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The Dark Side of Being a Teenager, As Portrayed in Films

Being a teenager is hard work: sure, you don’t have to work to be able to eat, you don’t have to pay the bills, or do your taxes, but being a teenager is not always sunshine and rainbows, no matter how loved you are by your family and friends.

Your teenage years could be fun, but it can also be the time of loneliness and isolation, your first time to do some soul-searching and finding yourself for who you are. Then you have to deal with school, extracurricular activities, and college applications in the midst of trying to have a social life, that boy, and your changing body.

Life is tough, but if it’s any consolation, these teens may have had it tougher. Here are some films about teens that make you question what’s normal in Hollywood:

Thirteen, 2003

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This film masterfully showed what it is like to feel confusion and pain in the early years of being a teenage girl. Catherine Hardwick’s film is frank and courageous in its portrayal of the life of a teenage girl, where excitement, adventure, and the dark discovery of power over others that makes the world a troubling place.

From sex to petty crimes and experimental drugs, this film discusses it all, with great performance from its cast. Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed are terrific in their breakthrough roles, giving realism and accuracy to this otherwise dark film about being a teenager in the suburbs.

Donnie Darko,  2001

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As if the title is not enough to indicate how dark the story will be, Donnie Darko is about the teenage years as seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic. The trippy film about the time-travelling superhero is directed by Richard Kelly and centers around Jake Gyllenhaal, who exudes classic teen angst.

Darko is alienated, misunderstood, sensitive, and a reluctant hero, but the teenage years also offer a mix of confusion, fear, and stunning beauty that he needed to discover for himself as well.

Ask Me Anything, 2014

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When a smart girl takes a year off before college to explore life, you’d think she’s crazy. However, for this film, it also involved multiple exploits with multiple men, which were written about in detail on her blog and relayed to her growing list of followers.

While it doesn’t hint so much of darkness, the complicated characters make you realize just how much teenagers lose through the tragedies of their lives.

Rebel Without a Cause, 1955

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The grandfather of teenage films, Rebel Without a Cause deals with teenage anger, rebellion, and a lot of whining.  However, by today’s standards, it’s actually pretty tame. But then again, this was during the time where people don’t offend others quite too easily.

Yet the themes are dark—it attempts to portray the decay of the American youth, critique parental style, and even explore the difference between generations.

Kids, 1995

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This film is the kind of dark that gets under your skin and leaves you dumbfounded and speechless for a long time afterward.

The film centers around the story of a teenage boy with HIV who carelessly sleeps with virgins. As revolting as the story is, it shows signs of twisted genius that became the precedent to other equally dark films like Spring Breakers and such.

More than that, however, Kids also makes sure to get its point across, so at least you don’t have to feel like you have to watch it again.

A Clockwork Orange, 1971

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Alex and his crew are the nightmare for parents, teachers, and authority figures alike. They’re so dark that you tend to forget that they’re supposed to be juvenile delinquents. Considering that “ultraviolence” is their main concern in life, these are the types of boys who do nasty little things.

What is supposed to be a science fiction satire is considered dangerous, with mad energy that could only be associated with the angriest, most depraved teenage feelings you can imagine.

Heathers, 1989

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Rude, crude, and shocking, the film portrays a teenage couple who go on a killing spree, targeting popular kids in their class and ensuring that their deaths look like suicides.

Any teenager would feel resentment for the pretty, popular kids, but Daniel Waters’s film takes it to an absurdly extreme experience by way of murders covered up as suicides.

Lolita, 1962

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Vladimir Nabokov’s infamous pedophilia-themed novel was extremely risqué at the time of its release but may be tame compared to the many over sexualized films of today.

Still, Lolita continues to stand out because of the story—instead of being an innocent victim, the young girl is aware of her powers around men who want to exploit her because she too is willing to exploit them just as much.

Carrie, 1976

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Known more as a horror film than anything else, Carrie is about an outcast who had been humiliated in the cruel life that is high school. Portraying high school as nightmarish, the emotions building up in the film eventually turned to anger, rage, and destruction.

Despite all the blood and gore and vengeance, the film is basically a form of emotional violence and turmoil that is experienced by many outcasts—then and now.


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