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Exploring Queer Youth in Suburbia: The Surreal Journey of 'I Saw the TV Glow'

I saw the TV Glow
I saw the TV Glow

In the realm of cinema, few themes resonate as deeply as teenage existentialism — the struggle to find meaning and identity amidst the chaos of adolescence and the liminal space that is American Suburbia. "I Saw the TV Glow" is a poignant exploration of queer youth navigating the complexities of suburban existence, brought to life with sensitivity and depth by director Jane Schoenbrun. Set against the backdrop of a seemingly ordinary suburban neighborhood, the film follows the journey of its protagonist, a young queer individual grappling with identity, acceptance, and the longing for connection in a world that often feels isolating.

The film washes you in a profound sense of teenage angst and alienation that calls back to the cult classics like "Donnie Darko," where the titular protagonist grapples with a deep sense of existential dread and detachment from his suburban peers. The central characters in "I Saw the TV Glow" also navigates the complexities of adolescence while feeling disconnected from their conservative suburban environment, examining the pervasive influence of television culture on personal identity. This film takes its rightful position in cult media that represent the universal experience of teenage alienation, the intricacies of identity, and belonging in a world that often feels hostile underneath its incomprehensible banality.

Jane Schoenbrun's writing and direction on Queer Youth in Suburbia, masterfully balances the personal with the universal, weaving together themes of self-discovery, friendship, and the search for acceptance in a narrative that is both intimate and expansive. The surrealism of nostalgia serves as an inspired narrative tool, allowing Schoenbrun to delve into existential themes with depth and complexity. The film is imbued with analog visual metaphors that comment on the influence of media and the quest for authenticity in an increasingly commercialized society, and highlighting the commodification of human experience in the digital age.

“All of this media that was, in this post-Spielberg way, being like, 'Trust us, the suburbs are magical'. I loved so much of that stuff growing up. And I think a lot of my own mythology, of my childhood and coming of age, was created by a lot of those shows […] It was like a religion that I was taught.” - Jane Schoenbrun, Writer/ Director

Though there is something deeply jarring, while also comforting, in the glimpses of some of our childhood icons, still in the queasy dream like tone of nostalgia, but surprisingly having aged right along with us. Some notable inclusions are Fred Durst, lead singer of Limp Bizkit, as well as The Adventures of Pete & Pete actors Michael C. Maronna and Danny Tamberelli, and Amber Benson who played the icon lesbian character Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“I really did live and breathe Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Schoenbrun said. “I cared about Buffy more than I cared about my real life. And just having that consistency — when I was, like, 10, I watched the first season of that show while it aired, and was with it for seven years. And it was such a tool of dissociation for me.
It was, in hindsight, I think, very much a coping mechanism for not being able to form the kinds of deep romantic relationships that other people can form when they’re an adolescent in the right body. I wasn’t in a place where I could open myself up to people, but here was this show that was so emotional, that I could have this relationship with.” -Jane Schoenbrun, Writer/ Director

I saw the TV Glow

"Teenager Owen is just trying to make it through life in the suburbs when his classmate introduces him to a mysterious late-night TV show — a vision of a supernatural world beneath their own. In the pale glow of the television, Owen’s view of reality begins to crack."

What sets "TV Glow" apart is its refusal to reduce its characters to mere stereotypes or clichés. Instead, the film presents a diverse array of queer experiences, each imbued with its own unique struggles and triumphs. From the awkwardness of first love to the pain of rejection the joy of self-acceptance, and the feeling a slow sufficating demise when one gives in to mediocrity of choosing not to live as their truest self. Every moment feels authentic and deeply resonant as it critiques suburban conformity, highlights the stifling pressures of societal expectations, and exposes the façade of normalcy that masks deeper truths.

Justice Smith's portrayal of the main character, Owen, is nothing short of remarkable. With sensitivity and authenticity, Smith brings to life the layered complexity of youth, navigating the challenges of identity, grief, sexuality, and acceptance. Smith captures the nuances of Owen's character with subtle gestures to marginalized categories of our communities, such as those who are Trans, Mixed Heritage, Autistic, or Asexual, doing so with a delicacy that fosters empathy and understanding. Smith masterfully delivered a role that demands both vulnerability and strength, shining a light on underrepresented experiences and championing the importance of diverse representation in cinema.

Brigette Lundy-Paine also delivers in their performance as Maddy, capturing the nuances of their internal struggle with a rawness and authenticity that is both heart-wrenching and empowering. As they navigate the challenges of escaping trauma and coming to terms with their sexuality in a conservative environment, Lundy-Paine's portrayal is imbued with a sense of resilience and defiance.

In a cinematic landscape often devoid of authentic queer representation, "TV Glow" shines as a beacon of hope and affirmation. By centering the narrative around the experiences of queer youth in the suburbs, the film challenges prevailing norms and offers a vision of a another dimension where everyone is free to be their authentic selves, if they can only find the strength to fight the fatal clutches of melancholy.

I saw the TV Glow

The soundtrack for "I Saw the TV Glow" is also to be hailed, a masterful blend of nostalgia, innovation, and mood-setting melodies that enhance the film's viewing experience. Crafted with meticulous attention to detail, the soundtrack not only complements the retro-futuristic aesthetic of the film but also serves as a character in its own right, an eclectic mix of genres, which mirrors the diverse range of emotions and themes explored in the film. These songs not only underscore pivotal moments in the film but also provide a soundtrack for the lives of its characters, capturing the zeitgeist of the era and inviting viewers to connect with the story on a deeper level. From synth-pop anthems reminiscent of the 80s to haunting orchestral compositions, each track contributes to the atmospheric richness of the storytelling, transporting viewers to the surreal world of "I Saw the TV Glow."

Experience the highly anticipated, all-star soundtrack for I SAW THE TV GLOW, featuring tracks by Caroline Polachek, Jay Som, King Woman, L’Rain, and as performed in the film, the dreamy ballad “Claw Machine” by Sloppy Jane ft. Phoebe Bridgers.

As a production company renowned for its bold storytelling and commitment to authentic narratives, A24 brings its signature touch to "I Saw the TV Glow." With a track record of fostering groundbreaking cinema that pushes boundaries and sparks conversation, A24's involvement in this project underscores its dedication to amplifying diverse voices and experiences. Through their collaboration with writer/ director

Jane Schoenbrun, A24 continues to champion innovative storytelling that resonates with audiences on a profound level, making "I Saw the TV Glow" a standout addition to their esteemed repertoire.

Overall, "TV Glow" is a moving and deeply affecting film that speaks to the universal human desire for connection and belonging, while also shining a spotlight on the often-overlooked experiences of queer youth in suburban communities. With its compelling narrative, stellar performances, and heartfelt message of acceptance, it is a poignant reminder of the enduring power of cinema to illuminate the complexities of existence and provoke thought long after the credits roll.

I saw the TV Glow


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