Friday, October 18, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying

a HOW I LIVE NOW review

Growing up 21st century's Europe has its perks - technology redefines the limits of communication, consumerism and culture, we can travel without having to do little more than showing our passports and politicians seem busy sustaining peace in our own little world as well as the Middle East. It becomes difficult to differentiate between documentations of the World Wars and movies like Independence Day, both depicting horrible, life-threatening situations and ending on a happy note (more or less). I for one find it incredibly hard to believe that my own grandmother fled (mainly by horse waggon) from what was once Pommern (the eastern part of Germany) to the north, and had to work under more or less slavery-like conditions for the Russians. Hell, I can't even fathom there was once a great wall separating Eastern and Western Germany - that fell only 6 years before I was born! However, once in a while, I am reminded of the actual danger that still surrounds every living creature in this world; the animal-esque war of survival that is hidden beneath health care, unemployment benefits and supermarkets. Watching How I Live Now was one of those experiences that made me realize there is a threat of war in my life and the lives of the people surrounding me, and that our little bubble of peace, equality and freedom of the mind could burst any day. 

The film plays with the idea of a cold war turning very hot indeed, when an atomic bomb explodes in London sometime in the near future. All the while Daisy, played by the amazing Saoirse Ronan, an introverted and repellent teenager from NYC, tries to figure out her new life in the countryside with her three cousins and aunt. Just when she finds a piece of happiness in her life, falling head over heels in love with her cousin Edmond (George MacKay of Peter Pan fame), World War III breaks out and the two boys and two girls get separated (the aunt having disappeared). Daisy promises Edmond to escape life in evacuation and meet him again at the old farm house.

How I Live Now is basically a coming of age story taking place under extreme circumstances. At the beginning of the story, Daisy is a very controlled person - the film starts out with a black screen, off-screen audio mirroring her train of thought in which she keeps reminding herself of the rules she has chosen to follow in her life. This is quite usual for girls of her age, I remember setting up tons of rules for myself just a couple of years ago - what to eat, what not to eat, what to think about, how to spend my free time. That way, Daisy sees herself as being better than other people, who just live their lives at random, without giving their actions much thought. Her cousin are all very extreme examples of that kind of person - nerdy Isaac, bubbly Piper and quiet Edmond who have spent all their lives living in the middle of nowhere, bathing, fishing and simply having fun. All these characters became very dear to me while watching, even the ones that have little screen time. There are some parallels to the Weasley family, everyone being (more or less) red-headed and close to nature, Piper serving as the cute little Ginny from Sorcerer's Stone and Edmond being some kind of overly attractive Ron. The driving force amidst this set of characters is, of course, Daisy, and little can be said about Saoirse Ronan's spot-on portrayal except that she continues to surprise with each one of her performances. She is one of my favorite young actresses of our time, perhaps even my favorite, and she can pull off any kind of character you can imagine. As much as I like her movie choices so far (no, I haven't seen The Host yet), I sometimes wish she'd choose some more exposed projects in order to gain more recognition, because she deserves to be up there with Jennifer Lawrence and the like. 

As is often the case with coming of age stories, love plays a major role in the development of the plot, however in How I Live Now, I feel like it's the journey, the fight, the war, that has the biggest influence on Daisy as a character. Admittedly, it is due to love that she makes the decision of crossing half England by foot, but only then does she find a way to deal with life and accept her own powerlessness - and at the same time realizing how much will power she is able to provide. Watching this development on screen was just an amazing experience, as well as inspiring. I wouldn't say that I'm ready for a nuclear war, but I think I'm at least one step closer to understanding what it would be like. 

How I Live Now is by no means a perfect film, but it ranks among my favorite war films of all time, cleverly combining various genres and drawing you into a post-atom bomb scenario that has never before felt this real. 

2013 • United Kingdom • English


 dir. Kevin Macdonald
written by Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni, Penelope Skinner
★ Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, Harley Bird, Tom Holland
FINAL FRAME: STRAWBERRY (close to explosion though)


  1. How am I just now hearing about this? I love Soairse Ronan. Thanks for reviewing! :) This sounds interesting. *saves in Netflix queue*

    1. I know, hadn't heard about it either until the lovely Chris from moviesandsongs365 recommended it to me! However, it's all over London city when it comes to posters and stuff. How I wish I lived in a big city! Anyway, this hasn't been getting the greatest reviews so that might be one reason. Do let me know once you watch it, I'd love to hear your opinion.

  2. Happy to have been the catalyst for you discovering this movie! Even though the war story is different to your own life, it really shines through that you could identify with How I Live Now's similar-aged characters, and made you think about your own place in society, the film allowing you to experience a nuclear war scenario. Great write-up!

    1. Yes, thank you once again! It was such a great experience, and I'm really happy I got to see this one in theaters. My sister and friend loved it too, although they cried a lot.

  3. I agree that this film is so underrated. The film is so clever in the way it combines different genres but still flows quite naturally. Have you read the book? I hear that some awesome things were left out in the adaptation but then that's always inevitable. Excellent review.

    1. Thank you David. Many people didn't like the way that the film combined all these genres, but I personally liked it a lot. I also can't wait to read the book.


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