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Plot, Characters, Conflicts And Themes In The Film The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

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Early impressions


The film is set in the 1990’s in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. The setting is established through Charlie reading aloud his letters. The setting of the film is integral to the storyline as it helps to establish one of the films major conflicts. During the 1990’s homosexuality was not as accepted by society as it is today. This is why Brad struggles with his feelings and somewhat hates himself for his sexuality. He hides his true feelings from his family to avoid being discriminated against.

The main characters

Charlie – The fifteen-year-old main character. The film is told through a series of flashbacks and letters that Charlie is writing to his Aunt Helen. The whole film is narrated entirely through Charlie’s perspective. The narration helps the audience to build empathy for the main character as he reveals his deepest thoughts and emotions. It makes the film seem very real and as if Charlie is talking to you personally, leading to a greater emotional impact. Charlie has initially been presented as a quiet, withdrawn and vulnerable high school freshman dealing with a lot of trauma. This manipulates the audience to feel very empathetic towards Charlie as he has had traumatic experiences. It is revealed in the beginning of the film that Charlie has spent time in a mental institution following the death of his best friend. This makes the audience further sympathise with him as it reveals that his death must have impacted him greatly.

Sam – A high school senior, Patrick’s stepsister, and one of Charlie’s best friends. Charlie has a huge crush on Sam throughout the entire film. Although Sam is oblivious to this for most of the film, making the audience empathise with Charlie. The audience is manipulated to feel positively towards Sam as she is one of the first people who tries to make Sam feel welcome.

Patrick – Is introduced as a high school senior and Sam’s step-brother. Patrick is in a secret relationship with Brad, the quarterback of the football team. Patrick accepts Charlie for all his differences and makes him feel like he belongs, making the audience feel positively towards him.

Brad – Quarterback of the football team, and a closeted homosexual. Brad and Patrick have a secret relationship until Brad’s father finds about it. Instead of standing up to his father, Brad continues to suppress his sexuality. Brad calls Patrick mean names in front of the whole school to avoid expressing his feelings. The audience is therefore manipulated to feel very negatively towards Brad.

Early complications

An early complication in the film is that is that Charlie finds out his older sister is being abused by her boyfriend. Although he wants to speak up about it his sister swears him to secrecy. It is very evident that Charlie is struggling with an internal conflict as he constantly has negative thoughts and although he really wants to, he struggles to connects with others.

How the characters developed

As the film has progressed Charlie has become much more confident with himself. In the beginning of the film Charlie is a ‘wallflower’ because he has no friends and does not try to connect with people. He tends to stand off to the side observing rather than of joining in. When Charlie witnesses disturbing things, like his sister being abused by her boyfriend, he tends to watch passively. However, as the film progresses, Charlie learns how to be a ‘wallflower’ but not a be waked over. Confessing everything in his life to his dead Aunt Helen, enables Charlie to gain the confidence he needs to participate in his actual life. Charlie has begun to push himself to be part of life rather than using the coping mechanism of letting things passively pass by him. By the half way mark of the film he is no longer lonely, he is surrounded by a great group of friends. Although he still feels heavily responsible for the death of his Aunt Helen.

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A memorable scene in the first half of the film is when Sam gives Charlie his first kiss even though she has a boyfriend, not because she wants to send mixed signals, but because she wants his first kiss to be from someone who loves him. This is because hers was from her dad’s boss when she was 11. This scene was truly heartbreaking as it is revealed that Sam was abused as a child. Another scene I found memorable in the film was at the prom. It was the second time Charlie had spoken to Sam and Patrick. Charlie was standing against the wall by himself, looking as if he wanted to join in but did not have the confidence to do so. The song “Come on Eileen” came on and Patrick and Sam started dancing crazily in the centre of the dance floor. Charlie saw them across the floor, took a deep breath, and walked up to them. Sam and Patrick were so happy to see Charlie and they all started spinning in a circle holding hands. I found this scene memorable because it just showed what shameless and kind people Patrick and Sam are. They were willing to include Charlie even though they had had only one conversation with him.

Soundtrack and other film techniques

Steven Chbosky uses the point of view camera shot throughout the film. This gives the audience an opportunity to see events through the character’s eyes as if they were experiencing it themselves. Chbosky also utilise extreme close ups during emotional scenes to emphasise the actors facial expressions. The technique is used when Charlie is helping Sam pack for college. Sam asks Charlie if he has ever kissed a girl. After Charlie says no, Sam tells Charlie that her first kiss was from her dad’s boss. While Sam is telling him this, the camera zooms in on her face. This showed that what she was saying was serious and allows the audience to further empathise with her. Long shots are also featured in dramatic scenes throughout the film to emphasize Charlie’s loneliness. This was evident during the canteen scene when Charlie sat alone. The shot showed people engaging all around him, yet he was isolated by himself. This scene emphasized that even though he was surrounded by people he still felt alone. Chbosky effectively uses film techniques to appeal to the audience’s emotions and cause them to feel as though they are experiencing these issues, allowing them to personally connect with the characters.

Major conflicts

The biggest external conflict in the film occurs when Charlie is at a party with his friends. He begins to play ‘truth or dare’, when dared to kiss the prettiest girl in the room Charlie does not kiss his girlfriend Mary-Elizabeth, instead he decides to be honest and impulsively kisses Sam. This deeply upsets Mary-Elizabeth and angers Sam. After this, Charlies friends tell him that they no longer want to see him anymore. Charlie does not regret his decision, this is evident when he states, “The truth is that when Patrick dared me, I knew that if I kissed Mary Elizabeth, I would be lying to everyone. Including Sam. Including Patrick. Including Mary Elizabeth. And I just couldn’t do it anymore,”. This leads to Charlie feeling internally conflicted once again as he has lost his friends. Throughout the film Charlie is trying to come to terms with major traumatic events from his past, but he doesn’t even realize that he has repressed memories of more trauma. When Sam and Charlie rekindle their friendship, they begin kissing as she is packing to leave for college. However, the kissing almost leads to intercourse, and that’s when Charlie gets flashbacks and realizes that his aunt Helen has sexually abused him when he was younger. Charlie has a mental breakdown and ends up in hospital next day. This is a shock to the audience as throughout the film the director manipulated the audience to feel that he admired his aunt. When really, he only spoke about her so nicely as he felt guilty for her death. He believed that because she was on her way to get his present when she got into a car accident that he was responsible for her death.

Throughout the film Charlie begins to think about his feelings in a more productive manner. Likewise, his friendships help him to see the positive aspects of his personality, and he begins to acknowledge the value he brings to society. By the end of the film he no longer is depressed and isolated. He has realised the cause of his trauma and is much more optimistic about life.

The climax

The Climax in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is when there is a fight between Patrick and Brad, in which Charlie jumps in and proceeds to defend his friend. At this point in the story, Charlie gains all of his friends back but the flashbacks and emotional distress begin to surface more often.

In the conclusion of the film Charlie and Sam resolve their romance and find that they are in love, but things won’t be able to happen the way they would like, because she’s going to college. Charlie then finds out that his favourite Aunt Helen, the one who died, sexually abused him when he was a child. He ends up in the mental hospital and cannot remember a thing. This is when he finally comes out of it that he realizes his family loves him and he loves his life. He begins to get help from a psychiatrist.

The main themes

The major theme of the film is coming of age. When Charlie’s sister is hit by her boyfriend, Charlie struggles to understand why she suddenly still greets him with acceptance and affection. Charlie himself struggles with a deep and dark aggression, something that he tries to suppress even though fighting is typically considered ‘manly.’ Charlie’s coming of age story is particularly interesting because he must overcome and deal with the fact that he was sexually abused by his aunt. How can Charlie view himself as a strong man after being taken advantage of by a woman that he loved? Charlie’s quest for manhood also relates to the theme of sexuality, since Charlie tries to connect with Sam on a level deeper than friendship. Overall, Charlie’s quest for growth and adulthood drives the plot of the film.

The purpose of the film is to encourage people to live life to the fullest. Throughout the film people can only fully develop into the fullest versions of themselves when they take charge of their lives and learn how to stand up for themselves, rather than either standing off to the side all the time or lying down and letting others walk all over them. In the very beginning of the film Bill, Charlie’s English teacher, tells Charlie that he has to start participating in his own life, rather than simply observing and taking in what others are doing. Charlie’s friendships with Patrick and Sam arise as a result of him trying to participate in events instead of standing aside and observing.

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Plot, Characters, Conflicts And Themes In The Film The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. (2021, September 13). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 27, 2023, from
“Plot, Characters, Conflicts And Themes In The Film The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.” Edubirdie, 13 Sept. 2021,
Plot, Characters, Conflicts And Themes In The Film The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Jan. 2023].
Plot, Characters, Conflicts And Themes In The Film The Perks Of Being A Wallflower [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 13 [cited 2023 Jan 27]. Available from:
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