Why I Think The Movie EIGHTH GRADE Is Really About Anxiety

There’s a line in the movie Eighth Grade, written and directed by comedian Bo Burnham, where the lead character Kayla describes her emotions as waiting in line for a roller coaster--that feeling of an uneasy stomach you get in anticipation of the ride. Then she says she never gets the feeling after you get off of the roller coaster--the release, the exhale, the joy of having faced your fear and come out on the other sign.


That line struck me so deeply. Because, that’s exactly how my anxiety feels. While the movie is clearly a commentary on what it’s like to be a pre-teen in today’s age, especially with the technology twelve-year-olds of today are facing, I’d argue it’s also a commentary on what it’s like to live with anxiety.


To be fair, knowing a little background about Bo does inform my opinion. I’ve seen Bo live, and in his live shows and Netflix specials, he jokes about anxiety candidly on stage. It might seem like someone who can do that doesn’t really have anxiety. But, I recently heard Bo being interviewed on a podcast, and he said the reason he stopped performing live and touring was because he would get crippling anxiety before going on stage and frequently experienced panic attacks while performing.


There’s no way that didn’t seem into the main character Kayla in his first film. Watching the movie itself was an exercise in experiencing and sitting with the discomfort that anxiety so often brings. It felt as if I was holding my breath for two hours, nervous in anticipating of what was going to happen next. Just like Kayla’s feeling of waiting in line for that roller coaster.


What Genre Is It?

To be clear, this move is not a thriller or an action movie. I don’t even know if I’d call it a drama. And, while there were many parts that made me laugh, it was oftentimes a nervous laughter. Sometimes it was a laughter I wanted to take back in. Because, I was laughing at girl who as I was watching her made me think, “I’ve been there. That sucks!”


This is a character driven movie, where one of the major plot points is that Kayla gets invited to a cool girl’s pool party by the girl’s mom and she’s nervous to go. I can only describe the scene of Kayla bracing herself to leave the bathroom where she’s changed and go outside to the party as what a panic attack feels like. Not what it looks like, what it feels like.


Inside Kayla's Mind

Because, that’s the big takeaway I had from this film. It’s visceral. In the worst way and in the best way. In the worst way because as someone with an anxiety disorder, it was nerve-wracking, scary, and sometimes painful to watch. In the best way because it so accurately depicted what I have at times gone through on a daily basis. It doesn’t show the viewer what it’s like to have anxiety. It makes the viewer feel like they are Kayla, like they are living and breathing that anxiety.


The movie was so good at getting into my head that at one point, my internal dialogue became Kayla’s. In another scene Kayla is having a dialogue with herself as if she’s talking to someone without actually being with someone. This is a full conversation with responses to contradictions or questions the other person may pose. Something I’m all too familiar with. Then, she picks up her cell phone and dials it. As the phone rang, I actually felt panicked.


“Why did you call her?!” I thought. “You should have texted her! This is so stupid. What were you thinking? Just hang up the phone right now before she answers!” That was my internal response.


Why This Movie Matters

I don’t want to give too much away. But, I do want to tell you: go see this movie. Go see this movie with your friends and your parents and your boyfriend. See this movie with anyone who has questioned your anxiety or doesn’t understand what anxiety is. See this movie with anyone who thinks you can get over it. See this movie with anyone who doesn’t understand the difference between anxiety and being nervous.


The Bottom Line

See this movie with the people in your life who get to ride the roller coaster and then get off of the ride.


Have you seen Eighth Grade yet? What are your thoughts?


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