Chemical Hearts: teenage love, heartbreak and everything in between

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Graphic by Aniset Idriss

Addison Childre

“You are never more alive than when you’re a teenager; your brain is flushed with chemicals that can turn your life into a story of epic proportions,” Henry Page said in the opening narration of “Chemical Hearts”. Directed by Richard Tanne, and based on the novel “Our Chemical Hearts” by Krystal Sutherland, the movie became available on August 21st on Prime Video. I watched it about a week after it came out, with almost no knowledge of the movie except that it was a teenage love story seemingly attempting to explain the emotions that teenagers undergo during heartbreak. Yet by the time I finished the movie, it dawned on me that the movie has a lot more to tell.  

Chemical Hearts is a very relatable story about the intensity of love during teenage limbo; a time when teens aren’t yet old enough to live on their own, but have still lived long enough to realise how terrifying and complex the world really is. The movie follows the story of Henry Page and Grace Town as they write together on the high school newspaper in their senior year. Henry plays the all too familiar protagonist – shy and desperate to understand the world around him. He looks to transfer student Grace to help him do so, falling madly in love with her in the process. Unbeknownst to Henry, the feeling is not mutual for Grace, at least not at the outset, as she’s still pining for her dead boyfriend. It’s only after spying on her that Henry finds out and begins his conquest to try and repair her, similar to the way he repairs the vases through kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of mending broken ceramics by using gold to seal the cracks.  

Grace is constantly tormented by grief. One minute she’s happy and in the moment, allowing herself to fall for Henry, but then the next minute she’s melancholic, standoffish, and cold. It seems as though she’s caught up in some sort of tension, between allowing herself to have fun and then punishing herself for doing so. Chemical Hearts, therefore, presents a somewhat invisible love triangle between Henry, Grace, and her dead boyfriend. Ultimately, Henry sorrowfully realizes his efforts to repair Grace are futile, as his attention alone will not fix her broken heart. The sting of this realization really hits home on such a physical and emotional level. This point is further underscored by his sister, Sadie, who is studying to be a neurosurgeon. Seeking to comfort Henry after his breakup with Grace, Sadie explains what happens to the body during a heartache. Focusing on the chemicals released by the brain during the process, she states, “Did you know that heartbreak triggers the same areas of the brain as physical pain?” Through the lens of science, the movie shows the intensity of teenage love by explaining it not only as a feeling of butterflies when that certain person texts you, but also the feeling of physical pain when they stop.

As a narrator, Henry spends the entire film teaching us everything there is to know about grieving Grace. On the other hand, Henry’s story is practically untold. Even with nowhere near the life experiences of Grace, you can’t help but want to know more about him. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t do so, nor does the plot ever reach a real climax, the high points all just fade away into the background, similar to real life. In that way, Chemical Hearts feels authentic and understandable. It is a heartfelt and highly entertaining film, set against the backdrop of an incredible soundtrack. You’ll need a box of tissues close by. This isn’t one to miss.