How I Live Now…
How I Lived Then…
How I Wanted to Live Then…
How I Want to Live Now…
“I think if I thought if I could control myself, then maybe the world around me would start to make sense. I guess I was pretty naive back then.” (Daisy)
Staring Back Into Those ‘Gone’ Days
Like most other media I view with such reverence, I first watched How I Live Now during my mid-to-late teen years – sixteen, seventeen at the most. Naturally, the age at which we consume media is reflective of the experience we draw from it. Watching How I Live Now… now, is a vastly different experience in comparison to when I watched it years ago. It makes me remember (to a degree) the person I was then. That’s not something I want to forget, no matter how hard it was. How I Live Now represents my mindset of years gone by, one of the reasons why I hold it so highly.
Main character, Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is far out of her ‘comfort zone’. Coming from her own home of the United States, onto the shores of a unique United Kindgdom (Wales, specifically). For the UK differs in almost every other regard but language: Its culture, society, and its people. Something made all the more distant by Daisy’s troubles. Having lived in the UK for all my life, I would want to be in no other place – despite all of the things I wish could be better.
Every single thing portrayed in the setting of How I Live Now I’m able to identify with. The messy Land Rover at the start (owned by every farmer and his dog), the house and everything it contains in the exact same ways, the cows and the fields and hills, the tiny town, and the people. Despite all these things, the largest aspect I recognise and identify with is – in sensible aspects of course – the experience. I recall the days spent fishing, swimming in rivers, and despite the season, spending entire days in the countryside without a worry in the world. The days spent on farms with the mud and animals and smiles. Then, everything which came quickly after this – or… everything that didn’t.
Youth, and the Wars Inside
The film doesn’t go into detail (where the book does), however, it’s clear Daisy suffers from mental health issues – something which can most clearly be seen in the opening 10 minutes: A possible mix of Anorexia Nervosa (this is confirmed in the book), Schizophrenia (given the voices in Daisy’s head), and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (visible in her physical apprehensions and compulsions). Despite, this Daisy’s character is not defined by these issues. They provide a foundation for the narrative to be built upon – giving perspective to a world that is anything but bright and breezy. These are things she recognises as the film progresses, as the attention is drawn away from herself because of the responsibility she comes to carry – Piper, her much younger cousin, who relies on Daisy for life.
The first 10 minutes of How I Live Now always remain firmly seated in my memory. Of course, those minutes in most films are used to set up the scenario, the setting, and the characters. Still, How I Live Now manages to aggregate everything you need together; using fast jump cuts, music to add cohesion (on the note of music, the soundtrack is wonderful), and tiny moments of drama that are later contrasted against. Throughout, the cinematography is beautiful, many shots representing the intimacy between the characters and the audience – bringing us into their lives, both in the happy and depressing moments. As the colours go from vibrant to almost monochromatic, in tandem.
Almost every character in How I Live Now is under the age of eighteen.
For the majority of people, our teenage years are both the most special and the most painful. Times you wish could be re-visited, if only to improve upon the past, and therefore the present. How I Live Now presents the world from an entirely youthful perspective: A world on the brink seen through the eyes of those that were already standing there, knowingly or not. Daisy hurts, and the world is hurting in tandem. Both exist on an ever-moving platform that has no rhyme nor reason in its motions, only unpredictability. It’s fair to say that when we are young, we’re arrogant. We think the world and its people work in defined manners, and in ways which contribute to our individual positions. Growing up, these walls come down, and the world takes shape. In many cases, this leads to us discovering our identity – who we are and where we belong. How I Live Now explores the ways in which Daisy attempts this, whether willingly or otherwise. It chronicles how people change, and how they are required to change.
Almost halfway through How I Live Now, there’s a montage of moments after the attack in which everyone (including Daisy) is shown having fun, laughing, enjoying what youth is – acting without thinking, and being in the moment; learning along the way. Being able to do this whilst fully knowing what is happening “out there” is a testament to the characters’ resilience, and the belief they have in each other. The emotion is built up – we think we know where the characters are and what they mean to each other… before it all comes tumbling down when the army arrives. At this point we’re able to view and understand how special their personal relationships are. The major conflict is the characters being ripped apart – this is what creates drama, not the war, nor the imminent threat of danger, but the raw emotion, and the ceasing of what had become good. From Daisy’s perspective, this is all the more impactful because she had finally found something; a place to belong, and people to belong with.
Life’s Nuclear Arsenal
We all know life can be tough and shitty in innumerable ways. Those who don’t realise this have little concept of what reality is, and well… maybe that’s for the best. Though, I’m entirely inclined to believe suffering through things is part of what makes a person whole, what brings out the parts that are truly meaningful; exceptional.
“Suffering is inevitable, pain is optional.” – Haruki Murakami
For what is pleasure without pain? How can the concept of it be fundamentally understood? Just in the same way one cannot compartmentalise the speed of walking without running or life without death. Daisy is required to come to terms with the reality of the world, and the reality of herself in order to view things from a fairer, more balanced perspective. So she is able to step aside from the questions and impulses that course through her mind. What are her troubles in the face of worldwide war, in the face of so much death and destruction? Because suddenly she is not alone, suffering becomes a universal state of affairs. A sobbering thought.
Until the point Daisy reaches the UK, it’s understandable she’s been mostly alone – her father appearing to be a less-than-positive influence in her life when she needed it the most. Instead, she finds this comfort in the people she meets, most notably Eddie, who she inevitably falls in love with. It’s not hard to imagine friendships are the one thing a person desires during a situation like that in How I Live Now. I am naturally a solitary person too, but humans are not a solitary species, and we cannot live comfortably without each other. Imagine having no one to talk to. Imagine all that fear with no place to go. Imagine the anxiety with no support. Imagine waking up with someone when you have lost everything else. People have to rely on people no matter what, even if it’s just the thoughts, and the memories of that person carrying you along – they’re there nonetheless.
How I Live Now is a dark film… there’s no denying this, and in part, this contributes to my attraction. I enjoy media that aims to convey something, and I enjoy it, even more, when it has no regrets nor reservations in how it attempts to do this. In so many ways, life is not pretty. Neither should the depiction of it be in film, especially in this kind of film.
Sure, How I Live Now is full of inconsistencies. The likelihood of ‘foreign terrorists’ being able to get boots on the ground in the UK is a near impossibility. As are notions like ‘the water is poisoned’ given the amount of natural (and for the most part safe) water sources the UK has – especially in Wales where natural springs are sure to be abundant and literally impossible to poison. However, Daisy’s continued ignorance to this may result from her paranoia, something which the situation makes understandable. That Fox remaining motionless at Gatesfield as Daisy walks a meter close, however, isn’t… (Daisy, you don’t need a compass, Wales is tiny. Look at the sun, that vague idea is all you need!)
Yet, despite these things, How I Live Now holds a solid place on my most-loved list!
Have you ever seen How I Live Now? What did you think?
Thanks for reading!
-Chris (Follow me on Twitter and consider supporting Peach’s Almanac on Patreon!)