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The 500 Club: Jane Schoenbrun’s “I Saw the TV Glow”

Jane Schoenbrun, director of the acclaimed movie We’re All Going to the World’s Fair just released their latest feature film entitled I Saw the TV Glow, a psychological horror piece that takes place in suburbia. The narrative follows characters Owen and Maddy, as they try to recall a TV show they used to watch together when they were both younger called “The Pink Opaque”.

As the two attempt to reconnect with the show, aspects of their realities begin to shift, causing them to suspect the “The Pink Opaque” as more than just a show, wherein they soon discover that it is a reflection of their internal realizations about themselves. The two leads in the show, named Isabel and Tara are posed as symbolic representations of Owen and Maddy, being that they are tangible embodiments of what they could be.

The show itself epitomizes the abstract feeling of having something within you that is yet unknown, that you strive to reach for, only to have a figurative weight pull it back down into you to shut it out and bury it. Eventually, it is established in the film that the line that separates their reality from “The Pink Opaque” is more blurred than ever, at which life is expressed as one TV show watched through the lens of one’s own eyes, as a mirrored truth of actuality.

Mr. Melancholy is depicted as the main antagonist in the show, and is an entity that takes away their hearts. Alongside The Big Bad, another entity who accentuates their perception of death, the show explores the sensations of still being physically alive, yet being left with the all-consuming feeling that a part of you has passed away. As a subtext presents itself, closely correlated to the queer identity and being a person of color, the film explicates the suffocating brawl of having to repress and stomp out certain dimensions of the universe that stretches out within you.

Image via KQED

Glowing with effervescent fluorescence, the film is packed with surreally existential dialogue and stunningly luminous visuals, which all come together to form this glittering pursuit of finding the self. Alongside this, the piece also addresses youth’s tendency to seek attachment to facets of pop culture, such as fandoms, as a vehicle of comfort in this tumultuous world. Accompanied by Justice Smith and Brigette Lundry-Paine’s poignantly moving acting and Alex G’s bittersweet and saccharine soundtrack, Schoenbrun came up with a film so stirring and lachrymose that I found myself crying at the end of the film, having needed hours to myself to recover from what I had just seen.

In the final scene of the film, we see Owen undergo a moment of catharsis which leaves him splitting himself open, to unearth the parts of him that have always remained hidden. But then, the film comes to a sudden closure, as Owen frantically tells everyone around him, “Sorry about that from before.” It extends the systemically induced feeling of obligation to apologize for our complex natures as multi-layered individuals. Ultimately, Schoenbrun with this movie has summarized the horrors of what it is like being alive, in the gifted medium of a film, to which now, I do not need to explain.

‘I Saw the TV Glow is currently playing at FilmScene in Iowa City, as of June 4th, 2024.

The 500 Club seeks to provide concise film reviews and criticism at around a cool 500 words for your viewing pleasure.