Aug 22, 2011

[Movies] Catfish (2010)

Catfish (2010)"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." Or so the "old" saying goes, if you consider 1993 to be old these days.

One's anonymity has always been one of the big draws of the internet. Maintaining your privacy and sometimes even your real life identity has been one of the pillars of the early internet as people learned to socialize behind the protective screens of pseudonyms, handles and alternate nicknames.

In recent years, the rise of social networking has lead to a new paradigm - one that calls for a more open internet where people's online identities and offline identities have aligned into one. Thus we have more and more people who maintain rather public profiles in order to better market themselves, sell their services, get hired or whatever.

But just because we live in an age of social networking doesn't mean that everyone is exactly who they say they are. If anything, the adage above will always hold true for a certain segment of the online population, and thus it remains important to keep your guard up in meeting new people online for the first time.

This movie acts as a stark reminder of that fact.

Catfish is a 2010 documentary film directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. The movie first premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and it continues to spark debate here and there about whether or not the movie is truly a documentary or merely an elaborate fabrication.

The subject of the film is Nev Schulman, a photographer who specializes in capturing images and videos of modern dancers. He's based in New York together with his brother Ariel and his friend Henry and they decide to try filming him and his life after he receives a painting based on one of his photographs from young Abbey Pierce, an 8 year old child prodigy artist based in Ishpeming, Michigan. Initially the two become friends on Facebook and eventually he also becomes friends with her immediate family including her mother Angela and her husband Vince and Abby's older half-sister Megan.

As his friendship with Abby grows along with his familiarity with the rest of her family (primarily through her mother Angela), he eventually starts a cyber-relationship with the older sister Megan. What starts as some friendly banter eventually deepens into a serious flirtation and growing affection. Thus the long-distance relationship continues to grow as Abby continues to send in paintings. But one thing leads to another, and Nev begins to wonder just how real all this is. And the movie follows along as they eventually try to find out for themselves just what's going on.

The movie does present a very detailed account of Nev and his growing relationships with the various members of the Wesselman family. And by detailed, I mean that the video coverage includes showing the various Facebook profiles and related activities, the email exchanges, the instant messaging conversations and of course the various phone calls. At times we are even made privy to both sides of the conversation when they keep the phone on speaker or whatever. While it's certain that some of this was re-shot / staged to add additional narrative to the documentary, the sheer quantity of information captured is probably one of the biggest pieces that bring into question the authenticity of this film.

But perhaps, that's not the point.

Ignoring the question of whether the whole thing is real or not, one can't help but be drawn into the sheer complexity of the narrative. The story is pretty stellar and it's good enough for one to just enjoy the movie for its story instead of for it being a real-life depiction of events. After all, the trio pretty much utilize all the internet tools at their disposal in order to learn as much as they can about the Wesselmans without directly confirming for themselves in person.

A lot of the success of the movie counts on you knowing as little as possible about the ending, sort of how The Sixth Sense worked initially. I'm pretty sure the synopsis that I wrote above is a decent coverage of events without revealing too much - if it isn't, feel free to let me know in the comments. At its core, this is still a story about friendship - about people who live in different parts of the country learning more about one another and forging true relationships through the power of the internet.

I wish I could say more, but then that would risk spoiling more of the plot. If anything, just enjoy the ride for what it is, try not to spend too much time trying to figure out what's real and what isn't and prepare to be fairly surprised at the end.

Oh, and I think Nev cleans up rather nicely at the end. His fuzz in the rest of the movie isn't quite my thing, hehe.

Catfish is a great movie with a great story and a reminder of just how much can be accomplished with the aid of the internet. It gets 4 well-edited screen capture sequences out of a possible 5.

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