How I Live Now Uses Nuclear War for Teen Romance
February 10, 2014

How I Live Now

Another entry in the “teen romance amongst ridiculous circumstances” genre (launched by Twilight and carried on by Beautiful Creatures, The Hunger Games, Warm Bodies, and such), How I Live Now stars Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Atonement) as Daisy, a grumpy American teen. She’s been sent to live with her English cousins for the summer, only shortly after she arrives, a nuclear device takes out London. She and the cousins — romantic interest Eddie (George MacKay), two younger boys, and little sister Piper (Harley Bird) — left without their mother, have a briefly idyllic country vacation before things turn dire. It’s based on the young adult novel by Meg Rosoff.

Ronan’s portrayal is authentic. Daisy is unpleasant, as a girl would be when packed off to unknown relatives, with a touch of germ phobia and OCD portrayed by overlapping voices in her head. Some will be disturbed by the first-cousin romance, but I was more curious about the societal changes. Unfortunately, we see very little of how and why the UK has become a military state. The story isn’t interested in showing us what’s going on in the larger sociopolitical world; we just see the kids taken by soldiers, separated by sex, and put in work camps. The plot is driven by Daisy’s struggle to reunite the adopted family she had just found and return to their farm, with lots of journeying through the woods.

It’s also the kind of movie where you shouldn’t get too attached to any particular character, since there are life-threatening struggles and morbid revelations.

How I Live Now stars Saoirse Ronan and George MacKay

How I Live Now stars Saoirse Ronan and George MacKay

The early sections, devoted to idealized English countryside living, are the most attractive. There are cow pastures, a swimming hole, and a campfire picnic, all shown lovingly with quiet pacing. Perhaps the uncertainty of the rest is a realistic portrait of how confusing and uncertain life as a teen would be when caught up in an unexpected war, but dramatically, I found it unsatisfying. Ronan’s performance is excellent, and the British audience may find this a successful modern update of the “stiff upper lip” “we’ll get through this time of struggle” “there will always be an England” type of movie, but I didn’t see much to make it memorable. In part, I was looking for something the movie wasn’t trying to be — it’s aiming to be a modern teen love story in exaggerated circumstances.

The special features consist of the usual categories:

  • The Deleted Scenes (5 minutes total, 3 scenes) actually answer a couple of minor plot questions, as well as stating a rather obvious analogy for Daisy’s character.
  • The Making of How I Live Now (6 minutes) features director Kevin MacDonald, two producers, and the stars summarizing the movie with a heavy use of film clips. It’s amusing to hear Ronan’s authentic Irish accent, instead of the American accent she puts on.
  • The Interviews (53 minutes total) include the same group, as well as author Meg Rosoff.
  • Behind the Scenes Comparisons (6 minutes) show footage of the crew filming four scenes, accompanied by a small inset of the scene as it plays in the movie.
  • A Look at How I Live Now (3 minutes) is superfluous given all the above, since it repeats the descriptions and movie clips.
  • The two-minute trailer, shown below.

(The studio provided a review copy.)

2 Responses  
Lynn writes:  

Your description made me think of Grave of the Fireflies.

Of course that was a real war so you have the ability to learn the context, but from the children’s perspective all they know is what happens to them and the further to the country they are sent the less they know.

Barefoot Gen, on the other hand, was very interested in explaining the surrounding causes and effects and tweaked the plot/characters or resorted to exposition bubbles to get there.

'How I Live Now' Review MovieMelt writes:  

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