On the surface, the film “If I Stay,” is about love–specifically young love–but it also covers many other complex topics: family, perspective, life, and sacrifice.
The main character, Mia Hall, narrates the story, leading us through her life in flashbacks. We see her life in fragments—each fragment serving as a memory of something important that occurred in her life. Moments are just that–fragments of time that don’t seem important when they are happening–and you don’t realize their importance in the scheme of things until they actually occur. Mia (and the audience) learns the lesson that life is fragile and some choices are given to us while other choices are already made for you.
The first flashback shows Adam (played by Jamie Blackley) and how the love story between Mia and him began. Unlike Mia, Adam is spontaneous, and sings and plays rock music with his band. Adam peels back the layers of her structured life she has created and helps her loosen up.
Mia, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, guides the viewer through her life and how she perceives herself and the people around here. Mia is a talented cellist who doesn’t think she is similar to her former rocker dad and free spirit mom. Her focus is playing the cello, an instrument she has loved since a young girl.
We see a flashback and witness the backstory of how she became a cellist. We see her as a baby watching her dad perfom. Then her seeing a cello and wanting to play it, and taking lessons from a college student. She said she felt like her heart was “beating with the cello” when she played.
Mia tells the audience that “life is what happens when you’re busy making plans” and that’s exactly what happens to Mia. The Halls are a typical family from Portland, until a fateful snow day. With Beethoven playing and surrounded by snow, the Halls are in a horrible car accident.
She is gravely injured and becomes comatose–teetering between life and death. After the accident occurs, we see Mia as an earth angel. An earth angel is not a ghost or a spirit, and that aspect gave her a realness that was needed for the viewers to feel the same emotions as Mia watched her comatose self.
At the hospital, earth angel Mia is able to see what’s happening to her and how her family and friends are coping with the tragedy. She also finds out that her parents have died in the accident and her brother, Teddy, is injured.
Interweaved through the film are the moments she spends with Adam, their first date, Mia watching his show, and their love developing. During the beginning of their romance, she tells him with certainty, “You’re going to mess up my entire life.” He definitely does that.
After their first date, she explains to Adam that she feels like shes “switched at birth” because she thinks is different from her family. What she doesn’t realize is that she is in fact cut from the same cloth at her family.
She realizes that her own survival is her choice—she can choose to stay and live, or leave and die. Throughout the movie, we witness important moments from her life, giving us a chance to feel how Mia feels. We feel her loss and hollowness because we were there to witness moments with her family. Her loss becomes our loss. When Mia finds out her parents didn’t survive, we see Mia as a child, her parents holding her as a baby and their smiling faces.
Just when we think all is lost, Mia has her own guardian angel–a nurse who tells Mia to fight for her life: “you control this whole thing—if you live or die, it’s up to you.”
In another flashback we see her applying for Julliard to continue studying the cello. The cello, something she always considered a solo instrument, is almost like a third arm for Mia—her crutch. She can escape the world when she plays the cello. Like her father and Adam, music is everything to her. In the end, she realizes that they are more alike then she first thought.
When Adam and Mia break up, Mia finds comfort in her mom, who gives her sound advice: “Everything can change in amoment. Life is a big, fat stinking mess. Who knows what happes, wither way you lose something.”
Music is also an important character in the film, a way the characters bond with each, no matter the type of music they enjoy. There’s a lot of laughter, thanks to Mia’s parents. Their characters are complex and constant throughout their film, so the audience does feel a similar emptiness when they don’t feel the screen.
“If I Stay” may not be a typical teen movie, but that’s because it’s not meant for just teens and tweens. The message of the film is universal–to recognize the fragility of life and how we can choose to have to the will to live it, or not.
“It I Stay” opens in theaters on August 22nd.