Step into the sun

“Dear Evan Hansen” is a message of hope in the midst of mental illness

Mason Brooks, Staff Writer

Ben Platt as Evan Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen, directed by Stephen Chbosky. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

*Trigger warning: suicide

Filled with tough themes of loneliness, grief and teen suicide, “Dear Evan Hansen” is not an easy pill to swallow. In addition, the choice to cast 27-year old Ben Platt as the titular teen caused more than a few folks to lose faith in the film.

Despite the sensitive subjects and casting choices, 2021’s film adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen” unpacks powerful themes about community, responsibility and forgiveness.

The film follows Evan, a teen struggling with extreme anxiety and depression. Right from the opening scene, we learn what daily life is like for him: three daily medications, lunches spent alone and only passing moments with his overworked single mom.

Struggling with anxiety himself, Platt effortlessly captures Evan’s insecurities. Simple things such as Evan’s hunched posture, nervous nausea and eagerness to avoid eye contact add an extra level of believability.

Evan finds himself wrapped up in a tragedy after a fellow student, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), takes his own life. Through a series of misunderstandings, Connor’s grieving family believes that Evan was their son’s one and only friend. At first, Evan tries to refute the mistake, but after seeing a broken family desperate for good memories of their son, Evan lies, embracing the false narrative of friendship.

“Dear Evan Hansen” pulls no emotional punches. Musical numbers such as ‘Requiem’ and ‘A Little Closer’ are sure to leave many wet-eyed watchers. Each cast member effortlessly evokes deep feelings of empathy through song and scene alike.

It is this glaring omission of truth that is gut-wrenching to witness. Evan’s deliberate lies bring him everything he ever wanted in life. Evan finds a sense of belonging in the Murphy family as they bring him into their lives. Watching Evan benefit from his deception is painful to watch, but “Dear Evan Hansen” never asks you to side with him; it simply asks you to understand his suffering.

Eventually, Evan is forced to confess his facade to the Murphy’s. The film does not allow Hansen to hide behind his lofty motivations or initial intentions. Instead, Evan must take responsibility for his actions. With his facade gone, Evan must face his flaws and own his failures.

It is at this moment where Platt and Hansen become one. Sobbing on his knees, Platt belts out the sorrow-filled phrase, ‘I never let them see the worst of me’. Platt’s perfectly broken vocals and shaky sobs are more than enough to portray Evan’s aching heart, and Platt proves that he was born for this role.

In one of the film’s final numbers, Evan opens up to his mother about all his struggles. He invites her into his brokenness and admits his lies.

It is in these final moments that the film’s purpose becomes apparent. Song lyrics like ‘step into the sun’ and ‘let that lonely feeling wash away’ present themselves as the living, breathing heart of the narrative, yet ‘being found’ by Connor’s family is not what truly changes Evan for the better.

Instead, it is Evan’s willingness to admit his failures to others that brings him forgiveness. His authenticity brings him peace, and his brokenness with his mom brings him healing. It takes more than being found to find healing—it takes being known.

At its core, “Dear Evan Hansen” is a story about human connection. The film explores just how important that connection is for each and every one of us. Each song is as melodically gorgeous as it is lyrically pounding. In spite of what eager-to-object naysayers might tell you, this film is a perfectly cast musical with performances worthy of your time and tears.

The message of “Dear Evan Hansen” is clear: you are not alone.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language and some suggestive references.