The Perfect Movie For The Kid Who's Lost All Hope
Depression is an extremely common subject in the world of film, being one of the more common mental illnesses, it's no surprise that so many people in the entertainment industry would think it profitable to show depression on the big screen. The problem is that for every accurate portrayal of depression on film, there are 20 more examples of downright atrocious, inaccurate portrayals. What's even more mishandled than depression is suicidal ideation, a topic that not nearly as many studios feel comfortable including in their projects. Due to a lack of representation, suicidal depression seems one of the most misunderstood conditions in the world of film. It wasn't until I saw just the right movie at just the right time that my faith was restored in the creativity of the film world. That movie being David Lee Miller's Archie's Final Project.
Archie's Final Project, also known as My Suicide is a coming of age film from 2009 by Stanford graduate director, David Lee Miller. It tells the story of 17 year, Archie Williams. He spends practically all his time making movies by himself in his family's guest house until one day he decides that his final project will be centered around his death, and it will end with him killing himself on camera. Along the way he gets in touch the the beautiful, smart, popular, Sierra Silver, who he later finds out struggles with the same thoughts as him, leading to an unlikely partnership. As gruesome as that sounds, Archie's Final Project resonated with me like few other films have had in the past. The lead actor and co-writer, Gabriel Sunday really makes the character of Archie his own and turns him into a believable teenager without falling victim to the countless tropes that exist in high school movies.
That's probably the best part of the movie, the lack of stereotypes and tropes. Archie Williams is suicidal, but he's not a quiet kid with dyed black hair, eyeliner and cuts up and down his wrists, he's a lively, energetic kid with a ton of personality. The same thing goes for Sierra Silver who despite being ivy league bound, drop dead gorgeous, and one of the most popular girls at school, she has her own unique struggles, she's interesting. This is the kind of writing that makes you want to keep watching, it doesn't feel like a story you've seen a thousand times before. By giving these characters depth and unorthodox traits for the stereotypical suicidal teenager, it teaches the audience that there's always more to someone than meets the eye. It's remarkable how real these characters feel.
Archie's Final Project stands as a perfect example of just how talented Gabriel Sunday is. The acting and writing are great but what sticks out the most is the insanely intricate and creative editing used throughout the film. The breakaway tangents allow us to thoroughly learn how Archie is as a character. His personality, his interests, his inner struggles, it really is a fantastic, personal film. While there is certainly enough professionalism to make you keep watching, Archie's Final Project really does feel like...a school project. It's one of those rare instances where a movie's low budget actually adds to the charm rather than being a detriment. The unique filming and editing style add so much to the overall experience.
On top of all that the soundtrack is amazing, with artists such as MGMT, Conor Oberst, Animal Collective, Dr. Dog, TV On The Radio, and Ricky Votolato contributing to the score. It's one of the only non-original soundtracks I can find myself listening to on a weekly basis.
Despite how much I've been raving about it, the critical response to Archie's Final Project has been mixed. It has won awards at countless festivals including, the Berlin International Film Festival and the Edmonton International Film Festival, and many others. However despite the accolades, the movie only holds a rating of 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, not something you'd expect from a film with over a dozen accolades. Whether you choose to acknowledge the thoughts of film critics or not, I still think it's important to listen to all opinions regarding a topic, especially in art. And I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with a good half of the critics because I don't believe Archie's Final Project is a film you watch like a professional critic, it's one you watch like a teenager, one that knows what it's like to be in the main character's shoes. Watching the film as someone with suicidal depression and as someone who doesn't, yield two entirely different experiences.
Archie's Final Project is special to me, a movie I hold in higher regard than most viewers for one specific reason: I am Archie. After years and years of watching Hollywood butcher the topic of depression, finally seeing a film that reflected the true nature of being suicidal was something I deeply needed. Throughout my last two years of high school in suburban Massachusetts, I was the kid in class who wouldn't talk to anyone, who would spend their lunch period in the band room, and turn to movies for comfort. My final college essay centered around how "films are friends," something Archie clearly feels as well. The character's therapy sessions are filled with movie quote after movie quote, and he's only able to connect with his psychiatrist after he references The Matrix. I first became suicidal halfway through my junior year of high school, and Archie's Final Project is one of the films I consider to be a "friend," one that helped me a great deal during a dark period in my teenage years. To this day, the soundtrack still brings me immense comfort.
I implore everyone with a Netflix subscription to check out My Suicide, I sincerely hope you'll get as much out of it as I did.