’13 Reasons Why’ explores mental health

Posted April 12, 2017


For some people, there’s a common misconception that on-screen adaptations are never quite as good as their literary counterparts. Certain stories are better left in print. “Twilight” and “The Lord of the Rings” fans will you tell you that themselves.

Courtesy of Netflix.

Every so often, though, producers bring books to the big screen successfully and “13 Reasons Why” is one of those cases.

The new Netflix original series is based on Jay Asher’s 2007 bestselling novel. In the novel, Hannah Baker is a teen who has committed suicide, but before her death, she recorded the 13 reasons why she took her own life on a series of cassette tapes.

Hannah tells the story of her decline in a mostly chronological order and each person who led her to suicide has his or her own cassette tape. There are 13 people in total. Once a person is finished listening to all of the tapes, they are responsible for delivering them to the next person in line, or the person mentioned after him or herself in Hannah’s story.

Hannah, played by Australian actress Katherine Langford, narrates the story and appears in flashbacks throughout the show. This helps viewers to follow along with the chronology of the events that led to her death. As disturbing events plague Hannah’s time in high school, Langford perfectly executes Hannah’s decline from a headstrong, bubbly girl to a seriously troubled young adult.

However, the story follows a boy named Clay after he receives the tapes. Clay listens to Hannah’s story over a span of several days, if not more than a week or so, and slowly follows the journey through her final days as told in her own words. Clay has no idea why he is responsible for Hannah’s suicide, though, and viewers will watch his roller coaster of emotions as he uncovers the truth and finally listens to the cassette tape about himself.

Dylan Minnette, a 20-year-old American actor who grew up on camera and has appeared in shows like “Lost and Grey’s Anatomy,” plays Clay. In “13 Reasons Why,” Minnette portrays Clay as an intelligent student with some socially awkward tendencies. Minnette is a talented actor and proves to be excellently cast. Viewers will feel Clay’s confusion and pain as he works through Hannah’s death.

Actress and singer Selena Gomez is behind creation of the show, taking on the role of an executive producer. In an interview with CNN, Gomez explained that she read the book when she was younger and many of the issues portrayed on-screen hit “very close to home” for her. Gomez herself was treated for mental health issues that were said to have stemmed from her battle with lupus. She aimed to translate the mental health struggles of many young adults through the show’s production.

Whether it be Gomez’s personal relationship with Hannah’s struggles or that of another executive producer’s, “13 Reasons Why” seems to be a terrifyingly accurate representation of young adults who experience bullying, depression and suicidal thoughts. It is somewhat painful to listen to watch, but it is clear that serious planning went into the show’s creation.

Despite the show’s dismal theme, it is important to note that viewers will grow to feel a strong connection to all 13 characters involved in Hannah’s death. Their portrayal of students is extremely accurate of high school culture today. There are some bright moments, though they may seem few and far between as the story progresses. All of the cast members play their parts as high school students impeccably, making the show feel extremely relatable to millennial viewers.

For better or for worse, those who have read the book will find that some changes have been made to account for time and plot issues. The most notable difference between the book and the Netflix series is the fact that Clay listens to the tapes over several days, not in a single night. This change essentially drags out the story’s plot.

Unlike a book, it would be difficult to keep an audience hooked if the entire season were to span across one night. Instead, there are plenty of cliffhangers, plot twists and suspenseful moments that make it successful as a show. However, the series’ creators could have chosen to make episodes shorter or fewer in number, as there are points where the season seems to drag a bit.

Though the series itself does not follow the book exactly, the most important part of “13 Reasons Why” is its supremely blunt depiction of some of the most horrific situations facing young adults today. The show sheds an indisputable light on rape culture, bullying and suicide. Any viewer who is not intrinsically changed after the 13th episode would be a rare case.

The subject matter is extremely difficult to take in at times. Scenes can also be extremely graphic, or even traumatic for some. Viewer discretion is advised repeatedly at the beginning of each episode and is especially important to keep in mind during the final few episodes. The show is rated for mature audiences and technically more appropriate for older teens and adults. Hannah’s final days and the events leading up to her suicide are graphic, but they serve an important purpose. Exposure of these situations is key to changing people’s perspectives.

“13 Reasons Why” will pull you in, leave you begging for more and ultimately change how you view the people in the world around you. If the show keeps just one person from harming himself or herself, or one person from committing an insensitive act against another, it will have been a success.

  • Title: “13 Reasons Why”
  • Developer: Brian Yorkey
  • Cast: Katherine Langford, Dylan Minnette, Christian Navarro and more
  • Network: Netflix
  • Rating: TV-MA
  • Show Duration: 13 episodes, each ranging from 49 to 61 minutes long
  • Release Date: March 31, 2017