“The In Between:” Betwixt Love and Death

Joey King’s latest movie “The In Between” is now streaming on Netflix and Paramount+. “We were going for a teenage, modern ‘Ghost,’” said King on The Drew Barrymore Show. Not only is the actress featured in the 2020 Forbes Under 30 list of Top Young Entrepreneurs at merely 20 years old, but she also serves as a principal producer under her new production company All the King’s Horses. King pitched “The In Between,” a book by Marc Klein (who also wrote the movie) to Paramount+, who then debuted the ghost-like movie in February of this year. The movie was released on Netflix on April 8. 

Just like its classic counterpart, the premise is none other than one of death and grief. Except for this time, it tackles loss through a teenage lens. Tessa (Joey King) and Skylar (Kyle Allen), two high-schoolers, have a chance encounter in an arthouse. They are intending to watch the 1986 French movie “Betty Blue,” but the print doesn’t offer subtitles. Skylar, speaking French, comes closer and translates the film for Tessa. They have a brief exchange after the movie ends, but lose touch for a few months. That did not prevent them from still lingering in each other’s thoughts. Serendipitously, they meet again at a school rowing tournament and from there, form a strong romance. Viewers, however, are already aware their relationship will be cut short as “The In Between” opens with a car crash that takes Skylar’s life. The movie is established around a dual timeline: the flourishing first love of the high-schoolers and Tessa’s mourning. 

Tessa (Joey King). Courtesy of Paramount Players and Industry Entertainment.

The female lead doesn’t go through the usual five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). Even before Tessa had time to process what happened, Skylar seemed to reach out to her. Soon, Tessa is convinced of the existence of “the in between,” a temporary place between life and death, and strives to reach back out to her late boyfriend. 

“Love never dies,” affirms Skylar when articulating his inability to understand his parents’ divorce. While he comes forth as this naïve but endearing blindly-optimist romantic, Tessa is a hard-to-crack kind of girl. She spent her childhood in Family Services after being abandoned by a “flaky” mother, bouncing around foster families until finally getting adopted. Despite his wide-eyed disposition, Skylar effortlessly understands why Tessa never puts her guard down. I think it’s probably my favorite part of their relationship. While Skylar seems to see life through rose-colored glasses, he still manages to see right through Tessa. “Get out of my head!” she says when he figures out her idea of heaven is in black and white. She is swept away by him, but does not manage to voice her feelings when he tells her he loves her; he figures out why even without her giving an explanation. They stand on different roads with different views of the world, yet they bridge towards each other. Paradoxically, their opposite perspectives on life bring them together. As a matter of fact, they first bond over not agreeing on what the best love stories of all time are. 

Tessa (Joey King) and Shannon (Celeste O’Connor). Courtesy of Paramount Players and Industry Entertainment.

What makes a good love story? Is it defined by a happy ending? Tessa argues that what makes a love story “memorable” is its death. She mentions “Romeo and Juliet,” “The English Patient” and “Anna Karenina” while Skylar comes up with “Pride and Prejudice” and “Jane Eyre.” This scene subtly foreshadows the inevitable parting of their consuming romance. And it doesn’t end there; the truck that causes Skylar’s death pops in several times throughout the film.

Closed off to the world, Tessa “hides behind [her] camera.” She uses photography not as a way of expressing herself, but rather as a way for her to put a distance between herself and the outside. Throughout the movie, Tessa is told that something is missing from all her pictures. What is it that’s missing? She who only shoots in black and white, is it color? She who almost exclusively shoots landscapes, is it people? Once love burrows its way into her life, Tessa finds the “point of view” she was looking for. Skylar quiets her worries and fears, he smoothly makes her question her position until making her start to “believe in happy endings.” 

Tessa (Joey King) and Skylar (Kyle Allen). Courtesy of Paramount Players and Industry Entertainment.

Skylar tells her to “go give [them] a happy ending,” when they meet one last time in the “in between.” In this wake, she chooses to start living life fully. After realizing that “if you protect yourself from the lows, you […] end up missing all the highs too,” Tessa gives a heartfelt finale where she presents her until-then-kept-secret pictures to apply for a prestigious art college. She puts forward a beautiful declaration of love through death, and how “we must attend to our ghosts” instead of discarding them. 

The movie introduces cultural references like ‘80s music and Dante’s “Inferno.” There’s even a poster of “Ghost” on the wall of the cinema Tessa works at. And as Skylar’s spirit hovers around Tessa, viewers get to understand the choice of the epigraph of the “Every love story is a ghost story” quote by American writer David Foster Wallace. “Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville,” a famous black and white photograph by French artist Robert Doisneau, flashes multiple times in the movie. The photograph reaches its climax at the end of the film when Tessa and Skylar epitomize it in the “in between.” This last reference is a real heartbeat stealer. 

Similar to movies like “If I stay,” “All the right places” and “Chemical Hearts,” “The In Between” addresses death in teenage romance. Although young love is often looked down upon and teenagers are considered too inexperienced to be taken seriously, this genre brilliantly encapsulates the passion and the deepness a first love can entail. Kyle Allen describes it by saying, “Young people aren’t always given the credit for going through things that are so difficult without the experience of being an adult.”

“The In Between” is streaming on Paramount+ and Netflix.

By Sourour Elfourti

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