Fight or Flight: How ‘Then Came You’ Shows the Power of Redemptive Suffering

In Anna Livia Brady, Featured, Reviews by Amanda Valdovinos

– By Anna Livia Brady –

(Spoilers below)

We shiver and moan whenever the AC is below 73. We get mad when Taylor from Chic-Fil-A puts two honey mustards in our bag instead of three. We leave the credit card bill on the counter to be opened later. Needless to say, we’re creatures of comfort, so drawn to the familiarities and accommodations of Western life that we often take our most precious gifts (health, love, and our talents, to name a few) for granted. But when our comforts are compromised, we become remarkably creative with our time. We realize that life is messy, but as long as we’ve got some of it to hold onto, we’ll make the most of it.

Enter Netflix’s Then Came You. From the title and cover page, one would probably think, “Wait, another movie about cancerous teens falling in love? Is that the guy from The Boy in The Striped Pajamas? Wait… that’s Arya Stark!”. While it’s true that both Asa Butterfield and Maisie Williams give outstanding performances as feisty cancer patient to meticulous airport employee, the real hook of this Indie is the reminder of the reality of suffering, and how its seemingly futile course can open doors to stronger relationships and greater senses of personal purpose.

The film opens with Skye’s (Williams) doctor painfully informing both her and her mother that her “tumors have gotten larger, and now it’s only a matter of time”. To this, the wide-eyed girl shrugs and says, “You win some, you lose some”. After this glimpse into Skye’s durability, we’re introduced to Calvin (Butterfield) by a series of shots showing him hauling luggage from an airplane onto a cart. Calvin is, in a word, timid. He keeps a journal in his arm and jots down his newfound “symptoms”,convinced that he has cancer and will indeed die young. After several pricey tests, Calvin proves negative for everything, and his doctor sends him to a cancer support group to get some perspective. It’s here that he encounters Skye, who scooches right next to him, introduces herself, and asks what kind of cancer he has (as well as a couple other blunt things).

After this initial meeting, Calvin wants nothing to do with Skye (he seems very put off by her intensity). But, as fate would have it, he is propelled out of his comfort bubble when she meets him at the airport to return his ID. Despite Calvin’s aversion, Skye persists. Her attitude screams that she’s self-aware and unafraid of risk-taking, particularly when she informs Calvin that they are going to start her “To Die” list (In Skye’s words, “It’s like a Bucket List, but not as lame”).

Surprisingly, Calvin actually meets Skye the following day, (perhaps speaking to his pregnant sister in law about his rote job at the airport inspire him to take action) and a series of sequences follow their misadventures. Apart from a couple of playful teases from Skye to Calvin, the relationship is platonic and pure, and Skye teaches Calvin how to have genuine fun. It’s through this friendship that Calvin takes chances (such as actually talking to his pretty Flight Attendant crush) and learns to let go of his worries. It’s almost as if seeing Skye do so many ballsy (excuse the language) things sets a fire under him and makes him reevaluate just how good he’s got it.

After a collapse at a coffee shop, the reality of Skye’s condition sinks in and she becomes bedridden. The fun and games are over, and Calvin’s brotherly love for her is put to the test. In order to be a true friend, Calvin has to accept suffering as part of the package. He deals with the repercussions of confessing to his girlfriend (the flight attendant) that he’s not actually cancerous, opens up to Skye about why he thinks he’ll die early (spoiler: his twin sister died in a car crash, but he survived), and gives Skye tender care in her most fragile state.

In a particularly tear-jerking scene, Calvin’s brother and his wife arrive in Skye’s ward holding their healthy baby girl. When placed in Skye’s arms, Lucy (Calvin’s sister-in-law) asks if they would like to be her daughter’s godparents. The overwhelming excitement of his niece’s arrival (for whom he hand-made a crib) as well as Skye’s devastating situation send Calvin into a panic.

An immature person would avoid going to the hospital or the home of a dying person at all. The discomfort of seeing a loved one in such a state would not be worth whatever peace one could bring them. But someone who’s grown past their malaise rises to the occasion, knowing that every bit of time they can offer, even just being there, is a gift to the person.

The act of placing comfort over love is a cathartically universal theme for so many of us. In fact, just about a year ago, a very dear family friend of mine passed away from an eight-year cancer battle. Her faith and optimism were such an insight to all of my family, and during her final moments, the least we could do was to provide her benevolent company as her soul passed on.

Kanye West once said, “I’m going to be cliche for a moment and say that great art comes from pain”. This couldn’t be truer. Seeing a beloved friend go through an agonizing experience or going through one yourself challenges what’s familiar to you, what you know, and forces you to think outside of the box. Sometimes we only realize what we have by being confronted with what we don’t (kind of like a defense mechanism).

After Skye’s death, Calvin is a changed man. He has achieved a new sense of purpose and self-assuredness. He returns to his hobby of woodwork (literally creating from what’s right in front of him) and makes things for the ones who are close to him. He lives openly and honestly, taking healthy risks (such as flying on an airplane for the first time), knowing just how lucky he is to be alive.

The truth is, we’re afraid of the unknown. We want to stay where it’s comfortable! But life has funny ways of throwing us out of the status quo and challenging us with cathartic changes. No matter what your situation or how much strife you’re enduring, “there is always something you can do and succeed at” (quoting Stephen Hawking, of all people). Then Came You reminds us that suffering is never fruitless, and in fact can even save us from the afflictions of our own complacency.

About the Author

Anna Livia Brady is a Junior at John Paul the Great Catholic University studying Communications Media with minors in Business and Theology. She loves photography, cooking, singing, and finding cheap but innovative ways to spruce up her apartment. She’ll be graduating in 2020 and hopes to stay in the San Diego area.