5 Themes from The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower movie poster. Summit Entertainment

The movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower is written and directed by Stephen Chbosky and based on his book of the same name. The teen drama follows the story of an introverted and friendless boy named Charlie who struggles with some demons in his past. Charlie finds a group of friends, sort of misfits like himself, who take him under their wings and introduce him to experiences common to many teens but new to him, including parties, his first kiss, and even having a girlfriend as well as some negative things like drugs, gossip and truth or dare. His new group of friends gives Charlie something precious he has never had before: a sense of belonging.

A Conversation With Writer-Director Stephen Chbosky

The story, in both the movie and book, is heavy, emotional and at times disturbing. We had a chance to talk with director Stephen Chbosky about the film when he came to a local screening, and he revealed that the story is also in many ways autobiographical. He stressed his desire that the story, through the book or movie or both, will reach out to teens who may feel alone or hopeless and help them see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. While the movie is aimed at teens, this is one parents may want to preview or read about before kids see it, as there is heavy thematic content as well as sexual content, drugs and alcohol use. Read our review of for more information about content.

The film is a thoughtful coming-of-age story that conveys several different messages on different levels. The messages offer a great opportunity for parents to discuss with teens, and this is a film that really warrants discussion. Here are 5 themes Stephen Chbosky brought out in his discussion with us about his personal and poignant film:

Our Shared Experiences Help Us Validate and Understand Each Other

"I have one central mission about the movie, which is...I wanted to make a movie that would celebrate and respect the reality of your life — just what you're going through right now, " Chbosky responds to a 16-year-old girl from the audience, "And at the same time... that simultaneously your mom or dad or somebody who you wouldn't think could relate, would feel as nostalgic and love it for their own nostalgia as much as you loved it for your present-day reality," he continues, explaining the film's setting in the 1990s, "And that maybe, my hopes of hopes, is that this perceived generation gap — let's say you think your mom doesn't get it, and then she sees it, and you realize, oh, maybe she does a little bit. I know it's just a movie, and it's pretty idealistic to think it can bring families closer together... but that's what I want to do."

You are not Alone

Charlie's feelings of loneliness are something we've all experienced to some degree. For some, the feeling of loneliness and despair can last far too long, and the film makes you feel the magnitude of it and want to reach out to people.

Of his experience writing the book, Stephen said, "This is the most gratifying thing about Perks for me, you write it for personal reasons, but you publish it in part because you hope that maybe certain people will not feel as alone. Here's the best magic trick, and I didn't expect it to happen: every time I get a letter, every time someone stops me on the street, any time I hear about anything, the person who doesn't feel alone, is me. Over and over, thousands of people validating my experience, and so it's this beautiful dance between writer and reader, but really between two people who understand the same truth."

Enjoy the Moment

In the book and in the movie, Charlie has a moment of true happiness where he expresses that, right then, he feels infinite. Stephen related that the line is one of his favorites in the movie. He also related: "When I think about being young, it's as much about a first kiss, or a first crush, or that party, or the perfect drive, or that song, as it is about the things that most people don't talk about, or the pressure to get into the right school and all these things. I remember that."

"We Accept the Love We Think We Deserve"

This is the other line Stephen pointed out as a favorite from the movie, and it conveys a major life truth about relationships. Stephen said, "Why do great people let themselves get treated so badly? It's something that bothers me, and it bothers me more as time goes on. That line is a direct response to that question. I saw the line as very hopeful. That's why in the movie I added one little extra [question from Charlie], 'Can we make them know they deserve more?' and then I have the teacher say, 'We can try.' Because, I'm not about blaming the victim or anything like that, but if you put up with it, that means you put up with it. And maybe, if you know that you deserve the best, you'll get the best."

We are All Affected by Others' Choices and Our Choices Affect Others

In the movie, every character has been affected and changed by members of their family or by their friends. Stephen reiterated that he was careful not to portray those who made terrible choices as monsters. "There are very few true monsters in the world, in my opinion," he said.

But he went on, "There's something that's fascinated me as a writer and as a person for as long as I've been doing this — some people call it sins of the father; I don't think of it that way. What I think of is, every family has ghosts, and every family has habits, and we still feel the repercussions of like, what your great, great grandmother did. We don't even know her, we don't even have pictures of her. But I guarantee you, she is still in your family." We are all who we are today in part because of who we came from. What a great point to discuss and analyze with kids, and what a great thing to remember as we interact with others.