Andrea Mapugay, PharmD Candidate 2021
University of South Florida Taneja College of Pharmacy
Preceptor: Jennifer Alastanos, PharmD, BCPP, BCPS
St. Joseph’s Behavioral Health Center
All the Bright Places is a 2020 Netflix Original movie directed by Brett Haley based on the novel of the same title written by Jennifer Niven. It is a teen drama that follows two characters, Violet and Finch, whose story is dedicated to people “who have been impacted by grief, mental health concerns, and suicide. First, we meet Violet, who is standing on the ledge of a bridge looking down as if she were going to jump. As Finch is jogging by, he spots Violet, and jumps up onto the ledge with her. He tries to make light of the situation by pretending to lose his balance, scaring Violet to the point of allowing him to convince her to come down.
As Finch walks Violet home, he urges her to tell him why she was up on the ledge, suggesting his thoughts of her plan to jump. However, Violet struggles to let out that she is not “suicidal;” a word that Finch uses to finish the sentence for her. Unlike Violet, he is comfortable saying it and reassures her that it is okay to use the word. This shows that for some, even saying the act and talking about suicide is difficult. We later learn that Violet and her sister were involved in a car accident on the same bridge that resulted in Eleanor’s death. Violet, who survived the accident, is experiencing survivor’s guilt and trauma from losing her sister and best friend so suddenly. As she begins to spend more time with Finch, partly due to a school project, we discover more about Violet and Finch’s characters.
The school project consists of finding the wonders of Indiana and writing about it. With the project and their new partnership, Finch has made it his mission to get to know Violet better and get her out more. In Violet’s character development, we learn she experiences guilt and fear in daily activities such as laughing, going to parties, and riding in cars. Finch and Violet begin to spend more time together, allowing Violet to open up. However, as Violet seems to be healing, Finch’s underlying mental illness starts to arise. From the beginning of the film, there have been suggestions that Finch also experiences mental illness for which he sees a counselor at school. We see Finch writing things down on Post-It notes and placing it on his walls which are covered by them. He also avoids talking about what he is going through and minimizes his situation with humor and sarcasm.
Classmates at his school call him “the freak” because he “freaked out” the year before and threw a chair at someone. As Finch’s story progresses, we see him laughing and having a good time, then transitioning to being present with his friends, but not really there. He disappears for a while, which his friends describe as “something he has always done” and “he always turns back up”. Violet has seemingly gotten back to her usual self but is now worried about Finch. When Finch “comes back”, he shows up at Violet’s home and acts as if nothing happened presenting Violet with a trunk full of flowers. For their next wonder of Indiana adventure, he brings her to a lake with a bottomless hole. It is in this scene that we see a large scar on Finch’s torso that he avoids talking about. They swim in the lake and are having a good time, until Finch dives into the lake and Violet realizes he has spent a lot of time underwater. She panics, screams for him, and then jumps in attempting to find him. When he finally comes up, she is extremely upset and Finch is apologetic and understanding of her concern. To try to ease her, he opens up and shares that his mom is gone a lot, his dad used to get into “dark moods”, and he is the reason for the scar on his torso. Finch goes on to explain that when he disappears, he goes to places that remind him he is in control.
After learning more about one another, Violet and Finch end up unintentionally spending the night together. Upon waking up, they frantically rush back to Violet’s worried and protective parents, who are utterly upset with them and send Finch away. Due to the fact that Violet’s parents had just lost a daughter, their anger and worry was understandable. However, the stress and frustration of the situation causes Finch to go home on a rampage. He aggressively pulls down the Post-It notes on his walls and paints over some that are still remaining. He even removes the sheets and pillows off his bed and resides in his closet.
While at school, Violet’s friend, Amanda, tries to warn her that Finch is dangerous, but as Finch comes in to take her away, her friends try to hold her back causing Finch and Roamer (Violet’s ex-boyfriend) to get into a fight. This fight lands Finch in a group therapy session the school guidance counselor has tried to get him to go to. In this group, we are introduced to people of varying ages with several mental illnesses. When it comes to Finch, he describes himself as having “no labels” and is there because he got into a fight at school. He experiences disassociation and describes these episodes as simply getting “a little lost sometimes.” While in this group session, Amanda shows up, to both her and Finch’s surprise. It is revealed that she is struggling with bulimia, has tried to kill herself twice, and thinks about suicide every day. In an attempt to learn more about himself, Finch approaches his sister to try to unveil more about their father, looking for answers to why he acted the way he did and the reasons he abused them, but did not get what he was looking for.
Finch later comes home to Violet waiting for him to give her an explanation about what has been going on. He tells her he needs to focus on “staying awake.” As Finch cannot fully explain it, he attempts to by stating he gets into dark moods which cause him to think too fast and he uses the Post-It notes to keep track of his thoughts. This allows him to focus and slow down because otherwise, he will go blank and forget it all. He expresses this usually helps, but he is frustrated that it is not working for him this time. A distraught and confused Violet still does not understand the situation and continues to ask what is wrong and what she can do to help him. This puts Finch over the edge and results in him kicking her out as he is not someone Violet can fix.
In the time that Finch disappears again, Violet goes through emotions of worry, sadness, and concern. She calls Finch from the bridge where she lost her sister and where they first met, crying and begging him to call her back and apologizes for continuing to push him to talk about what he has been going through. Back home, waiting with her phone in her hand and next to her dad, she looks to him and explains how she met Finch at the bridge on Eleanor’s birthday. She eludes to her thoughts of committing suicide by jumping off the ledge, but Finch saved her. Her father shows his concern for her, but Violet reassures him that she is okay now. Trying to help Violet through Finch’s disappearance, he asks her if there is a place where he would be.
With that in mind, she conquers her fears of driving and sets out to the bottomless lake. She finds his car and clothes by the rocks, but no Finch in sight. She screams for him, searching around to find a glimpse of him with hopes that he might emerge after being underwater for a long time like before, but much to her distress, Finch does not come back.
As the movie ends, Violet comes to realize that although she was dealing with her grief, she was also surrounded by people in pain and struggling with their own battles. She talks to Amanda, who tells her about her struggle with bulimia and how she did not tell her because she did not know how to; and with Finch, she missed seeing that he was in pain. In the time they spent together, he helped her find her way again and he was the bright place in her darkness.
In a society where mental health awareness is on the rise, All the Bright Places, captures the essence of vulnerability of grief and the struggles that many teens face with mental illnesses that they cannot fully explain nor understand. It addresses the difficulties and hesitations of talking about their experiences due to the misunderstanding and ridicule they would face. This movie tackles these issues in a raw, empathetic, and realistic way that attempts to portray the lessons of the aftermath in a positive light.
All the Bright Places opens with one of the main characters Violet Markey standing on a bridge interrupted by Theodore Finch while he is out for a run. Finch engages Violet in a conversation and eventually climbs onto the ledge too and offers his hand for her to step down. The scene abruptly cuts to the high school hallways and shows Finch meeting for weekly sessions with the school guidance counselor. Later that evening Violet’s family is having dinner and the viewer realizes today would have been her sister Eleanor’s 19th birthday. Eleanor tragically died in a car accident several months earlier and Violet is dealing with the trauma from losing her best friend and sister.
In their high school class, the teacher assigns a wonders of Indiana project to work in pairs before high school graduation. Despite Violet’s many attempts to get out of the assignment, this becomes the center of Violet and Finch’s growing relationship throughout the movie.
It is discovered Finch has a history of physical abuse from his father and people at school refer to him as “the freak”. He sometimes describes his thoughts as “too fast”, and he uses a color-coordinated Post-it note system to try and slow himself down and keep his thoughts clear. There are also episodes where he disappears and does not respond to anyone. His friends blow it off and state that is just who he is. These ups and downs Finch struggle with are created to portray symptoms of both hypomania and depressive episodes in bipolar disorder. Ultimately, the movie ends with Violet finding Finch’s van and clothes at a bottomless lake, one of the wonders of Indiana spots they previously visited, with Finch nowhere to be found. Finch’s life ends too soon by suicide, an outcome all too common in patients struggling with untreated bipolar disorder.
Other glimmers of mental illness can be found when Finch attends a support group. Members of the group introduce themselves and list several diagnoses including obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and dissociative identity disorder, among others. Amanda, one of Violet’s friends, also attends the support group and to Finch’s surprise she confides she struggles with bulimia and thoughts of wanting to kill herself almost daily. This scene highlights how many teens put up a façade to hide how they are really feeling. Towards the end of the movie Amanda confides in Violet, and she breaks down stating she had no idea her friend was struggling.
In addition to grief, Violet portrays some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder throughout the movie, particularly avoidance, as she was refusing to ride or drive in a car since her sister’s death. Finch helps her overcome this and see the purpose in living again. Towards the end of the movie she states while giving her wonders of Indiana presentation “I used to be afraid to live and now I am afraid of what would happen if I didn’t.” This movie is heart wrenching and portrays mental health in adolescence from a variety of angles but is also uplifting as you follow Finch and Violet’s journey finding the wonders of Indiana.