Fictional characters serve as sources of entertainment — figures used to keep stories moving and to make us laugh, cry and think. While it is easy to become hooked by a gripping plot, our emotions towards shows, films, or books are all often forgotten after the end credits have rolled or the last page has been turned.
However, fictional characters mean so much more than the occasional smile or tear to a lot of people. Sometimes audiences experience deep and long-lasting impacts after following how a character lives, adapts, and grows during their storyline. These characters can change the ways in which we think and feel about ourselves, others, and society. We can project ourselves onto them, finding comfort in the fact that someone, although not real, is going through the same things that we are. Or we can be moved by their stories and struggles, establishing a strong connection with them.
I reached out to a number of different people to find out about fictional characters who have impacted them personally, and these were their responses:
Even Bech Næsheim — SKAM
“I started watching ‘SKAM’ a year and a half ago after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was going through a really bad depression and not really handling it very well. ‘SKAM’ served as a great distraction and when I watched the hotel scene where Even has his manic episode, I sat in bed crying for hours because the emotions were so powerful — it was really raw and portrayed extremely truthfully in my opinion. It also affected me because I’d been there — I’d been in his place and I know what it feels like to not be able to control what’s going on inside your head, to feel fine when everyone is telling you that you’re not.
I also connect with Even’s character because he’s kind, artistic, funny and smart — he doesn’t let being bipolar define him. Sometimes he does struggle to cope with his illness — he finds it to hard to tell people in fear of rejection, and he’s scared that his illness is all that people will see once they know about it. However, in the end, he doesn’t let it define him and I find that so important. Even isn’t perfect, but he’s trying and watching him really helped me when I was in a bad place — he helped me to see that there isn’t anything wrong with me.”
— Hannah from England
Elio Perlman — Call Me By Your Name
“It is rare to have a deep connection with a fictional character, but with Elio I felt that connection instantly. The first time I watched Call Me By Your Name, I left the cinema with a hole in my chest, but without shedding a tear. The moment I got home though, I burst into tears. I wasn’t comfortable enough to cry in front of others because I knew that it was not the character alone that made me feel so extremely vulnerable, but it was the part of him I could see in myself that really touched something in me. It was like looking at myself from a different point of view. I realized how young and lost I was when my first love broke my heart.
Elio’s ways of talking and being passionate about music and life took me back to my adolescence. I felt deeply connected to him and his story because I’ve been there, I’ve felt that before, and I wish I’d had someone to tell me that it’s okay to feel pain when your heart breaks. This is why Elio changed me — I have now found someone to tell me to embrace love despite the pain.”
— Eleonora from Italy
Isak Valtersen — SKAM
“Isak Valtersen has completely changed my life. The first time I watched ‘SKAM’ Season 3, I felt an instant and deep connection with him. I saw a troubled and insecure teenager who was too scared to set himself free, who was too scared to talk to anyone about what he was going through, who was almost too scared to be happy. From his struggles with insomnia and self-doubt to his internalized homophobia, I saw so much of myself in Isak. He made me realize things about myself that I had never even thought about before — he truly opened my eyes to myself and to the rest of the world.
Isak showed me that coming to terms with yourself is not always easy and that there are going to be things that stand in your way, but he also showed me how liberating it feels to finally talk about your problems, to come out, to show your true self to the world. He showed me that the journey to self-acceptance and happiness might be a long one, but also one that is incredibly worthwhile. Isak’s story gave me the courage to come out for the first time — something that I never thought I’d be able to do — and gave me so much hope when I had none. Whilst I still have a long way to go, Isak’s bravery has given me the confidence to start showing myself to the world, completely uncensored.”
— Hannah from England
Simon Spier — Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
“I was growing up at the same time as Simon whilst I was reading the book. Simon was the person that I always wanted to be since I knew that I was gay. He helped me to understand myself, to accept myself and to love myself. Simon changed my life and thanks to him, today I can be who I want to be without shame or guilt. Thanks to him, today I live at peace with myself, with my relatives and with my friends. Thanks to him, now that I have accepted myself, I have learned that I need to raise my voice and speak out loud for those who are afraid of being who they are.”
— Gabriel from Argentina
“It feels so big. It’s almost insurmountable. I don’t know how to tell them something like this and still come out feeling like Simon. Because if Leah and Nick don’t recognize me, I don’t even recognize myself anymore.”
— Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
“When I read the book, I had to take a break after this line because I was crying. For all of high school, I basically knew I was bi, but I ignored it and invalidated it and pretended that it wasn’t true — I told myself that, even if it was true, I would just ignore that part of myself. I recently accepted that I was bi and it was a huge step for me, but I still couldn’t tell anyone. I wanted my friends and family to know. I wanted to stop feeling like I was lying to everyone around me. But every time I opened my mouth to say something, I froze up and couldn’t do it. I didn’t know why until I read this book.
It’s scary to admit that something about yourself is so drastically different from how everyone else knows you and that even the people who I know would be 100% accepting would still look at me a little differently. How do you deal with the people closest to you seeing you as a different person?
Seeing Simon go through all the feelings I was — but being able to get past it — was a huge turning point for me.
I still haven’t told anyone, but I’m planning on asking my best friend to see the movie with me and using that as an opportunity to come out myself. This may not seem like the biggest deal, but I do have people in my life who won’t be accepting and whose relationships with me would change. This book has made me realize that it’s not really my problem though, and that I can tell the truth and still be okay in the end.”
— Peyton from the USA
Sana Bakkoush — SKAM
“Growing up as a Muslim in a predominantly faithless country, I have found it difficult to relate and fully immerse myself into its culture. Sana is seen to be going through the same obstacles that I have been through and, throughout my 18 years of life, I never got to see that representation through film or TV. Therefore, when I was introduced to the world of ‘SKAM’ and got to see Sana in front of my own eyes, knowing that there are people like me going through the exact same things, even on the other side of the world, was both important and heartwarming. Sana holds and will forever hold a dear place in my heart, as she has taught me so many important lessons — to stay strong, keep my head held high and, in her words, understand that “You have to accept that not everyone sees the world the way you do”. So I adapt but, just like Sana, I stay true to who I am, always.”
— Dana from Australia
Rae Earl — My Mad Fat Diary
“Ever since I watched the first episode of ‘My Mad Fat Diary’ I knew that Rae was the first person I’d seen on TV that gave me representation. She is a tall and overweight girl that struggles with her body image and mental illness, just like I am. Seeing her journey to happiness and self-love gave me so much hope for myself.”
— Marilyn from the USA
Josh Lyman — The West Wing
“I was around 10 years old when I first saw an episode of ‘The West Wing’ (my parents were obsessed with it at the time) and I instantly fell in love with Josh’s boyish, witty charm and brilliant political mind. His enthusiasm and passion for certain matters such as healthcare and affordable education, and his willingness to go above and beyond to do what he believes is right for his administration and the country have sparked an interest in politics myself and, particularly in times where I feel helpless and disillusioned by the current political state of the world, given me an ideal to hold on to and restored a sense of hopefulness in me.
One of Josh’s most defining and inspiring character traits is his undying loyalty to those he loves and his ability to remain optimistic and ardent even through professional obstacles, the loss of close friends and the trauma he suffered in the wake of being shot and severely wounded during an assassination attempt. His arrogance, patronising attitude and readiness to resort to less-than-honourable tactics to achieve his political goals make him a deeply flawed character, but underneath his tough exterior he is incredibly kind-hearted and vulnerable and he has, in many ways, inspired me to fight for people less fortunate than myself and to always stand for the greater good.”
— Clara from Austria
Eva Kviig Mohn — SKAM
“Eva is a character that I related to greatly. I knew exactly how it felt to lose your closest friends and have them completely turn their back on you. Later on in the series of ‘SKAM’ that focused on her, she finally started to find friends who she could count on and trust, which is something that I have been able to do as well. Her character and season on ‘SKAM’ mean a lot to me, and always will.”
— Sarah from the USA
Cover Image Courtesy of NRK, 20th Century Fox, and Sony Classics