‘Chemical Hearts’: a paradigm of the male savior complex


Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / CC BY-SA

Lili Reinhart stars as Grace Town in her newest film “Chemical Hearts.”

By Gracie Rowland, The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science

Amazon released a new film called “Chemical Hearts” on Aug. 21, starring Lili Reinhart (Riverdale) as Grace Town and Austin Abrams (Euphoria) as Henry Page. The movie centers around Grace and Austin’s romance and writing, as they are both editors of their school newspaper. The movie contains fantastic cinematography with unique shots, a well-paced plot with subtle thematic elements and an incredibly engaging screenplay. Overall, “Chemical Hearts” surpasses its fellow young adult romance flicks by a longshot due to its superlative directing. However, there’s one problem: this movie isn’t about romance, it’s about a boy trying to find himself by saving a girl he thinks needs to be saved. This movie has so much potential, and yet it is nothing more than a paradigm of the male savior complex. 

Henry Page resembles most overly pretentious artistic 18-year-old boys: a self-proclaimed creative, unsure of himself and looking to find love in a broken girl. He projects his insecurities onto his beloved crush and never once validates her feelings. He’s controlling, manipulative and honestly quite one-dimensional. 

Grace is the true protagonist of this story, despite being poorly written into a scopophilic plot piece. Grace possesses all of the qualities of your typical manic pixie dream girl: she’s been heavily traumatized, she views life in a nihilistic yet intriguing fashion and she writes and creates beautiful things. She shows Henry hidden escapes and reveals her secrets to life. Basically, she’s straight out of a John Green novel. 

Despite the convincing trailers and genre labels, this movie is not about love. It’s about a teenage boy looking to be a knight to a damsel in distress, even though that damsel doesn’t want to be saved. Grace repeatedly says that she doesn’t want a relationship, that she’s still in love with her ex-boyfriend, and yet Henry persists. 

The closest these two come to romance is of the carnal category, but even then the sex scene is awkward and disjointed from the rest of the plot. Grace takes Henry’s virginity (she’s more experienced, of course) and he accordingly falls in love. It’s so cliche I almost felt nauseous. 

The potential of this movie was completely obliterated by Henry’s desire to fix Grace. The male savior complex perpetuates modern media in all mediums. From “Twilight” to “Looking for Alaska” to “Gossip Girl”, this cliche writing style ruins so many potentially great works of media. These male saviors make frequent appearances in media, and psychologists refer to them as “white knights.”

Typically, white knights have experienced a history of unrequited love or loneliness, and are searching for someone to fill the metaphorical void in themselves. They seek out and romanticize or fetishize those that they deem “broken”, and make it their responsibility to fix the object of their affection. Typically, it is self-proclaimed “nice guys” who fit this stereotype, guys who view themselves as heroes for meeting the bare minimum of ethical behavior towards women. 

Overall, this movie wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. Honestly, I’d prefer if they’d just cut Henry’s character and create a film about Grace’s character arc as she comes to terms with her trauma. The male savior complex once again prevailed against a perfectly beautiful screenplay, and it saddens me to know that this is the media impressionable minds consume. 

This story was originally published on The Vision MSMS on September 1, 2020.