Content warning- spoilers, homophobia
The year 2020 and 2021 was a rollercoaster, to say the least. It tested our patience, our love and our mental health. So much so, that although we started the year with positive messages of being there for each other, we ended it obsessed with a game that made us doubt our friends and throw them off spaceships. But as Ellie Chu says, “Love isn’t kind and patient and humble. Love is messy, and horrible, and selfish, and bold”.
The Half of It is a Netflix movie released in 2020, written, directed and produced by Alice Wu. The story is set in the small and humble town of Squahamish. It is mostly cold and wet. The protagonists Ellie Chu is Chinese-American, Aster Flores is half Spanish and Paul Munsky is sweet and kind for a jock. Paul first enlists Ellie’s help to write a letter to Aster to confess his feelings, but it spirals, and they end up having increased and longer conversations than either of the three had anticipated. Although Ellie agrees to help Paul get the girl, her feelings for Aster amplifies throughout the process. After some awkward encounters, Ellie and Aster get an opportunity to hang out and get to know each other as friends where their relationship blooms in quiet companionship.
The story starts off with Ellie narrating Plato’s theory in the Symposium that we’re all actually half people looking for our other half. This isn’t a story about the main character who has a rival in a popular high school clique, it’s not overly dramatic, but it does have typical cheerleaders flocking around a rich, popular boy named Trig. But he isn’t a jock; he is annoyingly vain and a rich brat. The jocks are actually ignored until one small scene in the second half of the movie. The best part? The characters aren’t whitewashed to appear more American, they aren’t forced to be something they’re not. The protagonists are whole people, they own themselves without being limited to their beauty and/or brains, or the lack thereof for that matter. They’re normal people who are simply existing in high school, feeling trapped, but not knowing a way to get out.
The whole movie is filtered in soft lighting, comforting silences and silent understanding. It’s not a story where someone ends up with someone romantically, and they live happily ever after. They’re smart people who decide to take time to understand themselves and go away to college to focus on their education. And if you’re looking for drama, well, you’re gonna have to watch the movie, because I don’t want to spoil too much.
But the first time I saw this movie, I wasn’t a fan of the ending. After Ellie and Paul confess to Aster and Ellie also reveals she’s in love with her, Aster reveals she had given it a thought but was hoping things would be different, or she would be different. This is where Ellie teases her about how confusing it is to factor in everything everyone has to say and most of all, worry about what God had to say. At first glance, Aster to me seemed like one of those negative stereotype straight girl who is only curious because “being different is fun” and she soon realizes that she really just like guys. But what this movie does is show that questioning and being confused about your sexuality is okay; in that it’s okay for you to be confused and wanting to take time to figure yourself out.
Aster is raised by a really conservative and patriarchal family. Not only are they really strict with Aster, they are also low on income, and in their interactions, you see that they’re really pushing Aster to be a “lady” and get with the rich and popular Trig. At 18! Aster doesn’t have the space and the option to explore her inner self, she is forced to follow her parents’ (especially her father’s) orders. Every time Aster’s interacting with a male romantic interest, be it Trig or Paul, her face keeps twitching like she’s nervous, and she can’t maintain eye contact with them, like she doesn’t know how she’s supposed to behave with them, and she’s pretending to be interested against her will. She is also mostly interested in Paul because of their conversations in their texts and letters which was really Ellie pretending to be Paul because Paul is not a very good conversationalist in real life. You can see it on her face that she feels liberated when she’s with Ellie, and she’s happy she received a kiss from her, unlike her kiss with Paul. She doesn’t even kiss Trig, she’s usually standing by his side smiling and looking pretty. The ending is ambiguous. Sure Ellie and Aster share a kiss, but Aster is also forced to accept an engagement proposal from Trig in the church scene right before. At the same time, Aster is also going away to college to make art. There is a chance that Aster and Ellie could end up together years later, or maybe Aster and Ellie end up with different people and live in different places. But I only wish for Aster not to end up with Trig.
What caught my attention was the title, The Half of It. What is the “it” that’s being referred to here? Is it the half of our soul? Of course, it’s also a reference to soulmates and Plato’s ideas in the beginning of the movie. I think by using the word “it”, there is a distance being put between the subject and the story, trying to get an outside perspective to figure out the complex inner world. I think the subject here, not only refers to the characters in the story, but the audience as well. But the question arises, if we’re looking for our soulmate, why doesn’t it say The Half of Us? In the movie, Ellie says she thinks that people spend far too much time looking for someone to complete them. This contradicts the title, because if we’re whole in ourselves, then why does it say half? As far as our soulmates are concerned, well, the movie does a good job to show that a soulmate isn’t always a romantic interest.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Alice Wu said that the story was woven out of her personal experience with her straight guy best friend who rejected her because his girlfriend was threatened by their intimacy. She tried translating that experience into a movie about 20 something year olds, but it eventually evolved into a teen movie. The story mainly speaks to us about the intimacy, the flaws and the very humanness at our core. Paul realizes that Ellie is in love with Aster and in a true Christian way, tells her she’s going to hell for committing that sin. Thanks to Ellie’s father, whom Paul becomes close with, he learns that there is more than one way to love. He says, “….. I never want to be the guy who stops loving someone for loving the way that they want to love”. The movie speaks in abundance of the kind of connections we make, for finding someone who stands with us despite our flaws. Soulmates may be our other half, but the intimacy and the connection has nothing to do with being sexually or romantically involved, that it’s not about convention or labels. It’s what we’re looking for; someone to understand us, see us, hear us. And even though the intimacy may scare us, we can’t deny what we desire when we’re isolated and unable to sleep at 3 am.
The stories we dream, the stories we tell, the relationships we make, they’re all a product of our search for something more- our other half, the love we crave, the intimacy of being understood, the taste of freedom. We unsee what is in front of us, we hesitate to make the bold stroke. We’re human and we’re flawed. But we learn, and we grow, and maybe what we really need is to think with our hearts and love with our souls.