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When I first came to UCSB, I did so to leave. To leave the small, sleepy suburbia I had grown up in, forever abandoning the world I could navigate by heart for better, newer things. Yet in the last few days before I left, I recall driving aimlessly through town. School was in session; the streets were empty, the trees held in sunlight, and the sky was a beautiful, electric blue. As I passed by all the places that held so many of my childhood memories, I felt a wistfulness for everything I was leaving.  A few days later, I began college with excitement; but when the shiny newness of it all wore off, home was often what I missed.

I was reminded of that moment when I watched Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, a beautifully-shot film with a soft, mellow color scheme.

Image via The New York Times

In the film, protagonist, Christine McPherson, who deems herself “Lady Bird”, is in her senior year at a Catholic high school. She falls in love for the first time, fights with her mother, forges new friendships, and finally leaves the place she thought she hated so much – Sacramento – only to realize that it was her home. In one particular scene, the school principal, Sister, has read her college application essay. “It’s clear how much you love Sacramento,” she remarks.

Lady Bird, trying to shrug it off, says, “I guess I just pay attention.” After a pause, Sister asks, “Don’t you think they’re the same thing?”

Her implication that attention and love are intertwined is a beautiful insight. It comes as a surprise because for most of her high school life, Lady Bird hates Sacramento and wants nothing more than to leave everything that reminds her of home.

Image via Miami New Times

Anyone can relate to that angsty wanderlust period when all you want is to leave and never come back. Yet as many of us realize, when we finally do leave, freedom is not as liberating as we had imagined, and perhaps, home was not as bad either. When Lady Bird finally arrives in New York, rather than feeling relieved or excited, she finds herself feeling lost, and most of all, homesick.

There are no monsters, no shootings, no heart-pounding car chases, but rather, all the ingredients for a typical teenage comedy – first love, prom, college apps, family tension, friends. Yet what distinguishes it from all other teenage films is how it so accurately captures the ambivalent feelings of youth. When we first leave home, we try to act tough. We try to seem grown up, like we do not need help or love from our parents, but once we leave, home is often what we miss, and what we need. Often we realize, it is hard to find something that even comes close to the love and comfort of family.

Lady Bird is a film that speaks quietly; in contrast to how simple it may seem on the surface, it is filled with a rare realness that speaks true to that feeling, that sense of ambivalence when we leave the place we grew up in for the first time. 

Dede Ahn

UCSB '20

Dede is a first year English major at UCSB. 
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