This beautiful new film by director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play) is both deeply disturbing and hauntingly powerful, touching the soul in unexpected ways.
Based on the book of the same name, How I Live Now tells the story of Daisy, a neurotic American teenager who is sent to live with her young cousins Piper, Isaac and Eddie in the English countryside. At first a sullen Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) struggles to accept her new country lifestyle, but that changes when she meets Eddie (George MacKay) and a passionate – yet slightly disturbing – physical relationship ensues.
Then their idyllic love story is shattered when a tragic event sparks the beginning of a modern world war and forces the youngsters to take refuge in the lush forests surrounding their home. When Daisy and youngest cousin Piper become separated from the boys, they embark on a dangerous journey to find them – one which pushes Daisy to her emotional and physical limits, and forces her to re-evaluate her place in the ever-changing world around her.
Ronan, who was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in the 2007 film Atonement, delivers a strong performance as the unlikeable Daisy. Beneath Daisy’s cold persona is a damaged teen struggling with body disorders and a crippling case of self-loathing. Shots of her are accompanied by a soundtrack of rampant whispers and harsh criticisms which hint at mental illness, while her constant need for rules and routine suggests an obsessive compulsive disorder.
While her cousins struggle to come to terms with the horrors unfolding around them, Daisy’s cynicism allows her to compartmentalise her emotions, effectively reducing the war to a series of cause-and-effect decisions. In a perverse way, the war becomes a catalyst for Daisy’s healing.
George MacKay and Tom Holland also deliver noteworthy performances as Eddie and Isaac, while young Harley Bird shines as Piper, who provides a childlike insight into the war.
Audiences are encouraged to believe that Eddie and Daisy’s connection is formed from a powerful, almost psychic bond, but for some that will be overshadowed by the knowledge that they are related. The young actors’ emotional performances often outshine the equally powerful script, with heartbreaking scenes of violence and sacrifice showing the psychological impact the war has on them.
There are times when the film’s pace is a little slow, and it is frustrating that the war itself and the true extent of Daisy’s emotional issues are never fully explored. Despite this, How I Live Now is a tribute to the power of the human spirit.
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