Film

No Soundtrack Captures The Feeling Of Being Young And Sad Like ‘The Perks Of Being A Wallflower’

Every song helps articulate all those sad indie teen feelings we needed articulated.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower soundtrack

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There is something iconic about a well-chosen song in a film. We’re talking ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ by Simple Minds, ‘Kiss Me’ by Sixpence None the Richer, Mmmm whatcha say– specific scenes immediately spring to mind when you hear them.

These songs not only soundtrack the teen movies and TV shows we grew up with, but as we grow up alongside them, they soundtrack our lives too.

These shows introduced us to new music, and hearing these songs play during your at-home binge-watching has the power to take us back to our teen years (shout out to Mallrat’s OC Soundtrack playlist).

It’s not only the experience of hearing a song and immediately being transported to a particular scene — it can also transport you to a particular time in your life, too: scenes from growing up.

Because it’s not only nostalgia — these songs can mean something.

Recently, BBC Radio 1 shared a video of musicians from around the world performing ‘Times Like These’ by Foo Fighters, an apt song for our current situation.  Listening to that song again, I think about season four, episode twenty of One Tree Hill: When ‘Times Like These’ played during the Tree Hill High School graduation (and then Hayley’s water broke during her valedictory speech?! The CW, ladies and gentlemen). I think about being in a car with my siblings with that very song blasting through the speakers to celebrate my sister’s graduation.

And then I get this ache in my chest, lol.

Music can be so important during the coming of age process as we search for songs that help us explain and relate to the complicated feelings, emotions and experiences we go through.

We seek songs and music for comfort and soundtracks help with this.

Accept the Love We Think We Deserve

No films quite understands the power of music during your teen years quite like The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012).

Based on the 1999 novel by Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie (Logan Lerman), an observant and lonely teenager through his freshman year of high school, as he tries to navigate the complicated and terrifying ordeals he, his family, and his newfound friends are going through.

It is by no means an easy read, nor an easy film to watch, as Charlie and his friends deal with issues around mental health, drug use, sexual assault, alcoholism, domestic violence and sexuality. However, the way Perks is able to articulate these issues makes it so special.

Although published in 1999, the book had a surge of popularity leading up to the film’s release in 2011/2012.

To the Tumblr generation of 2010-2013, dashboards filled with faded photos of sunsets and bokeh light effects and daisies with typewriter font photoshopped on top featuring quotes such as “we accept the love we think we deserve” and “So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

You know, articulating all those sad indie teen feelings we needed articulated.

“I Love The Smiths”

Music is important to the characters in Perks. Charlie makes mixtapes for his friends and accidentally puts Asleep by The Smiths on one twice, because what says Teen Angst like The Smiths?

His friends Patrick (Ezra Miller), Sam (Emma Watson) and Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) perform in the interactive screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a musical important to many outcasts and misfits, with its message of “Don’t dream it, be it.”

Sam tells a story to Charlie, about the first time she heard the Cocteau Twins’ Pearly — Dewdrops’ Drop, and the vision she had of a future where you know everything is going to be okay.

During the terrifying ordeal of youth, you start to have emotions and experiences which feel too big, too adult for you to deal with.

In The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, each of the characters go through shit they can hardly comprehend, but they can understand music. They can understand that amongst teen angst existentialism, the perfect song at the perfect moment can make you feel infinite and that itself is a comfort. 

We Can Be Heroes

The Perks soundtrack features The Smiths and Sonic Youth, and, imo, single-handedly revived Come On Eileen, which has since featured in the playlist of all my friends eighteenths, twenty-firsts and house parties since.

The most important song on the soundtrack, though, is Heroes by David Bowie.

Known as “The Tunnel Song”, the song comes into Patrick, Sam and Charlie’s life by happenstance (or fate) as it plays on the radio in the car. They don’t know what it’s called or who it’s by, but in that moment, the song is perfect. Perfect for driving through the tunnel on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, surrounded by golden lights, wind whipping through hair.

At that point in the film, like Patrick, Sam and Charlie, we don’t know the song is David Bowie. We find that out at the end.

Yet, even though the song doesn’t play, what the song can make you feel and what it represents is already clear: it’s that feeling of discovering something special, that’s personal and significant to only you.

Although these characters were by no means the first ones to discover David Bowie, it’s a lot like reading the book when I was sixteen, watching the movie at seventeen, which was a little over ten years after the book was originally published.

I cannot explain the hype and necessity of Perks of Being a Wallflower surrounding the film’s release, and we by no means were the first to discover it, but I know that just like for Patrick, Sam and Charlie, it felt personal and significant to my generation.

Being a teenager, like Perks of Being a Wallflower, can be filled with a lot of hopelessness. It’s that feeling of being happy and sad at the same time and figuring out how that can be. Heroes perfectly captures that. And because the song isn’t named in the book, the film gave us that.

In the final scene, Sam declares she found the Tunnel Song, and the trio are back in the truck, with Charlie’s voice-over reflecting on the moment:

“I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.”

Sure, the book gave us these words we scribbled on our notebooks and our bodies and our Facebook pages (“we are infinite”, what does that even mean?), but with the power of the movies, of camera plus voice-over plus the perfect song, the Perks movie and soundtrack gave us the feeling. 

I may not be seventeen anymore, and I don’t know about you, but every time I hear Heroes, I sure as hell feel infinite.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is currently on Netflix. This has been part of Junkee’s column TEEN SCREEN.


Claire White is a writer/bookseller based in Melbourne. She is a Teen Screen Tragic/Scholar, wrote a thesis about on-screen depictions of girlhood, and dyed her hair red to be like Molly Ringwald. Find her on Twitter @theclairencew.