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Adulthood, Identity and Employment: A Review of the Film "Reality Bites"

Updated on July 30, 2016
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I have a B.A. in English with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. I've been a Goth since age fourteen, and a Pagan since age fifteen.


Reality Bites (1994) is a film about a group of young adults who are struggling to support themselves after college. Although it is a '90's film, it's a story recent college graduates can easily relate to. Having a degree was once a golden ticket to a successful future, but it isn't half as special, these days. The complication of not only trying to gain employment by any means necessary, but convincing one's parents or anyone who hasn't gone through it that "the struggle is real" can be equally as impossible.

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The main character, Lelaina (Winona Ryder) is a documentary filmmaker. She records life with her friends and the social issues of their generation. In doing so, she learns about the hardships of being an educated adult. As valedictorian of her university, she gives a speech that brings attention to the catastrophe of her generation, but forgets the note cards with her proposed solution. Instead of being met with criticism for her lack of an answer, she is applauded by her fellow graduates because of the reality that no one really knows how to go forth into the unknown. It isn't until later that she realizes the amount of uncertainty she will find herself in and that she should never take her status of education for granted:

Lelaina Pierce: I was really going to be somebody by the time I was 23.

Troy (Ethan Hawke) is a musician who finds life to be chaotic. Long-term commitment has never worked for him; he has been fired from every job he has ever had and he doesn't get into relationships. He's intelligent and outgoing, but selfish and insecure at the same time. Like the others, he was never given any parental guidance as to how to handle his future; therefore, Troy has to learn that life is too short to be afraid of taking chances:

Troy Dyer: There's no point to any of this. It's all just a... a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes.

The only thing Vickie (Janeane Garofalo) learned in college was her social security number. Her position at the Gap is a successful one. Even though it doesn't pay much, progressing in the company gives her pride. Her dedication to relationships, both romantic and platonic, are rarely reciprocated as shown by her romantic partners frequently leaving the next morning. Her journey is to learn to believe in herself no matter what happens:

Vickie Miner: I want first kisses. I want passion. The whole way through.

Sammy (Steve Zahn) is a caregiver for his friends, always lending a hand. The only thing holding Sammy back from investing in relationships with other men is the fact he has not come out to his mother. His path is to learn to be honest and open about all of who he is. By telling his mother, he is respecting himself in return:

Sammy Gray: ...I can't really start my life without being honest about who I am.

Michael (Ben Stiller) keeps an impressive career in television. He is considerate and caring; unfortunately, he is a slave to those higher in his industry. As a people-pleaser, always doing what his job demands of him, his self-confidence and sense of self is lacking. This makes the audience question how happy he is under all of the success of his job. Lelaina brings out his insecurities when he admits he can't be free to express himself like Troy:

Michael Grates: I wish I could live off of creeds and mottos and all that shit. But I'm in the real world here, okay, and I have ideals also. They're that I care about you and I want to make you happy.

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The Importance of the Film

Young adults can relate to the unpredictability experienced by the characters in the film. Higher education no longer guarantees employment; therefore, the majority of graduates either enter or stay in minimum wage positions, changing the face of employees for those jobs. Many have protested against the pay rate, asking for it to be raised, because of this reality. The truth is that the days of minimum wage positions being primarily for teens is a notion of the past, and the chart below proves it.

Minimum Wage: Gender and Age

Teen boys
Teen girls
Adult men
Adult women

Minimum Wage: Education Level

B.A. or higher
Less than GED
Associate's or less

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Generation Difficulty

Many college graduates have parents who cannot grasp why their educated children do not have a job in their field of study. This is the first time college students have been unable to easily earn their degree while paying for their own tuition, living on their own, and proceeding to have a career. Instead, there is a lingering anxiety over if and when conditions will improve. Seeking employers often require employee candidates have experience outside of college in order to be hired; however, unless the right internship can be found and/or that internship is affordable the student is left in the dark for years after college, wondering what value their degree has in the real world.

This was the first article I wrote on the topic of college graduates and how hard it is to find employment with a degree, without discussing my own personal experience with it. Since then, I have revised it on multiple occasions, as well as published a number of others. If you enjoyed this article, please take a look at my others.

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