<This post is not guaranteed to be spoiler-free, though I’m pretty sure it might be. I wasn’t listening to the directions.>
We’re in this together. can you tell?
In late 2007, filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost sensed a story unfolding as they began to film the life of Ariel’s brother, Nev. They had no idea that their project would lead to the most exhilarating and unsettling months of their lives. A reality thriller that is a shocking product of our times, Catfish is a riveting story of love, deception and grace within a labyrinth of online intrigue. ~Universal Pictures.
Young photographer Nev Schulman lives with his brother Ariel and friend Henry Joost in New York. Abby Pierce, an eight-year-old child prodigy artist in rural Ishpeming, Michigan, sends him a painting of one of his photographs. They become Facebook friends in a network that broadens to Abby’s family, including her mother, Angela; Angela’s husband; and Abby’s attractive older half-sister Megan, a songwriter who lives in Gladstone, Michigan. ~Wikipedia.
That Nev and Megan enter a romantic relationship creates the impetus behind the “reality thriller.” Nev, necessarily, takes a closer look at Megan, and afterward, stories begin to unravel.
Here’s one way to look at “Catfish.” Some filmmakers in New York City, who think they’re way cool, get taken apart by a ordinary family in Ishpeming, Mich. You can also view it as a cautionary tale about living your emotional life on the Internet. Or possibly the whole thing is a hoax. At Sundance 2010, the filmmakers were given a severe cross-examination and protested their innocence, and indeed everyone in the film is exactly as the film portrays them.~Roger Ebert.
It is hard not to watch the film and think that the whole thing is a set-up. Even down to the amateur techniques, which seem at odds supposing that the “filmmakers” are filmmakers. Documentary does not actually translate into the kind of production Catfish is revealed to be. It also, too aware of itself:
Yaniv: [First lines] If this is your documentary, you’re doing a bad job.
Yaniv: Because you’re catching me when I don’t want to talk about things.
Ariel: How should we do it?
Yaniv: Set it up, organise a time with me, put together some materials, emails, we’ll get the Facebook conversations printed out and we’ll really talk about it.
Judged by the usual standards, it is a wretched documentary: visually and narratively sloppy; coy about its motives; slipshod in its adherence to basic ethical norms. The filmmakers, who occasionally appear on camera, shoot and edit with at least minimal competence, but their approach to the potentially volatile and undeniably exploitive implications of their stumbled-upon story is muddled and defensive. Shame on them, if that would mean anything to them.
But at the same time — precisely because of these lapses — “Catfish” is a fascinating document, at once glib, untrustworthy and strangely authentic. I say this with a heavy sigh: this is, by far, one of the most intriguing movies of the year. ~ A.O. Scott
Roger Ebert and A.O. Scott echoed so many of my sentiments on the film, I would link them and be done. Both continue on, after the above quotes, and continue to eloquently state what was on my mind also: The conceit of the filmmakers, the terrible assumptions, and how Angela saves the film even as she haunts it.
Some would dismiss the film afterward as—well, what did you expect?! Friending someone you’d never met in person at least once. Or grumble: “some people are just too promiscuous with their friending.” Maybe the film would say that too. I would hope that more would side with Nev and respond with compassion, despite the horror.
I also suggest thinking about the beautiful capabilities of social media…
In spite of its own facile, faux-naïf manipulations, “Catfish” reveals Angela to be something else as well, namely an artist. Mr. Joost and Mr. Shulman, young and entitled filmmakers, assume that the sophistication is all on their side, but Angela’s mastery of the media of modern self-expression — from painting to social media to her very being — surpasses theirs in every way. ~A.O. Scott
…Catfish converses about the capability of linking people via the mediums of photography, painting, social media and film in creating greater potential for authentic human connection.
I realize that it is strange to think about creating real human connection through deception, through invented identity. It isn’t usual to think about invented identity as a form personal expression…(outside of Acting). I’ve been contemplating it.
In Catfish the effectiveness of the Art using Social Media in deceptive ways to illuminate Angela’s “master of modern self-expression” is in the revelation. She had to be found out. You can choose to be horrified, for whatever reason, there are several options here, and no one would blame you. What she did was wrong, and well—creepy. But one must necessarily attend what it is Nev and Angela’s husband sees—which is an odd twist to the film that actually makes the film. The filmmakers don’t seem to see it. What is It? It is that Angela is profoundly Human. What has driven Angela to do what she did is identifiable and connective, it garners empathy. Granted, this is not the first step most would take in response to the film, but upon consideration…
Vince shares this at the end of the film:
They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank god for the catfish because we would be droll, boring and dull if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin.
I think the filmmakers were referring to themselves in this story. I am hoping they weren’t actually, because that is a nauseating idea. I’d rather it refer to Angela, and not in the Cautionary Tale way. Vince is talking about Angela when he says this; which complicates the film’s message. Is it a Cautionary Tale? That anyone (even a hick) can get one over on the sophisticated if they get too comfortable? Is it the marveling over the desperate lengths a yokel will go to escape their simple, rural, “suffocating” life? Or is it about considering the idea that there is a human behind the avatar with longing similar to your own (or plenty of others)? That the seeking out of connection takes multiple forms and what is Art but that which moves us, that which nips at our fin?
At 87 running minutes, the film is a tolerable length for its camera-work and its intrusive filmmakers who poorly act their part all too well. A film to check out.
Catfish (2010) a documentary. PG-13. 87 minutes.