Down the Static Rabbit Hole: A Review of “I Saw the TV Glow”

Have you ever stumbled upon a late-night TV show so strange, so captivating, that it felt like a secret message beamed directly to you? A show that promised a world beyond the ordinary, a world where the lines between reality and fantasy blur? This is the experience Jane Schoenbrun crafts in her latest film, “I Saw the TV Glow.” Schoenbrun invites us on a hypnotic journey into the hearts and minds of two teenagers, Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Owen (Justice Smith). United by a shared fascination with the enigmatic late-night program “The Pink Opaque,” they embark on a path of obsession that will challenge their perceptions of reality and propel them towards a transformative encounter with self-discovery.

Unlike your typical late-night offering, “The Pink Opaque” isn’t content with reruns of sitcoms or infomercials for questionable kitchen gadgets. Shrouded in a haze of static and cryptic symbolism, the program offers glimpses into a world both unsettling and strangely alluring. Fragmented images flicker across the screen – swirling colors, cryptic symbols, and voices that murmur secrets on the edge of understanding. For Maddy, a social outsider with a yearning for connection, these flickering images become an irresistible siren song. She finds solace in the show’s strangeness, a sense of belonging where she feels perpetually on the outside looking in at her peers. For Owen, a creative spirit struggling to find his voice amidst the humdrum of high school life, the show acts as a mirror reflecting his own unconventional thoughts and desires. He sees in “The Pink Opaque” a validation of his individuality, a world where the strange and unusual are celebrated, not ostracized.

As Maddy and Owen delve deeper into the program’s enigmatic world, the lines between viewer and participant become frighteningly blurred. The rituals they enact in homage to “The Pink Opaque” become more than just expressions of fandom; they transform into a desperate attempt to bridge the gap between their mundane reality and the extraordinary world glimpsed on screen. Is the show merely a figment of their collective imagination, fueled by adolescent angst and a hunger for something more? Or is there a deeper truth lurking beneath the static, a hidden gateway waiting to be unlocked by those willing to believe?

Check out the trailer to I Saw the TV Glow below.

YouTube video

Schoenbrun’s masterful direction weaves a tapestry of horror, coming-of-age drama, and surreal fantasy, blurring the lines between these genres to create a truly unique cinematic experience. This ambiguity perfectly reflects the characters’ own internal struggles as they grapple with self-discovery and navigate the complexities of adolescence. The film’s strength lies not just in its captivating narrative, but in its ability to capture the profound impact that art – in this case, the enigmatic “The Pink Opaque” – can have on those who feel like outsiders or misfits. For Maddy and Owen, their obsession with the show becomes a lifeline, a means of escape from the suffocating conformity of their everyday lives. In the program’s fragmented imagery and cryptic messages, they find a sense of belonging, a community that celebrates their individuality and validates their unconventional perspectives.

This exploration of “outsider art” as a source of solace and empowerment resonates deeply. Schoenbrun doesn’t shy away from depicting the raw vulnerability and intensity of adolescence. Lundy-Paine and Smith deliver powerhouse performances, conveying the characters’ yearning for connection and their desperate search for meaning with remarkable authenticity. Their on-screen chemistry is electric, and their characters’ journey is both profoundly relatable and deeply moving. As they navigate the treacherous waters of self-discovery, their bond becomes a beacon of hope in a world that often fails to understand them.

Schoenbrun’s masterful direction goes hand-in-hand with the film’s exploration of alienation and the transformative power of art. Her confident and assured approach, with a keen eye for striking visuals, creates a dreamlike atmosphere that mirrors the characters’ own internal struggles. The cinematography by Eric Yue is nothing short of mesmerizing. Richly textured images evoke a sense of unreality, further blurring the lines between the characters’ world and the captivating imagery of “The Pink Opaque.” This visual language invites the audience to surrender to the film’s hypnotic allure, just as Maddy and Owen surrender to the show’s enigmatic pull.

The film’s acting style, inspired by the experimental film “Liquid Sky,” may take some viewers by surprise. It’s a deliberate choice that reflects the characters’ unconventional perspectives and their struggle to express themselves authentically in a world that demands conformity. The acting is raw and at times heightened, mirroring the emotional intensity of adolescence and the characters’ desperate search for meaning. While the film’s pacing is deliberately unhurried, it allows viewers to fully immerse themselves in the characters’ journey and the captivating world of “The Pink Opaque.” It’s a slow burn that builds tension and anticipation, culminating in a deeply emotional and thought-provoking experience.

One of the most intriguing aspects of “I Saw the TV Glow” is its exploration of the concept of “practical magic,” the idea that intense focus and belief can transform one’s reality. Maddy and Owen’s rituals surrounding “The Pink Opaque” take on a quasi-religious significance. Their unwavering belief in the show’s power blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, hinting at the transformative power of art to transcend the limitations of the everyday world. This concept resonates with the film’s core themes of self-discovery and the yearning to create one’s own reality.

I Saw the TV Glow” isn’t merely a film; it’s a hypnotic descent into the flickering heart of adolescence. It’s a whispered incantation that lingers on the tongue, a secret language understood only by those who feel perpetually on the outside looking in. It’s a testament to the transformative power of art, a reminder that even the most static flicker can ignite a revolution within. So, prepare to surrender to the static, embrace the unknown, and allow yourself to be swept away by the mesmerizing glow.”