Weekly Review: How I Live Now (2013)

During a stay with her family in Britain, Daisy falls in love. Her romance is cut short when a nuclear weapon is dropped on London, setting off what could be WWIII.

How I Live Now is a 2013 film, directed by Kevin MacDonald and based on the 2004 book by Meg Rosoff. I had not read the book previously, so going into this movie, I didn’t have any preconceived notions or expectations for it to live up to. I only knew that it was supposed to be somewhat post-apocalyptic, and it starred Saoirse Ronan, who I adore.

I’ll start the review off with that. Our main protagonist is played by Saoirse Ronan, a very talented Irish actress with a captivating gaze. Her role within this film, as Daisy, was very different from what I’m accustomed to seeing with her. Daisy is a typical stereotype of the angsty American teenager when first introduced. The character goes through some drastic transformations throughout the film, so I’m glad it was Ronan who portrayed it. I don’t know how it would have been any other way.

The movie starts out in a very “in-your-face” way. It’s in a montage format with quick shots and loud music as Daisy goes through airport security. Now, I haven’t been on a plane in near 20 years, but from what the film shows, security is pretty tight. The viewer sees eye scanners, fingerprint scanners, and body scanners, all with the loud music in the background and the visual of a world in turmoil. It was not what I was expecting for this type of film, but it does fit the director’s style which consistently puts the viewer directly into the situation being shown.

This style continues throughout the film. How I Live Now has a very chaotic feeling to it with quick cuts, moving cameras, discontinuous movement, and voyeuristic angles. It relies heavily on montage for passage of time. While this can be overwhelming, it accurately represents the world that’s being shown throughout the film so I can’t complain.

During the first half of the film, the viewer is further acquainted with Daisy as she comes to meet her messy, carefree British relatives. We see that she seems to be battling anorexia, as well as some other mental health issues which she uses medication for. As she spends more time with her family, she starts to loosen up and enjoy herself more. She falls in love, and she starts being more carefree. This all comes to a standstill when London is attacked.

I have to point out that this particular part of the movie, the attack, really stood out for me. The movie stays with its limited narrative. We never know who attacked London. We never see the full extent of the carnage. We only see what the characters see. That limited narrative makes the immediate fallout of the nuclear attack into a very poetic and beautiful scene, as these children who were at first frolicking in the woods now stand silently as ash falls like snow. I don’t know how accurate of a portrayal this is, but it’s definitely a standout part of the film for me.

At this point, the story escalates. For me, at this point, it got far more interesting. Our main characters decide to ignore evacuation notices and remain at home where they soon find themselves in the middle of a war zone. They get separated, and the rest of the film centers on Daisy as she lives through this war and struggles to get back to her loved ones. While the first half of the film is definitely more of a dramatic romance, the second half becomes more of a tragic war story.

Now, I’ve mentioned several times that Daisy falls in love. This was in the plot summary for the movie and everything, so I thought I was prepared. I was not prepared for her love interest to be her eldest cousin Eddie (George MacKay). This is definitely a social stigma, so if you think you’ll be turned off by this aspect, you may want to avoid the movie or try very hard to suspend your disbelief.

Overall, How I Live Now is a pretty decent drama. Saoirse Ronan puts up a good performance, and rather than a movie for teenagers, it feels like a movie that just happens to be about teenagers. It’s got its romance scenes. It’s got thrills and danger and terrifying moments. If you’re a fan of dystopian type films, you may find that you really enjoy this.


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