Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ingrid Goes West, #perfectlife, and the Nightmare of Instagram

I very much enjoyed Ingrid Goes West due to the way it dramatizes the deranging effects of anyone seeking approval and self-validation on social media. The hook of the movie that involves Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) macing a beautiful Instagram star at her wedding was entertaining, but Ingrid's tendency to spend all of her time on her iPhone, mostly repetitively liking other people's Instagram posts, fully got my attention. The movie is full of the little beeps, boops, and buzzes of the Apple corporation that now provide the Pavlovian sonic backdrop of our lives.  When Ingrid's mother dies,she leaves Ingrid with the financial ability to start life over as avatar IngridGoesWest, an opportunity she uses to stalk, then infiltrate the social life of Instagram Influencer Taylor Sloane (a very blonde Elizabeth Olsen) who lives in Los Angeles with her cute husband (Wyatt Russell), her especially cute dog, her perfect vegan place to eat lunch, the beach, her perfect fashion sense, etc. She lives the #perfectlife embodiment of what appears to be a social-mediated heaven on earth, and part of the fun of the movie lies in the way it exposes the vapid, more disturbing real life that underlies all of those perfect photos and happy moments that Taylor sells and Ingrid envies and emulates.

Unexpectedly but not entirely unreasonably, given its portrayal of someone desperately seeking the company of the rich and famous, Ingrid Goes West resembles The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Yet, in that text, the writer of the original novel, Patricia Highsmith, tends to reward Ripley as often as punish him for his twisted desire to imitate Dickie Greenleaf. In Ingrid's case, the writers of the movie, David Branson Smith and Matt Spicer, keep the stalker's derangement more on the surface. By kidnapping Taylor's dog and then "finding it," and then subsequently buying a bad painting made by Taylor's husband, Ingrid does infiltrate their perfect household for awhile. One can see the high point of Ingrid's life is getting photographed with Taylor as they display the peace sign. Once Taylor actually posts that photo on Instagram to her zillion followers, Ingrid has it made. She has attained the near-viral success that she craves, so, of course, things start to go awry after that.

I was intrigued by the movie's focus and plot shifts throughout (whereas often I get dissatisfied with the third act of most recent releases). Billy Magnussen's abrupt appearance as Taylor's alcoholic and pleasantly demented brother Nicky works especially well. Nicky is quite buff, punchy, and fiercely and extravagantly rich in Bret Easton Ellis fashion, having just flown over from Paris, but he also shares with Philip Seymour Hoffman's character Freddie Miles in Mr. Ripley the instant ability to see through the stalker at the high end glamorous entourage of the rich and famous. And once Nicky gets involved, Ingrid Goes West turns to the violence that underlies Ingrid's hidden desperation.

The movie leaves me wondering these things: Do we have any idea how the addictiveness of social media has already mucked up our lives? Are you conscious of how others manipulate your attention and why? Do you know anyone who spends a disproportionate amount of his or her day "liking" posts on a website? Do we know where this relationship with our phone is leading? Ingrid Goes West all too accurately suggests just how sick and warped our mediated world may soon become.

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