More than a year into the pandemic, it is practically impossible to see everything that goes on around us under a non-pandemic lens, or even with an optimistic point of view. By now, millions have faced death and pain, with many more going through a reckoning period of what they want in life, realising that their expectations and priorities may have changed.
With this in mind, it is only fitting that Spontaneous came out last autumn. The teen movie is a clever comedy that covers topics of existentialism and death under the façade of a teenage love story. The film follows the senior class of an all-American high school. One day, the kids start to randomly explode. No motive or explanation. No warning. As the world around them falls randomly apart, two senior students, Mara (Katherine Langford) and Dylan (Charlie Plummer), fall in love. They could easily be next, but they are busy focused on each other.
When the first teenager explodes, with the uncertainty of more deaths in the air, Dylan has a realisation, “what would happen if I popped? I gotta get shit done.” Fulfilling the expectations of a romantic teen film, Dylan declares his crush on Mara, previously set aside because he didn’t think it was worth it with them going to university at the end of the year. Now that they may die at any moment, priorities change. He confesses his love for Mara, he buys an ice-cream truck instead of a car, and he is blunter about his thoughts. He does things now, instead of leaving them for later.
While watching this film, I thought about a past relationship. Once things became more serious between my ex-boyfriend and I, we would joke that our relationship could come to an end at any second, aware and cool with the fact that our feelings could inexplicably and unexpectedly go away. We rationalised our feelings for each other while joking with our deepest fear at that moment. Teasing about it made it less feasible. However, and unsurprisingly, what once was a joke turned to reality. One day we broke up, and even though we had frequently laughed about it, I was not ready, resulting in an emotional toll that lasted for months.
These weird jokes were on my mind while watching this film. As they fall for each other, Mara and Dylan try to keep it casual. They make plans for the near future with cheeky jokes about the possibility of being dead before bringing them into fruition (“of course, unless we randomly explode”, “if we are still around”, “there is no future”). These little disclaimers become their private jokes, the tools to make everything cool and unattached with impending death around the corner. They downplay the exciting future they could have together because it is too harsh to feel hopeful.
Spontaneous is an effective commentary on the frugality of life and the inevitability of death (with maybe an allegory to school shootings?). This senior class witnesses friends and classmates explode in the blink of a second while taking algebra lessons, playing football, driving around or dancing at parties. Everyone knows that they can die in the next few minutes or days.
The reflection of real life is too clear to miss: that is why its message of bravado and lack of overthinking is loud and resounding. As we know that we may die at any second, why are we not doing the things that we want to do? Why are we not declaring our feelings to the people we love? Even in a moment where COVID-19 has inspired numerous jokes about expectations and lack of personal improvement – that coping mechanism kicked in on a global scale – we should think about life in an unironic way and think about the things we want to do.
Furthermore, the movie is wiser by not offering clichéd answers to heavy questions. Writer/director Brian Duffield is not looking for profound thoughts on life, or spiritual declarations on the randomness of death. He is looking for action. He makes his characters grow in the short time that they are together, learning about life and death as they start experiencing both. Mara and Dylan talk, make out, experience trauma together and forge a bond through that. Spontaneous is a blunt celebration of the need to live.
The characters go through emotional hell, and they recognise it as such. They are not better or worse because of that. They may be more resilient, but they are also a mess, finding it hard to continue living, even when they know that they may die at any second. Isn’t that what life is? The conscious decision to live, to wake up in the morning and carry on, even with the certainty of pain and loss? In Spontaneous, the acknowledgment of death and heartbreak propel the characters to carry on.
Just as I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my former love – even though we were certain that this would happen someday – when tragedy hits home in Spontaneous, they are also not ready. No matter how many times you joke or talk about it, you are simply unprepared. No matter the efforts behind our actions or the silly jokes about mortality and eternal love, people are destined to be hurt and – hopefully not often – broken. There is nothing we can do about it. Should we stop taking on opportunities just because we know they will eventually end? The film offers a resounding no. Instead, it acknowledges that the experiences that later hurt us as memories are the reasons to keep on living. They teach us how to survive and they inspire us to expect better things from life.
Spontaneous is a film about death and mourning, but especially about the glory of existing. It takes the good and the bad of our reality and celebrates both things, always acknowledging the randomness of life and the unfairness of death. We never know when the inevitable will happen; when that thing that we fear the most – so terrifying that we make jokes about it – will happen. Consequently, taking the example of Dylan and Mara, we just need to get moving and “get shit done.” There’s no other option.
by Alessandra Rangel
Originally from Mexico City, Alessandra (she/her) considers cinema her one true love. Even though she studied International Relations and Public International Law, her heart has always resided in movie theatres. This inspired her to write about films and TV shows on her website, Palomita de maíz, as well as other outlets such as InSession Film and Filmotomy. Follow her on Twitter.