Because I'm nothing if not completely incapable of making good self-care decisions when I am having another of my crises of identity, tonight I rewatched Eighth Grade, and managed somehow to come out the other side more or less psychologically intact.
When I previously wrote about the film's devastating question (an analysis of my own life which I stand behind despite a family member's disavowal), I wrote: “There’s a disconnect between how [Kayla] functions and how the world around her functions that just doesn’t seem to me to be a slice-of-life 'coming of age' story.”
The film never addresses the possibility that she might need help, but I don't know how else to read her monologue when she records her final YouTube video.
It’s just, like, I’m really, like, nervous all the time, and, like, I could be doing nothing and I’m just nervous. It’s like, um, it’s like I’m waiting in line for, like, a roller coaster and that stupid, like, butterflies in your stomach feeling you get. Like, I get that all the time, and I never get the feeling of after you ride the roller coaster, and I try really hard not to feel that way, um, but, I don’t know. I just can’t.
I've still no particular opinion as to whether Kayla is undergoing the effects of undiagnosed autism, anxiety, or some other condition, but I'm also still incapable of seeing anything other than Kayla being at sea in a way that's more challenging than simply putting herself out there to make new friends based on herself rather than on pretense or artifice.
Neither before or after watching Eighth Grade did I really do much in the way of reading about it, to see how much of this is text, subtext, or headcanon. It turns out that Bo Burnham “did not set out to write a movie about eighth grade” but “about anxiety”, which “makes me feel like a terrified thirteen-year-old”.
It's interesting that one therapist has suggested that the fact the word “anxiety” never comes up at all in the film could work both to its, and the audience's, advantage.
But even though Burnham considers this to be a story about anxiety, the word never comes up in the movie, leaving that assessment up to the viewer — a practice in film and TV that “can be really positive,” Menasco said. “A diagnosis is not as significant or as important as the collection of symptoms, and I think that [the symptoms] are the things that people can relate to.”
I'm wondering, though, if that's true, or, rather, if it's true only if the film leads to a real self-interrogation. Are people who should be seeking a diagnosis identifying with Kayla and then following the film's lead of not seeking help (something noted by two psychologists), or are they seeing in the film an unaddressed concern that they decide will not be left unaddressed in their own lives?
One psychiatrist suggested for Kayla a potential diagnosis of social anxiety disorder or panic disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder, and I admit that as I've started looking for people talking about the film in this way I am somewhat surprised that I've yet to find any serious discussion of the possibility that Kayla might be autistic. Many of these anxiety characteristics are present in autistics, and there's some indication that Kayla practices scripts for social interaction and often seems reluctant to make eye contact, both common if not universal autistic traits.
Every bit of the discussion appears to be about anxiety, and I can't help but wonder if that's solely because Burnham himself made it clear that anxiety was what he was writing about. That's fair, so far as it goes, but I think the text of the film itself, absent outside authorial weigh-in, allows for more than that.
All of which is a long-winded way of trying to write myself to a sort of recovery by putting the film back at arm's length. When I said I was more or less psychologically intact after the rewatch, I meant it. I guess I had to deal, a bit, with the less.
Note: Links to entires on my previous blog will up updated to entries here on Write House once WriteFreely has WordPress imports.
#Autism #Anxiety #MentalHealth #Movies #PopCulture #August2019