Rarely does a film come along that raises issues in youthful relationships and does so without overtly shoving it’s message down viewer’s throats. James Ponsoldt’s carefully crafted film The Spectacular Now starring Shailene Woodley (of Secret Life fame) and Miles Teller (from Project X and Footloose) deals with an important issue that is rarely so deeply explored in art: the issue of enabling.
(Spoiler Alert) The film deals with a complex budding romance between Aimee and Sutter Keely but perhaps even more pressing is how their relationship works within the frame of Sutter’s more important reliance: alcohol. Aimee is bookish, quiet, and as far as the viewer is clued in, only has one friend. When these character first meet, Aimee is far from a drinker but as soon as Sutter turns on his charm, we’re instantly worried for her. As time goes on, their romance blooms into something seemingly beautiful — and that is where the film succeeds where lesser works would have faltered. By the audience’s thinking, this is a beautiful relationship growing before their eyes, they must look carefully to see just how potentially harmful it is.
While the film progresses, we see even less and less of Aimee sober; she’s too busy pining over her boyfriend and taking swigs from his flask to notice how her feelings for him vastly outweigh his. In a particularly shocking scene in the film, Aimee is harmed due to Sutter’s recklessness and instead of her being angry, hurt or betrayed, she consoles him and tells him she never wants to talk about it again.
This film raises and complex and uncomfortable question of what it means to enable someone. Throughout the course of the narrative, it seems that in different ways each character is enabling the other one to do something subtly dangerous. And, although, deep down each character has the best of intentions — the fact remains that many of these characters were putting themselves down as others watched on.
As I left the theater, I started to wonder how often I enable people in my life and how often I allow myself to be enabled. The answer is a lot. Although I am not buying alcohol for someone who struggles with substance abuse, I enable people every time I withhold my feelings about something I think could be potentially dangerous to them.
I used to have a friend who would casually shoplift for the thrill. Although I never saw them commit the act, I would always be told of her escapades. She would show me what she had taken and ask me if it looked good on her. Even though I knew what she was doing was legally wrong, I never told her I worried for her because I didn’t think it was my place. Instead of being a caring friend and revealing to her my true feelings about what she was doing, I was content to remain out of conflict with her. In a way, I was enabling her vice. It happens all the time when parents continue to pay their drug addict children’s rent. It happens every time we’re seeing someone putting themselves in harm’s way, but shy away from confronting them because it’s difficult.
This is not to say that you need to interject your concerns into every aspect of someone’s life that you find troubling. This is only to say that so often we let sinister warning signs slip by us because we’re more complacent with being liked than we are with being honest. The line between where it is okay to step into someone’s life, and when we must look on and hope we don’t get sucked into it all is a very difficult one to find. The Spectacular Now helps bring this question to the forefront of viewer’s minds: When does loving someone become detrimental to their health?
Have you had a moment where you felt like you were enabling someone? I would love to hear about it in the comments.