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I Saw the TV Glow Review: Boldly imaginative

Two characters watch TV in the film I Saw The TV Glow

Through the hypnotic trip of a film I Saw the TV Glow, Jane Schoenbrun makes an unmatched statement to the world as a boldly imaginative filmmaker.

A24 might have the newest cult classic on their hands. What’s more, an entire generation of current youth, whose identities are paralyzed by overwhelming dysphoria and dictated by obsessive media consumption, might have finally found a voice in Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow. 

Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine are Owen and Maddy, outcast teenagers who find an unexpected friendship through their shared love of a mysteriously alluring TV show called The Pink Opaque. The more infatuated the two friends become with the supernatural world of The Pink Opaque, the more their shape-shifting reality becomes indistinguishable from the fictional characters they watch on screen late at night. With the sudden cancellation of their beloved series comes a surge of bizarre occurrences and puzzling questions that blur Owen and Maddy’s perceptions of who they really are.

In a day and age when overindulgence in entertainment has not only plagued our value of life and ourselves but has also infested modern cinema, I Saw the TV Glow indeed glows like a beacon in the dark: it’s both fearlessly experimental and inexplicably confident in what it has to say enough to never really feel the need to say it. 

Schoenbrun’s genre-defying mindbender is almost as much of a sensory overload as it is a thematic overload, demanding to be digested over multiple viewings. Such a hallucination can only be molded that skillfully by an artist with a deep personal grip on the experience they are trying to replicate and a profound bravery to trust the audience with its abstractness. 

Thanks to the care with which it is handled, I Saw the TV Glow successfully transcends the limitations of its own medium in order to communicate a message no verbal language could do justice. The dissociative, fundamentally strange nature of the emotions that come with struggling to shape one’s gender identity, one’s queerness, and one’s belonging in the world are reflected through a series of surrealistic in style, extravagant, metaphorically potent images.

A green truck has pink smoke coming out of it at night in the film I Saw The TV Glow
A still from I Saw The TV Glow, now at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival. (A24 / Berlinale)

The substance that Schoenbrun brings to each scene of their second feature comes alive through the layers of vivid intention behind every single detail. You can see the lucid manifestations of the characters’ worst nightmares, no matter how much the subconscious substance is disguised with vibrant neon. You can hear the meticulousness with which the soundtrack of the film has been planned.

The original music in I Saw the TV Glow matches, if not amplifies, the colorful resonance of the narrative. The songs are weaved throughout its fabric just as effectively as in every campy teenage classic of the 90s that the surrealist film draws its inspiration from. The curation of the score is designed to give momentum, to land a punch in the exact moments when it feels the most right.

Just as the story being told feels as if it functions on its own psychological plane beyond arbitrary notions of time and space, the runtime and structure feel entirely unpredictable, to the point where the slam of the end credits sequence felt like the sharpest plot twist of all. The hypnotic creation of Schoenbrun leaves the audience with an obsessive thirst for more that perfectly mirrors the addictive nature of The Pink Opaque for Owen and Maddy.

I Saw the TV Glow puts you in a trance.  It summons a portal to the rotten inner workings of the current generation and illuminates the distorted ideas we have of ourselves left to search for the fragments of our identities in the face of fictional characters and teenage nostalgia TV. This film provides a visceral and ambitious interpretation of coming of age, consumed by media and loneliness. The aesthetically surrealist experience is going to be embraced by some and misunderstood by others, just like the queer human experience that it paints.

I Saw the TV Glow premiered at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival and will be released in US theaters on May 3, 2024. Read our Berlin Film Festival reviews!

I Saw The TV Glow (A24)
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