Based on the international bestselling young adult fiction novel by Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places tells the story of high school students, Violet (Elle Fanning) and Theodore, who likes to go by his last name, Finch (Justice Smith), both of whom are suffering from mental illness caused by trauma in their past. It's your typical teen romance film mixed with a depiction of mental illness that's real, not glamorized. Niven, having had suicide hit close to home, truly understands the topic and treats it with care, which translates onto the screen thanks to the carefully adapted screenplay by herself and Liz Hannah.
The novel wasn't without its criticisms, though, and I’m not about to dismiss them. Just like the novel, not everyone is going to like the film, and not everyone will see themselves in Violet and/or Finch because how depression manifests itself is different for everyone. It's an invisible illness with symptoms that aren't as clearly defined as, say, the flu, and it isn't an illness without a clear cause, either. There's a lack of understanding about a disease that people can't see, a disease that isn't physical; one that still goes un- or misdiagnosed because when you have a mental illness, sometimes you can’t properly explain how you’re feeling, and doctors aren’t well equipped to deal with a part of the body they can’t put a stethoscope to.
The film alludes that the cause of Violet and Finch's mental illness is past traumas: for Violet, the loss of her sister; for Finch, the abuse from his father. The sufferer oftentimes doesn’t know why they feel the way they do. Depression has many causes and the search for a cause is excruciating because, as Finch explains, you want to be cured so badly, and if you can find the root, there’s the hope of pulling it out.
Sitting in his guidance counselor’s office, he’s told that he's in danger of not graduating because he's already missed two weeks of school. He shrugs it off, refusing to give a real reason for his absences. His guidance counselor tells him that he should talk to someone, but Finch doesn’t seem interested. Finch at this moment reminded me of myself 14 years ago. When I was 12, the age I now know my depression first started, I refused to go to school. (My poor mother… Every morning was a fight.) I don’t think I ever went a full week that year. My parents just got a divorce and this school was a new one. I don’t like change, and those were two of the biggest changes a kid can experience happening all at once. I went to a psychologist, but like Finch, I refused to open up. (It could be because I was simply too young to understand my own feelings.) My depression has remained and the cause is never clear – if there even is one. As I write this, I’m in my worst depression in years. Unemployment is definitely a factor, but even after all this time, I still keep my feelings buried deep inside because the stigma surrounding mental illness is very much alive.