“Dear Evan Hansen, Today is going to be an amazing day and here’s why: because, today, all you have to do is just be yourself!”
Evan writes those words to himself. It’s part of an assignment given to him by his therapist—a sort of pep talk to start the day. Only, the day isn’t so amazing.
As a result of his severe social anxiety, Evan is largely ignored by his classmates. To make matters worse, the one person who does notice Evan is the school “psychopath,” Connor Murphy, who screams in Evan’s face after mistaking Evan’s awkwardness for mockery.
Before the first day of school has even ended, Evan rewrites the letter to himself. “Today wasn’t amazing after all,” he types. He wishes he could talk to Zoe (his longstanding secret crush). He wishes everything was different. He wishes he was different.
It would’ve been fine, except that Evan makes a terrible mistake: He prints the letter out in the school’s computer lab. Connor (who happens to be Zoe’s brother) gets to the printer before Evan does, and he sees his sister’s name in the letter. Again, mistaking Evan’s awkwardness for something more sinister, he assumes the letter is something perverted about Zoe. So, he storms off, letter in tow.
That evening, he searches online frantically for the letter, assuming that Connor is going to post it to humiliate him. But his search doesn’t turn up anything.
A few days pass and still, no letter. No public humiliation. In fact, no Connor, either, as he’s mysteriously disappeared from school.
Finally, Evan gets called to the principal’s office. Connor’s parents want to talk to him.
It turns out that Connor took his own life. In his pocket was Evan’s letter. Evan tries to explain what happened, but once again, his social awkwardness prevents him from quickly telling the truth. Connor’s parents have assumed that the letter was written to Evan by Connor. And as their son’s only friend, they want to know more.
Evan has two choices: Tell the Murphy family the truth that their son had no friends and was disliked by all his classmates (including his little sister). Or go along with what they have already chosen to believe—and to invest in emotionally. To pretend that Connor had a friend in Evan. To act like they weren’t both the two most lonely people in school.
Evan chooses the latter.
Some of the positive and negative elements of this story walk hand-in-hand. Evan’s lies were wrong. There’s no getting around that. That said, the story also invites viewers to see his intentions as being noble, too.
Evan didn’t want to break the Murphy family’s hearts. They needed to hear that Connor wasn’t a monster. They needed to hear that it wasn’t their fault that Connor was so miserable. They needed to believe Connor was a good person, however deeply hidden it may have been. And for a while, the lies really do help the Murphy family.
However, these good feelings don’t last. The truth eventually comes out, and it hurts. But it also begins the true healing process. Connor wasn’t a saint—his family knows that. But the agony he went through also wasn’t their fault. And though it certainly didn’t feel like it, underneath all that pain and anger, he really did love them. And they loved him too. And that’s something they can cling to as they move forward with their lives.
Evan’s lies had another unintended benefit. At a memorial for Connor, Evan gives a speech (which is eventually performed in song, since this is a musical): “Even when the dark comes crashin’ through/when you need a friend to carry you/And when you’re broken on the ground/You will be found/So let the sun come streamin’ in/’Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again/Lift your head and look around/You will be found.”
His classmates record it on their myriad smartphones, and the videos go viral. Pretty soon, thousands—then hundreds of thousands—of people across the country join the online community dedicated to Connor’s memory (The Connor Project), donating money to restore a run-down orchard that Connor loved and encouraging one another through the hard times.
Furthermore, Alana (the class president) opens up to Evan about her own struggles with anxiety and depression. She tells Evan she understands how some days feel impossible. But knowing that she isn’t the only one gives her hope that she won’t have to hide her pain forever. That someday, it will be normal to talk openly about difficulties instead of taking on the double task of managing pain and burying it so that nobody knows.
Some might wonder if the story glorifies lying in seemingly reasonable cases. But the film addresses that question clearly, as Evan faces painful consequences for his lies. He badly hurts many of his new friends. And, understandably, those friendships are dissolved when the truth comes out. Still, Evan learns from his mistakes and apologizes to everyone.
This confession-and-apology process also allows Evan to mend the broken relationship with his mother. Heidi Hansen is a caring and hard-working mother, that much is clear. But often, in her desire to provide for her son, she isn’t present in his life, working long shifts at the hospital and cancelling plans to hang out with Evan.
Heidi is understandably hurt when Evan starts spending more time with the Murphys. In fact, they almost act as if they’re adopting Evan into their family following Connor’s death—so much so that they offer to give Evan their son’s college fund, wounding Heidi’s parental pride even more.
But when everything in Evan’s life starts to fall apart, His mom is there for him. She sympathizes with his feelings of being alone because she went through a similar situation when Evan’s dad left. And she tells him that no matter how alone and impossible it all feels, she’ll never abandon him and it will get better.
As a final step in remedying his wrongs, Evan actually tries to figure out what kind of person Connor really was. He reads books that Connor listed as his favorites in a yearbook interview. He reaches out to people who might have actually known the boy. And he winds up finding a video of Connor playing a song he wrote on the guitar and sharing the video with those closest to Connor in order to give them a final piece of him.
Throughout the film, we see a sympathetic depiction of how deeply immobilizing Evan’s severe social anxiety can be. He won’t meet new people because he fears he will be too sweaty when he goes to shake their hands. His lack of confidence causes him to second-guess himself in everything. Likewise, we hear the painful details of Connor’s mental health struggles as well. Those aren’t good things, obviously, but the filmmakers clearly want to deepen our understanding of how isolating severe mental health issues can be for those who suffer them.
Zoe says her mom was Buddhist for a year. Someone talks about having “Mother Nature’s” back. We hear about bar mitzvahs.
Evan’s family friend, Jared, is gay and brags about “hooking up” with another guy over the summer. Jared jokes that Evan and Connor’s fake friendship seems romantic. He makes several crude and crass remarks to that effect.
Evan pseudo-confesses his feelings for Zoe by presenting them as nice things that Connor told him. Later, he and Zoe start dating, and we see them kiss several times. One scene takes place in Evan’s bedroom, and they sit on the edge of Evan’s bed together.
We see several shirtless teenage boys changing clothes in a locker room and one wrapped in a towel.
Connor dies by suicide. Though we never learn the specifics, it is the focal point of this story.
It’s clear that Connor is a troubled, violent person. He shoves Evan to the floor. We see several holes in his bedroom wall from when he punched it. Zoe recounts when her brother tried to break her door down, threatening to kill her. We also hear that Connor threw a printer at a teacher when he was 7 years old.
Zoe drives recklessly, speeding and taking her hands off the wheel.
A big part of the plot turns around Evan having a broken arm, which happened in an accident after he fell out of a tree. Multiple flashbacks show that fall from about 30 feet up.
[Spoiler Warning] Eventually, we learn that Evan didn’t break his arm by falling accidentally out of a tree, as he told his mom and everyone else. Rather, he purposely let go of the branch supporting him, hoping that the fall would end his life—a suicide attempt.
There is a singular use of the f-word and six uses of the s-word. We also hear uses of “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused seven times. A student sarcastically calls a teacher a “fascist.”
Evan takes several different medications to manage his anxiety and depression. Alana later tells him that she also takes medications to help manage her symptoms. They name various psychiatric drugs, including Zoloft, Lexapro and Wellbutrin.
Several adults drink wine. We hear that Connor used drugs and went to rehab. Song lyrics mention “crack” and “pot.”
As I said above, Evan’s lying was wrong. And although his intentions were noble to some extent, they were also selfish.
Evan wanted so desperately to be accepted—to be loved—that he was willing to fabricate an entire relationship with a boy whom he had only spoken to twice (with poor results both times). But what’s even more heartbreaking is that Evan wanted the lie to be true. He wanted to believe that he had a friend who cared about him. He wanted to believe he wasn’t alone. So much so that he projects Connor into a flashback memory of falling from the tree.
The one friend Evan does have in his life (Jared) considers Evan to be more of a “family friend” and constantly jabs at him about his social awkwardness. Evan texts his dad frequently, but his dad either says he doesn’t have time to talk or neglects to reply at all.
Connor’s parents argue about his death, blaming each other for their son’s misery. His stepdad is angry for a time because he believes Connor took his privileged life for granted. Zoe is also angry at first because she can’t remember a single thing about her brother that is good.
One of the problems at Evan’s school is how insincere many of the students seem to be. The same teenage boys who bullied Connor are seen taking selfies by his locker memorial after he dies. Many of Zoe’s classmates reach out to her even though they’d never spoken to her before her brother’s death. Kids who were gung-ho about the Connor Project when it first gained popularity stop attending meetings as other things take priority in their lives. And the only reason students were recording Evan when he gave his infamous speech in the first place was because they expected him to bomb and make a fool of himself.
Evan sends the letter that Connor allegedly wrote to him to Alana as proof that they were friends. Alana then posts it online (without permission from Evan or Connor’s family) in the hopes that people will donate to the Connor Project. Instead, many people start verbally attacking Connor’s family, blaming them for their son’s death. And although she takes down the post, the letter has already gone viral and it’s too late.
Evan vomits in a bathroom multiple times when he’s extremely anxious.
Evan and Jared create fake emails between him and Connor to sell the façade that they were friends. A woman makes a snide remark about her son’s stepmom.
“Dear Evan Hansen, Today’s gonna be a good day and here’s why: Because, today, no matter what else, today at least, you’re you. No hiding. No lying. And that’s enough,” Evan writes to himself at the end of the film.
This film expounds upon the dangers of lying. The web of trouble we weave ourselves into when we deceive others. But Evan learns from it.
Nobody is truly alone. Not the kid who everyone thinks is a monster. Not the girl who hides behind her achievements to mask her pain. Not the one who feels overlooked in her family’s desire to help her brother. Not the guy who waited in the forest for someone to find him after breaking his arm.
Evan doesn’t have to lie to be seen. He doesn’t have to hide from his fears. Because no matter how isolated he might feel, there’s someone out there who understands exactly what he’s going through because they’re going through it too. Just “don’t let go. Keep going.”
Dear Evan Hansen has some foul language, sexual comments and mentions of drug use. But the way it handles suicide, depression and anxiety is impactful, especially for teen audiences who may be experiencing similar thoughts and feelings.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.