If you crossed Mean Girls with Groundhog Day with A Girl Like Her… you would have something very similar to Before I Fall.
Honestly, it was hard for me to watch at the beginning. The girls were shallow and mean. I didn’t like how they treated each other, much less how they treated people they didn’t like (uncool people, siblings, their parents, teachers, etc.). On the other hand, I was watching it thinking—this is what high school is really like for most kids these days. I work with teenagers, and much of what I saw on the screen was either what I have directly seen or what I have heard about—and frankly, it’s both shocking and disheartening. Sadly, I would say that anyone wanting to get a more realistic look into the life of the American teenager’s world today might do well to see this movie.
This is the same reason, however, that I might advise caution for some viewers. In particular, besides the rudeness and the language, the casual attitude towards sex was enough to make me ill. It’s Valentine’s Day and Sammy is hoping to lose her virginity to her boyfriend that night. (Side note: shouldn’t it tell us something that they talk about “losing” their virginity, rather than “giving” it? When is “losing” anything ever really a good thing?) Anyway, Sammy’s friend, Lindsay, tells her, “I’d never let my best friend die a virgin. It’s the big day—opening night.” And then another friend hands her a condom and says, “No glove, no love.” Besides being crude, the mentality is that it’s embarrassing for anyone to still be a virgin by their senior year. When I was growing up, it was embarrassing to have “lost” it so soon. Really, anyone can give it up any time, but doesn’t it take far more strength not to? Shouldn’t it be a badge of honor to still be a virgin, rather than a mark of shame? What’s happened? (But hey, there’s a token recommendation for safe-sex…so that’s good, right?!)
Lindsay later tells Sammy, “You don’t want to waste the first night you go full womanhood.” Again – note the connotation that Sammy is less of a woman until she has sex with someone…anyone. Perhaps we should compare this idea of what a true or full woman is with the Proverbs 31 idea of the righteous woman? Granted, that woman has obviously had sex, too—as she is a mother—but it isn’t having sex that makes her a full woman, but rather the way she conducts herself with honor and dignity. Part of what makes her a woman is that she isn’t having sex outside of marriage (the heart of her husband trusts her).
If the movie stopped here, if it never offered another perspective, I’d hate it and say don’t waste your time (except maybe as an eye-opening glimpse into teenage reality). Actually, however, the movie doesn’t end here—and that is where it becomes really redemptive and worth the time.
The story is that Sammy, who you feel could be a sweet girl, has three best friends and those girls are popular, beautiful and mean…and she is acting just like them. They go to a party (where she is supposed to have sex with her lousy boyfriend) and there, not only does she realize what a louse her boyfriend is, but they all end up in a fight with Juliette, who has been the primary object of their hate. They drive home, upset by the fight with Juliette and end up in an accident. The next day, Sammy wakes up again—stuck on a repeat of that Valentine’s Day.
We watch Sammy go through numerous responses. She tries to do good things, but it doesn’t seem to matter. She then decides if nothing matters, why not let it all out? Everything she’s pent up, every urge, every mean thought, every suppressed feeling, it all comes spewing out of her—hate, seduction, rage, you name it. It’s ugly. She dresses like a tramp, defies her parents, is hateful to her baby sister, destroys her best friends, tries to seduce her teacher (more out of a desire to control him than to win him), and purposely sleeps with her boyfriend, knowing full-well by now what kind of guy he is. Perhaps the most honest thing it had to show about sex was when she lay there afterward, bitterly weeping. As much as I hated to see her go there, on the other hand, I really appreciate that the movie didn’t glorify it. At all. (The other non-glorifying comment comes from Lindsay who confesses that her first time she was “too drunk to care”—so we get a little glimpse beyond her cavalier attitude, that maybe she’s trying to cover for how she really feels about it all.)
After she realizes that “doing and saying whatever she wants” doesn’t actually feel good, at all, she changes her tactics. “If I was going to live the same day over and over I wanted it to be a worthy day. But not just for me.” And she begins to practice actually being a good person. She begins to question why they hate certain people, like Juliette, and realizes she has no idea—she hates them because Lindsay said they should. She begins to have compassion for others, to spend time with her family and respect them, to value her little sister. She starts serving the people around her, rather than taking from them.
This all feels better, but it still doesn’t seem to change anything. “How is it possible to be able to change so much and not change anything at all?” It’s a lot like the book of Ecclesiastes. What is the meaning of life? What will she be known for when she dies? Does anything actually make a difference? She tries everything but nothing seems to matter. Except, she is miserable when she behaves badly and finds happiness in kindness and love and gratitude.
It seemed like everything and nothing changed, but that’s not entirely true. She was changing. Her ways of thinking were maturing. She was beginning to care about people beyond herself. All of this had to happen before she could get to the point that she was willing to both take responsibility for her actions and be willing to love someone else enough to die for them.
It’s an interesting paradox, that when we live for our own pleasure we get stuck in a monotonous, miserable existence, but when we live for others, our life finds joy and meaning. Jesus says that if a person wishes to find their life, they must lose it. This is the same realization Sammy came to. “For the first time when I wake up, I’m not scared of confused or angry. Because for the first time, I truly understand what needs to happen. I truly understand how to live this day.” You see, Juliette had committed suicide that night after the party, and Sammy realized that the only way to make things right was to save Juliette (which also cost her her life). In that way, they saved each other.
It wasn’t just about saving Juliette, however, or how Juliette saved Sammy, or even the way Sammy helped saved her friends, too. Sammy’s last day was lived perfectly, and how often do you get to see someone live a truly perfect day? It was inspiring. She spent her day speaking life and love into everyone—friends, family and enemies alike. She was full of gratitude and opened herself to love. She stopped to see the world and experience its beauty. She gave great grace to Lindsay and helped her heal. (I love that while we see how awful she is, she is also humanized and we see what pain she is in. Sammy speaks life and love into Lindsay’s wounds, rather than condemnation.) She asked for forgiveness from people she had wronged. She was kind to people she knew were hurting. She invested into the well-being of everyone around her. All day long. And then she defended Juliette at the party and even gave her life to save her.
Sammy doesn’t regret it for one moment. Instead, she encourages the audience: “Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow… [But] what you do today matters—in the moment and maybe for infinity. …I see only my greatest hits. I see the things I want to remember and be remembered for. That’s when I realize that certain moments go on forever, even after they’re over they go on. They are the meaning.” It may sound a bit idealistic, this, “only the highlights live on” talk, but isn’t that kind of what Paul is saying when he writes about how only some of our works (our pure ones) will survive judgment?
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
The movie starts out a bit rough, but it ends beautifully. Sammy becomes the right kind of a person, a good role model for us all. She doesn’t have any sign of faith in her life but her actions are very much those of Christ.
15 other great lessons to take away:
- Our actions create ripple effects. Sammy: “Maybe everything was connected. Maybe a flock of birds can cause a rainstorm and everything done could be undone… Maybe things could change and I could change them.”
- We can right our wrongs.
- After Sammy unleashed on her friends and said all sorts of ugly things about Lindsay, she defended herself by saying that it was all true. Elodie replied, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true. She’s Lindsay. She’s ours.” Truth isn’t all that matters. Love matters too. In fact, it matters more. And love covers over a multitude of wrongs (1 Peter 4:8).
- Sammy was mad at Lindsay because, “You’re the horrible [one]. You’re the one who was friends with her and then tortured her for all these years and now I’m the one paying for it.” From which we see two key principles: You may have to pay for someone else’s mistakes/behavior (case in point—we are all still paying for Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden) and just because you don’t instigate something, doesn’t mean you aren’t still guilty for it. Sammy was guilty both by association and by consent.
- You never know how your actions might inspire someone else. In second grade, Sammy defended Kent and became his hero in such a way that he vowed to someday become her hero, too.
- Kent spent the following years (until their Sr. year) honoring his vow and being good and kind and faithful to Sammy, even when she was ugly in return. It was his kindness that helped her find her way again. The good we do is like planting seeds that reap a harvest in our future.
- Turns out, Lindsay was accusing Juliette of the things she was guilty of. “Lindsay is the one who peed. She just pointed at me and screamed, “She did it!” So often, people accuse others of what they are guilty of—either trying to deflect guilt and shame, or because they recognize in you what they have in themselves.
- Bullies and mean girls are the way they are for a reason. They have their own history of pain and hurting others is a way of deflecting attention from their own hurt. And/or sometimes, it’s just all they have to offer. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45)—so when the heart is full of pain, anger, suffering, bitterness…it’s what overflows.
- Sammy spent her last day speaking love into her friends. Everyone has something good or admirable in them, something we can praise and speak life into.
- “It’s Juliette. She has a name, and she’s a person.” The people we bully or ignore or hate …they are people too, with names and feelings.
- Sammy realized Lindsay had been in a lot of pain over her parent’s divorce in 2nd grade, but had never told them because she didn’t feel it mattered. First off, just because you spend a lot of time with someone, doesn’t mean you really know them. Secondly, we may think something is irrelevant or in the past, but our past (especially our pain) matters.
- Juliette said she wanted to die, but Sammy spoke the truth, “You don’t want to die. You want your pain to stop… you have a choice, Juliette.” People who say they want to die really mean that they want their pain to stop. When Juliette found that she was saved, she was relieved.
- Juliette knew that the things Lindsay said were a lie, but even still, she started to believe them. She believed she “couldn’t be fixed”. Even when we know something isn’t true, if we hear it often enough, we can start to believe it—which is why it really matters what we hear/listen to/allow into our brain.
- When Juliette felt she needed to be fixed, Sammy spoke the truth – “You’re not the one who needs fixing.” Just because you think you are the problem, doesn’t mean it’s true. Sometimes YOU are not the problem and YOU are not the broken one…sometimes it’s someone else.
- Sammy encouraged get it Juliette to hang on just a little longer. “This is just a blip… Just hold on for one more minute.” Our pain can feel eternal, but it’s not. If we can just realize that this is just a blip… and hang a minute more.
Questions for Discussion:
- What about this movie is similar to your experience?
- Have you ever been bullied?
- Have you ever been part of the bullying (whether as the bully or the silent sidekick)?
- Do you have friends or know people who are mean to others? Why do you think they are the way they are?
- How can you speak life into others?
- What were the things that made Sammy’s last day perfect?
- Do you feel like your actions make a difference?