A young kid, whose dark silhouette is all we can see of him, is about to jump from his school’s window. He is surrounded by his petrified classmates, some of which are holding their phones to film him, practically daring him to jump so that they can capture the moment on screen. The world is still, holding its breath, until the title card appears. The words “It Gets Better”, red on black, are almost taunting after such an alarming opening scene. Yet this short film by Adi Wojaczek (“Luca”, “Die Mauer”) tries its best to make us believe in three words that have admittedly become cliché but still hold an important truth: you have to believe that it does get better, because giving up can only mean things getting worse.
The fifteen following minutes are a flashback explaining how we got to this troubling suicide attempt: we follow the young Ben, played by promising first-time actor Marlon Heidel, who is trying to hide from his mother Anne (Ursula Strauss, seen in “Revanche” or “Fly Away Home”) that he is being humiliated daily at school and online.
The story stays conventional and the methods used to bring it to life (a shaky camera, many close-ups and an anxiety-inducing soundtrack) only restrain the film into the neat category of classic preventive spots rather than elevate it beyond.
There are however genuinely great and thought-provoking moments. The first scene after the title card is an especially clever phone conversation between Anne and a friend of hers whose son has been bullied: we learn that she minimizes the effects of bullying, doesn’t like dealing with teachers, and doesn’t have Facebook – all the while, Ben is playing video games in ears reach. This short minute and a half is a perfect introduction to a shy, secretive main character all too aware that his mother, although loving and generally attentive, wouldn’t see, understand or know how to deal with what he is going through. This is a perfect explanation of a victim’s silence, and one that is probably way too common.
The ending is another great scene, and one that takes after a different famous set of words: you’re not alone.
Although It Gets Better is a simple short film that never rises too high above the surface, it still is a necessary reminder of the devastating effect of bullying and of the hope its victims need to hold onto. Because no matter how cheesy the words can be, it truly does get better, and you are truly not alone. Believe it.