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Review: I Saw the TV Glow

Updated: May 6

[The following review contains MINOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

It’s tempting to reduce I Saw the TV Glow to its obvious stylistic inspirations—Cronenberg’s Videodrome, Lynch’s Lost Highway, various cheesy live-action kid shows from the golden age of Nickelodeon (including, but not limited to: The Secret World of Alex Mack, Animorphs, and Are You Afraid of the Dark?)—thereby dismissing it (deliberately or otherwise) as mere pastiche.

It is equally easy to fall into the trap of treating the film’s plot as a puzzle to be deciphered. Because the story is so inherently shaped by the characters’ distorted perception, it’s only natural that some viewers might attempt to distinguish between which scenes are intended to represent the unreliable narrator’s delusions and which are supposed to be objectively “real” (within the context of the overarching narrative, of course; in the metafictional sense, it’s all just fantasy). Despite acknowledging the metaphorical nature of the material, this interpretation is, ironically, far too literalist; obsessively searching for concrete “meaning” amidst the work’s pervasive symbolism betrays a profound lack of interest in what it’s actually saying.

And make no mistake: I Saw the TV Glow has quite a lot to say—about sexuality, gender, and identity; about conformity, repression, and resigning oneself to a life haunted by missed opportunities and regret; about how time gradually slips away, devouring ambition and eroding the human spirit (elegantly conveyed via the increasingly significant chronological gaps between chapters—first we leap two years into the protagonist’s future, then eight, and finally a whopping twenty). Thematically rich, structurally dense, and emotionally resonant, the movie proudly wears its influences on its sleeve without being solely defined by them. It is, in short, a true original—a precious rarity in this day and age.

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