Fans of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why may have only just started mourning the loss of Hannah Baker, but for those who read Jay Asher's book upon release, it's been ten long years since the teenage girl recorded her tapes and committed suicide.
However, to celebrate the story's 10th anniversary, Asher has revealed that the book originally contained an alternate ending; one where Hannah survives her suicide attempt. Instead of slitting her wrists in a bathtub, this version of Hannah tries to take her own life by swallowing pills. Fortunately, her parents arrive just in time and take their daughter to the hospital, saving her life with a timely stomach pump.
Controversy surrounding the depiction of Hannah's death in the final episode of #13ReasonsWhy has led some fans to question whether Baker should have even killed herself at all in the #Netflix adaptation. Would it have made more sense to use Asher's original idea and give Hannah Baker the happy ending she deserved?
Why Didn't Asher Use This Alternate Ending In The '13 Reasons Why' Book?
Speaking to EW, author Jay Asher explained why the alternate ending where Hannah survived originally appealed to him:
“I liked the idea of ‘We’ve learned something from this. And yet, here’s a second chance.' Knowing as well that it was going to be difficult when Hannah went back to school to have to deal with those kids. It’s not like everything’s smooth now. In fact, it might be even tenser for her. But now there’s Clay, who’s going to be upfront that he’s there for her.”
However, Asher ultimately felt that Hannah needed to die in order to convey the right message:
“Out of seriousness for the issue, we realized we can’t go there. No matter that there were missed opportunities for her. Those opportunities aren’t there if you do this. Once I realized that the message of the story would be stronger and that it would definitely be more of a cautionary tale. I felt that was definitely the way to go.”
The tapes themselves already romanticize the notion of suicide to a point. If Hannah Baker had been allowed to live in the book, then the harrowing consequences would never have felt real for readers, sending out a potentially harmful message.
Why Didn't Hannah Baker Survive In The '13 Reasons Why' Show?
Depicting the grim reality of suicide was also a driving force for the creators of the 13 Reasons Why Netflix adaptation. While discussing the moment when Hannah finally takes her own life, show creator Brian Yorkey told EW:
"We worked very hard not to be gratuitous. But we did want it to be painful to watch, because we wanted it to be very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide."
Whether they had killed Hannah or not, it would have been arguably easier for the show's creators if they had replaced the wrist-cutting method with pills instead. It's commendable then that 13 Reasons Why chose to cut a darker path, graphically showing Hannah slice into her wrists and shake with pain as the life poured out of her. Anyone expecting the camera to cut away must have found it excruciating to watch the blade pierce her skin before her lifeless body was discovered by her parents.
Speaking to EW about the scene in question, author Jay Asher revealed the thought process involved behind the camera:
“They felt for a TV series, if you’re going to watch it, you want to show it as horrific as it actually is. So the way she does it, you can’t watch it and feel like it’s glamorized in any way. It looks and is painful, and then when she’s found by her parents, it absolutely destroys them.”
However you feel about the show itself, it's hard to deny that Hannah's death scene is agonizingly uncomfortable to watch, preventing her suicide from becoming romanticized in any way.
Should Hannah Baker Have Survived On The '13 Reasons Why' Show?
It's admirable that the team behind 13 Reasons Why strove to present a relatively realistic portrayal of teen suicide, but vocal dissenters are now arguing that such an approach is actually far more harmful to young people suffering from suicidal thoughts.
On the official web site for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, it's noted that:
“Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.”
Whether onscreen suicide is glamorized or not, the very fact that it's being portrayed at all can negatively affect those who are already at risk due to factors such as depression or substance abuse. One could argue, then, that it would have been far more beneficial to use the alternate ending on the show and keep Hannah alive, even though this would have stood in direct contrast to the central message of 13 Reasons Why.
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At the end of the day, there's always going to be risk involved when exploring controversial topics that can potentially harm people's lives. Ignoring issues such as teen suicide clearly isn't the answer, but the way in which they're presented must be dealt with carefully. By presenting suicidal thoughts as symptomatic of mental illness, teen shows and movies can help shed a light on how those who are suffering can seek help.
13 Reasons Why ultimately falls short in this respect, leading to Hannah's dismissal by school counsellor Mr Porter. That said, it's still good that this show exists in the first place, opening a dialogue about issues that are far too often ignored in our society. If Netflix had opted to use Asher's original ending, allowing Hannah to live, then this may have been the story's biggest injustice of all.
If suicidal thoughts are affecting you or someone you know, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Find more information about suicide here.