I Believe in Unicorns: A Review

I Believe in Unicorns isn’t your typical “chick flick” film. It doesn’t offer a poignant or cutesy ending. But, instead, a tale gone wrong of teenage love and dating violence. In the wake of silly novels, such as the Twilight series and 50 Shades of Greynonsense, that have made their debut in young adult consciousness, I Believe in Unicorns offers an emotionally grisly tale in film form based on director Leah Meyerhoff’s own experience. The film, despite its surrealistic cinematography, tells a very realistic story. The predator isn’t a sparkly vampire or mysterious millionaire, and the storyline isn’t trivial. The Huffington Post hails the film a “must-see” for every teenage girl. And I couldn’t agree more. 

The independent film starts off with Davina, a young lady somewhere in her teens. Ambiguity of her exact age aligns with the other anachronisms. Davina’s story could be set in the 1990s or today. With the vintage wash of the film and fantastical imagery of unicorns set in dream sequences, the reality of Davina’s situation is a bit unclear. She could be a junior in high school or a freshman in college. One thing is certain – Davina’s life consists of caring for her mother who suffers from MS, and the loneliness being a caretaker brings to her young life. She isn’t just isolated by her mother’s illness, but her own introverted paracosm. Davina has one girlfriend and her sickly mother. And in her isolation, she begins to look to the older boy she adores as a source of happiness.

 Natalia Dyer (left)  Peter Vack (right)

Sterling, the unworthy recipient of Davina’s adoration, is anything but happy despite his persona of indifference and independence. He’s older than her and full of the cocky ego possessed by guys who know they’re attractive and charismatic. Davina is star-struck, and of course Sterling’s going to take advantage of her innocence. Their relationship begins as bliss filled scenes of free-spirited youth filmed in daydream-like scenes only to descend into the faded, dismal reality of teenage dating violence and rape. The legends of the unicorn, virginity, and slaying dragons are invoked.

The surrealism of the movie, the dreamscapes with unicorns and dragons, make I Believe in Unicorns an easier pill to swallow as you watch a saucer-eyed girl, on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, lose her innocence in a shattering of the paracosm she’s created to escape reality. The metaphor is obvious:  the shattering of her dreams signifies the shattering of her body. Her only fault is the naiveté of youth. His fault is his very existence, as Sterling’s personal story reveals he’s a product of domestic violence. 

The surrealism of the film, casting, and wardrobe/props is brilliant. Davina’s day and night dreams adds visual dialogue to the film, painting a picture of Davina’s psychological states. She entrusts Sterling with her dreams, her inner imaginings only to have him tear them down. The emotional violence is as damaging as the physical rape, which if only verbally recounted in Davina’s own words would leave her prey to every chauvinist, every typical school administrator, every crappy mother of a crappier son, as having “asked for it.”

I Believe in Unicorns addresses very real threats to young girls made shockingly accessible in its surrealistic veneer. Leah Meyerhoff’s film asks you to address your own preconceived notions about date rape and violence. And let’s not call it “date” rape. Let’s call it what it is – rape. Davina wasn’t asking to be psychologically and physically abused – and raped – by placing all her trust and love in an unworthy creep. The film exposes the issues of dating violence and rape for exactly what it is, and from a girl’s perspective. This is exactly why Meyerhoff’s film is powerful in all its surrealism. Yes, teenage girls should see this movie. But so should any person who still believes the “boys will be boys” line. 

Believe in unicorns. But guard your unicorns well. See people for who and what they are… putting both feet in a fantasy will only blind you to reality. Let’s teach our daughters not to idolize boys, but to view them as the very fallible human beings they are.