At least for me, it’s hard to complain about the overabundance of films based on dystopian young adults novels. Regardless of your outlook, it’s hard to deny the kernels of truth embedded in each story of warfare, child soldiers, and political turmoil. But amidst the scorched landscapes there always lies a beacon of hope for a better future which remains the driving force of all humanity. How I Live Now, based on the novel of the same name by Meg Rosoff, is the story of Daisy (Saoirse Ronan), an American who is sent to live with her English cousins in an idyllic countryside. The symbolic interaction between internal anger manifesting into an external aggression, and the fear that results, is quite telling from the start. As Daisy’s initial distant, icy exterior begins to fade away, and she allows herself to become a part of this family, the more the paradise that surrounds her turns to ash.
Daisy is a typical American teenager. She is angsty, resistant to change, and at war with the many voices in her head. We hear her internal struggles and her self-hatred, so when she lashes out at others we know exactly why. Her three cousins, Eddie (George MacKay), Isaac (Tom Holland), and Piper (Harley Bird) make up the typical “foster” family for Daisy. They are wise beyond their years, are not jaded by modern consumerism, and slowly begin to coax Daisy out from under her shell. In particular, Eddie, who is part animal whisperer, and may or may not be able to telepathically communicate with Daisy. At the very least, they understand each other and a taboo romance forms.
As this film is based on a novel for teenagers, the focus is most certainly on its young cast lead by Ronan. When a nuclear strike hits London and war engulfs their lives, the children vow to stay together in their home regardless of evacuation orders. As a side note, the scene portraying the nuclear blast is one of the most eerily beautiful and frightening things I’ve seen in a film. Think “winds of change,” literally. As is inevitable, adults arrive to mess everything up. The government forcibly removes Daisy and Piper and places them in protective housing, and takes the boys to an undisclosed location. The horrors of which we only learn later. Determined to get back what she only started to love, Daisy and Piper runaway and embark on foot hundreds of miles to get back home. Along the way, they must fend off enemy guerrillas, tainted water supplies and the horrible truths of war.
How I Live Now manages to capture a lot of the subtle intricacies of growing up that are painfully helped by the backdrop of such brutal conflict. Not a lot is explained from a geo-political standpoint, which leaves much of what is going on from the perspective of the war, up to the viewer to decipher. Essentially this is a story about Daisy, where her life ended, and how she lives now.
How I Live Now opens today at the Ritz Bourse.