 2017 film “Before I Fall,” directed by Ry Russo-Young and adapted from Lauren Oliver’s novel of the same name, follows the last day of the popular and beautiful Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch). Several times over. The film opens with Sam waking up on Friday, February 12. Sam’s day begins the way all of her days begin. She wakes up, disregards her family in the way moody teenagers tend to do, gets driven to school by her best friend, Lindsay (Halston Sage), and goes to class. Later that night, she and her friends go to a party. Sam is living in blissful monotony as the typical popular mean girl. At the end of the night, Sam and her friends leave the party and are driving home. The car hits something and flips off the road.

Following the car crash, Sam lives the same day over and over again, and not in the metaphorical way. She literally wakes up on Friday, February 12 every day. The same events of the day happen. The only things that change day to day are due to Sam’s own actions.

Without going into an extensive explanation of the origins and subsequent history of existentialism, which is something that neither I want to write nor you want to read about, existentialism, in essence, is the philosophical movement dependent on the idea that life has no inherent meaning, and that it is one’s own duty to determine their own meaning in life.

Throughout the film, Sam follows a sort of journey to existential enlightenment. She’s reliving the same day over and over again, trying to figure out what happened that night at the party and what she can do to change it.

The director also cleverly incorporates several existential concepts in the background of the film. For example, Sam’s English teacher mentions Sisyphus. In short, Sisyphus is a Greek figure who was condemned to an eternity of pushing a rock up a mountain, all for it to roll down to the bottom every single time. Sound familiar? Sam’s rock is the last day of her life. Regardless of what she did on Friday, February 12, she kept waking up to the same exact day.

Additionally, there’s a scene in which Sam has a conversation in a school bathroom with a girl who Sam and her friend’s would often bully. Written on the wall of the bathroom was the quote by M.C. Escher, “Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.” Throughout the entire film, Sam is attempting the absurd: to change the outcome of her last day. As Sam is talking to the girl, she asks “Do you ever feel like you’re living the same day over and over again with only, like, a few things different?” The girl responds in an almost comedic way, saying “You just described my whole life!” This little dialogue between the girls was a way to demonstrate the universal struggle that Sam is going through. Even though the other girl isn’t literally living the same day over and over again, she and everyone in the world is going through the same dilemmas in life.

While “Before I Fall” has all of the aspects of a classic teen movie: popularity, parties, romance and friendships, the overall premise of the film sets the stage for the bigger lesson that Sam ultimately learns about herself and her existence, allowing her to truly appreciate everything about her life before she inevitably falls.

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