I Saw the TV Glow (2024) Movie Review – A unique and deeply meaningful identity narrative

A unique and deeply meaningful identity narrative

In Jane Schoenbrun’s second feature film I Saw the TV Glow, a supernatural show within the movie called The Pink Opaque transports us to the ‘90s. In it, teens Tara (Lindsay Jordan) and Isabel (Helena Howard) discover they have a psychic connection, which they utilize to fight off the evil Mr. Melancoly’s monsters and avoid being trapped in the Midnight Realm.

The show felt immediately nostalgic with its supernatural brand of melodrama and dated effects, and it didn’t take long for me to turn to my husband in the theater and remark that I would watch the hell out of it. It reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; he thought it like a ‘90s version of Supernatural. Either way, The Pink Opaque resonated with our own formative experiences around media, even despite our not growing up in the same era of TV as Schoenbrun.

That kind of connection to a TV show–where we grow up alongside it, it helps mold who we are, and becomes our solace and escape in the world–is central to I Saw the TV Glow. It happens with Owen (played by Ian Foreman, then Justice Smith as he gets older), who becomes obsessed with The Pink Opaque, introduced to him by schoolmate Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine). But as he grows up, the line between reality and the show starts to blend and gives way to questions surrounding his true identity.

I Saw the TV Glow is undeniably a trans narrative, as was confirmed explicitly by Jane Schoenbrun, who wrote the film soon into their transition, at “that moment of the egg cracking.” Not that confirmation is needed; Schoenbrun is heavy-handed with their metaphors, without which the movie’s narrative might not even function.

And that’s okay, because they support each other well–the story no less big, bold, and melancholic for being inextricably tied to its meaning. I actually think the “in-your-face-ness” of it all respects just how big and yearning our feelings are when growing up. How monumental and frightening our questions of identity, whether or not they are linked to gender. There’s no subtlety about those feelings when you’re having them, and Schoenbrun acknowledges that with empathy.

When Owen is first drawn to The Pink Opaque, it’s as if he wants to downplay its immediate impact on his life. He pretends it isn’t so bad for him to miss an episode when his dad disparages it as “a show for girls.” And yet, he lies to his parents about where he’s going just so he can sneak out to watch it with Maddy. Still, he doesn’t want it to be as important to him as it is to her. “It’s just a show,” he tells her years later, after its cancellation, when she tries to convince him The Pink Opaque could be more than that.

But this is the same person who once couldn’t even tell Maddy if he liked girls. “I think… I like TV shows,” he said when quizzed on his sexuality. He’s the person who doesn’t know who he is, but watches The Pink Opaque (and Isabel in particular) with stars in his eyes, utterly transfixed on that TV screen. And he’s still the person who carries himself as if his body doesn’t belong to him, and who speaks as if he’s not sure where his voice is coming from (all a testament to Smith’s brilliant performance).

We’re left wondering all the same things as Owen, asking whether there is truly a deeper connection between him and the show. And it’s as terrifying a question for us as it is for Owen. Because if it’s true, then what a beautiful discovery. And if it’s not, then what a grand and dangerous delusion.

That’s why there’s so much discussion over whether I Saw the TV Glow is rightly classified as horror. There’s nothing in the film that feels put there explicitly to scare you. Yet, Schoenbrun is careful to develop undertones of terror around those shaking questions of identity, and the wondering: What is real and not real?

There’s that terror, but also melancholy, and even hope. In some ways, the film is a love letter to TV shows Schoenbrun grew up with, like Buffy and Twin Peaks, and homage is felt not only in the depiction of The Pink Opaque, but also in the film’s lighting–its whole world glows with the neon lights of late-night TV. Honor is paid to the ways media has accompanied and guided us throughout our lives. But there’s an isolation, too, in growing up more connected to fictional characters than to our own lives.

Through The Pink Opaque, Owen experiences beautiful self-actualization, but perhaps there’s loss felt there too. It’s not easy to parse the good and bad in the film; there is simply too wide a range of emotions in Owen’s journey–much as in a coming-out experience. But that just makes I Saw the TV Glow more of an intense and deeply meaningful watch. It’s my favorite of the year so far.


Read More: I Saw the TV Glow Ending Explained

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  • Verdict - 10/10

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