My Seven Wonders – A love letter to The Umbrella Academy
I don’t actually remember much about my 18th birthday, but I remember how excited my best friend was to give me my present. She sat with bated breath as I unwrapped a copy of The Umbrella Academy graphic novel – bit of an odd gift, what with her knowing I already owned it and adored it. I thanked her nonetheless, and she laughed before telling me to open it. There it was on the first page, a messy note in black pen: “To G, love Gerard”, next to a smudged heart (accompanied by a little arrow and a “sorry!”). I had to set it aside before my imminent stream of tears got all over it. Skip forward to this year, and Netflix launch their adaptation of the graphic novel that I hold so very close to my heart.
The nerves set in
I was apprehensive of course, though the cast assuaged some of my nerves. Ellen Page is the Vanya Hargreeves I always dreamed of, David Castenada is Diego down to the ground and Robert Sheehan could play a lamppost and I would demand an Oscar for him. Still though – I waited. I didn’t watch the series straight away, in fact I left it a good month or two. I saw the glowing reviews pour in, I saw people talk about how much they adored each character, I saw people praise the casting and the cinematography – but still I waited. This graphic novel, these characters and their stories meant more to me than I could articulate in public with any shred of composure, and I was worried. They were there, out of my heart and in the big wide world for everyone to see. So, after long enough and after enough people asking me, on a day off I brewed a pot of coffee and I sat down to watch the world end.
It’s the end of the world as we know it
The opening scenes set an appropriately bleak and bizarre tone. As my trepidation was waning, Luther puts on his record player to the dulcet tones of I Think We’re Alone Now, and my heart filled to the brim with unbridled joy. It was that moment that I knew we were onto a winner, and that I could rest easy. The house was perfect, the atmosphere was spot on, and the casting was better than I could have dreamed. My seven little reprobates were right there, characterised perfectly and brought to life all over again. We see Klaus and Vanya, the two most underrated members of the group go through their very separate yet intrinsically shared trauma and come out fighting. We see Luther grapple with decisions made on his behalf that were entirely out of his control. We see Allison deal with real-life problems as well as balancing her life as an internationally famous actress and, y’know, having super powers. We see Diego go through the mill inside and outside of his family. Ben is gone but truly not forgotten, and Five has a whole host of his own problems to deal with. The glorious thing about this series is that we seamlessly see six different points of view of the same situation (eight, if you count Hazel and Cha Cha), and we see how each individual comes to deal with and attempt to overcome everything that gets thrown at them in their own inimitable way.
From sombre and bleak greys to carefree and nostalgic neons, the atmosphere of The Umbrella Academy is one that allows its characters and story to flourish. The soundtrack, as you would expect, is stellar, with instantly recognisable and familiar melodies cutting through the ethereal and bizarre world in which our Hargreeves live What could come off as clashing actually comes off as comforting, and is a large part of what gives the series its twisted charm.
Lend me your lives and prepare for demise…
Robert Sheehan’s portrayal of Klaus is a nuanced and deft study in depicting PTSD and drug addiction. Sheehan’s performance had me feeling a lot of things, but a choice few episodes left me poignantly emotionally rattled – exactly as they should have. It is Vanya’s character that is truly the jewel in the crown of the series, though. Our “normal” girl’s pain and struggle are palpable through the screen; your chest is heavy with her hurt and your mind wracked with her conflict. I don’t think anyone but Ellen Page could quite have pulled that off.
Vanya’s isolation and disconnected turmoil strike a chord with all those who have ever felt not quite as special as everyone else, and it was this that made me fall in love with the story of The Umbrella Academy all those year ago. The core narrative of the series is that of staring adversity in the face and trying your damnedest to come out on top, regardless of how dysfunctional or “ordinary” people say you are. The world is ugly and unfair sometimes, but we can take it into our own hands to change it. Like Five says: “There’s always a choice”, and I know now that this series made the right ones.