Social Anxiety in Movies: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

SAinMe&Earl&DyingGirl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is about Greg, a high school student, who is forced by his mother to spend time with a girl at his school, Rachel, after she is diagnosed with leukemia.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl [2015]

  • Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
  • Written by: Jesse Andrews (based on his own novel)
  • Starring: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke
  • Watch: Online – DVD – Blu-ray

Trailer:

Psychoanalysis: Warning! Full spoilers ahead…

GREG (V.O.)

In the typical high school life, you belong to one nation, which can never guarantee you total security. But I thought I found a way out. Get citizenship in EVERY nation. Get passports to EVERYWHERE. Just be on low-key good terms with everyone. Casually interact with them once in a while, in a way that is invisible to everyone else.

Greg is obsessed with being nice to everyone, so no one will dislike him. But also because he is afraid to get too close to anyone. All of which is a sign of social anxiety.

GREG (V.O.)

Never commit to an interaction that won’t be casual or mellow. That’s like sending troops to Afghanistan.

Only people with social anxiety would equate a social interaction with war.

GREG (V.O.)

This all may appear simple. In fact, it requires thousands of social calculations per second.

Overanalyzing and calculating social interactions is another sign of social anxiety.

GREG (V.O.)

And there were some places I simply couldn’t go. Like the cafeteria. Every last square inch of it was disputed territory. It was Crimea, Kashmir, and the Gaza strip all rolled into one. Also the part of the Indian Ocean with pirates.

The scene at the cafeteria is so over-the-top chaotic that it has to be Greg’s imagination. Social anxiety makes social situations like that look a lot worse to us than they actually are. What is casual and fun to others seems chaotic and frightening to those with social anxiety.

GREG (V.O.)

Instead, I always ate lunch in my history teacher’s office… with Earl… Some people think Earl is my friend. But he’s really not. He’s more like a coworker.

When Greg’s mother finds out a girl at his school has leukemia, she forces Greg to hang out with her at her house.

RACHAEL

I just hate having to share everything about myself.

GREG

I’m the exact same way. Check it out. One thing you can do when you don’t want to deal with people is just enter a subhuman state.

(cross-eyed, sort of zombie-like)

urrrrjj jjjunhjh uuhjjghjnj gnngnngh

Rachel might have social anxiety as well. One of the most difficult topics for people with social anxiety to talk about is themselves.

GREG

You’re too good of a listener. When we hang out, I do an insane amount of talking.

RACHEL

You just have a lot more to say than I do.

GREG

It’s quantity versus quality. The stuff I have to say is idiotic. Have you not picked up on that? I guess actually you’re a terrible listener. Anyway, you talk now.

RACHEL

“I talk now”?

It’s unclear if Rachel is quiet and disconnected because of the cancer, or if she was always like that. We don’t get to see what she was like before her diagnosis, and we don’t get to see much of her personality and interactions with others besides Greg.

RACHEL

What group are you in?

GREG

I’m not. I wouldn’t belong in any group that doesn’t suck. I’m terminally awkward and I have a face like a groundhog.

RACHEL

You can’t really think that!

GREG

I don’t think that, I know that. For a kid like me, best-case for high school is, just survive. That’s all you can hope for. Survive without creating a mortal enemy or hideously embarrassing yourself forever.

Greg has the low-self esteem emblematic of social anxiety—not just thinking he’s ugly and awkward, but “knowing” it. The problem with social anxiety is we assume all these negative thoughts about ourselves to be true, when in fact they aren’t. Also, being afraid of embarrassing oneself forever is another unfounded fear associated with social anxiety. We might embarrass ourselves sometimes, but that embarrassment won’t last “forever.”

RACHEL

Just survive until college, huh.

GREG

College? College is going to be even worse!

RACHEL

What?!

GREG

At least high school is over at three. And it’s kids I know by now. College is nonstop strangers! Some of them live in your room! You can literally never relax. I see myself dying of a panic attack two weeks in. I might just not apply.

The idea of living with strangers is so terrifying, it can cause a panic attack for Greg. Social anxiety makes us so afraid of that potential situation that it causes us to avoid it, as Greg decides he’d rather not apply.

RACHEL

So you and Greg are coworkers?

EARL

Naw, we friends. He just hates callin anyone his friend. Dude’s got issues. So he think he can’t trust nobody who’s close to him. Dude’s weirdass dad don’t socialize with nobody cept the cat. So that’s a role model ain’t got no friends. Bottom line, dude’s terrified to call anybody his friend. Because they might say, hold up, bro. I ain’t your friend. And then he’d have to kill himself.

Part of social anxiety comes from the fear of being rejected by others. Greg is so afraid of being rejected as a friend that he refuses to consider anyone his friend, therefore he can’t be rejected.

RACHEL

I look ugly… I’m so ugly, Greg. I just feel very naked. I feel like my body’s on display, like some terrible exhibit: Girl With Cancer. It’s your worst nightmare actually, being exposed like this–

Feeling like you’re on display is a common feeling of social anxiety, but again, it’s not clear if Rachel’s always felt this way, or it has only recently developed because of her cancer.

MADISON

I know. This is the biggest secret ever. Greg, I’m just so touched by how good of a friend you’re being to her.

GREG

I’m not that good of a friend.

MADISON

No, really. Greg. You’re being a good friend to her.

GREG

No I’m really not.

MADISON

Are you serious right now? Greg. She told me. That you’ve been a great friend.

GREG

She was probably lying.

EARL

Greg. Hell’s wrong with you. Accept a damn compliment.

Greg has such low self-esteem that he refuses to believe anything positive someone else says about him.

RACHEL

You have to be less of an idiot about college. Listen. Even if you don’t think your classmates will like you, which is literally an insane thing to think, you’re way less exposed to them in college. High school is 40 hours of class a week. College is 15-20. And if you don’t want to live with other kids, go to school around here! Go to Pittsburgh State! Live at home! Don’t get me wrong. I think living at home would be unnecessary and stupid. But it’s better than sitting college out just because you irrationally hate yourself.

GREG

Not “irrationally,” though–

Rachel gives a reality check to Greg. It is insane to be so fearful that everyone will hate him, just as it is to hate himself. But Greg still doesn’t believe it.

GREG

…so if we make this film, people will be like, oh, Greg and Earl, they’re those weird filmmakers. They’re always creepily filming stuff. They probably sneak up to your house at night and film you while you’re asleep.

People with social anxiety fear what others will think about them, and we come up with elaborate ideas of what they will think. Which is all false. We don’t (and can’t) know what they will think.

GREG

Kind of a monster silence in here.

RACHEL

Yeah. It’s okay to just be silent for a while.

Greg is upset when Rachel says she’s going to stop the treatments.

RACHEL

You should be overjoyed. Now you can go back to your life of being invisible and detached and self-hating.

Greg is angry that Earl told Rachel about the film they were making.

EARL

Naw. Shut the hell up. You care so goddamn much bout what other people think, gotta go round kissin errybody’s ass pretendin like you they friend, well lemme tell you: nobody give a shit about you. Nobody… give a shit.

Earl gives Greg his second reality check. Social anxiety makes us obsessively worried about what others think about us, but the truth is, they don’t think about us as much as we think they do. They are too busy worrying about themselves.

MADISON

UGH. Greg. Now is not the time for your whole, I’m-Greg, I-suck, nothing-I-do-is-any-good thing.

Greg thinks his and Earl’s films are good, but he doesn’t want to show them to anyone else because he is afraid that they won’t think they are good. Which is a feeling I can relate to with my writing.

Greg’s mom tells him he should visit Rachel in the hospital or he’ll regret it forever.

GREG

But for right now, do me a favor. And just leave me alone. I just want to sit here and regret stuff. I’m gonna think of everything I’ve ever done, and everything I haven’t done, and just regret the living shit out of it.

Social anxiety comes from constantly regretting past social interactions and worrying about future ones.

GREG

Are you just being friendly? Or is it, like, this calculated tactic? To get me to do whatever you want? Because you have to understand what it does, when a beautiful, sexy, otherwise thoughtful girl touches the arm of a scrawny pasty guy with a groundhog face. It’s an act of cruelty.

Again, Greg displays low self-esteem and projects negative thoughts on others. He doesn’t think a pretty girl like Madison could actually like him without ulterior motives.

GREG

This film sucks. And after you watch it, you’re gonna think I’m this pathetic untalented loser. But here’s the thing: I don’t care what you think about me. I’ve spent the last four years obsessing over how everyone sees me, and I just realized, I don’t care anymore. The only person whose opinion I care about is dead. So, whatever. I’ve always wanted never to be noticed by anyone. But the best way not to be noticed is to be dead. And I don’t want to be dead.

Rachel’s death is like a wake-up call to Greg. He finally gets it and realizes how pointless it is to worry about what others will think of him.

GREG

I know I might seem to you like I hate myself and everything I do. But really, I just hate everyone I’ve ever been. The person I am right now is okay.

Most of all, Greg learns to stop hating himself, which is the first step in overcoming social anxiety.

Judgement:

Greg isn’t exactly shy, but he still has social anxiety, if that makes sense. He seems to be able to talk to people just fine, but at the same time, he has the thought patterns and neuroses of someone with social anxiety. He constantly worries about what others think of him, and he has low self-esteem. In the end, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has a great message on how Greg overcame his issues. (Not that we need to have a girlfriend die of cancer to overcome our social anxiety.)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl as a film: 9/10

As a portrayal of social anxiety: 7/10

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One thought on “Social Anxiety in Movies: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

  1. Pingback: Social Anxiety in Movies | Tim Barry Jr.

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