Netflix’s latest original series “13 Reasons Why” opens up the painful yet necessary discussion about bullying and teen suicide, but leaves some critics wary of the potential harm of the graphic portrayals of abuse and suicide within the series.
The series is an adaptation of Jay Asher’s 2007 novel “Thirteen Reasons Why,” and follows high school student Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) after he receives a box of cassette tapes from his once peer and crush Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) explaining why she killed herself.
Each of the 13 cassette tapes reveals one person whom Hannah blames for her death and explains how their actions contributed to her suicide.
The series is dominated by developments in the present after Hannah’s suicide and flashbacks which are paired with Hannah’s commentary on the tapes, revealing the abuse which ultimately led to her death.
When adapting a novel into a movie or series, there is always the risk of having to condense the contents at the expense of character development and the inclusion of important scenes.
This was not true in adapting “Thirteen Reasons Why.”
In the book, Clay listens to all of the tapes in one night, but in the series, it takes him more than a week to finish them. This presents the opportunity for more interactions with him and the other characters, making them more relatable and realistic.
The series does an excellent job of conveying the overall message that bullying happens and it happens often, a message better conveyed in the series than in the novel. It exposes the difficulties of being a teenager in high school and the lasting psychological and emotional effects of bullying and abuse.
The graphic scenes depicting abuse and Hannah’s suicide leave many critics worried about the impacts on impressionable viewers, but these scenes do not detract from the overall message.
They are actually integral in conveying the theme that suicide is a painful and difficult thing to experience, and that it should never be an option. It presents the audience with an opportunity to recognize and discuss the reality of bullying.
While many elements utilized in the series were successful in their own right, some aspects of the series were less successful.
Some scenes are made overly dramatic and cliche, such as Clay’s hallucinations of a bloody Hannah, which occur periodically after her suicide.
The prevalent banter and sarcasm inserted to add to the entertainment aspect of the series is sometimes used inappropriately during high tension and emotional scenes.
If you are squeamish or sensitive to graphic depictions of suicide, this is not the show for you. But if you want to watch a well-made and enlightening series, give “13 Reasons Why” a try.