TW: suicide and self-harm. This article contains spoilers.
It seems like every week another study comes out highlighting the negative side effects of social media use, and it is getting a little overwhelming. For those of us who want to learn about what excessive social media use can do to a person without having your eyes glaze over in the face of streams of statistics and scientific jargon, Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West is a great place to start. Hilarious, disturbing, and insightful in equal measure, the film manages to avoid the after-school special quality that ruins so many movies with a message.
The audience follows Ingrid in her journey to reinvent herself in California as the best friend of Instagram star Taylor Sloane. Ingrid has just been released from a mental institution after assaulting her previous Instagram obsession. The fact that the opening scene is one of violent assault might make it seem like Ingrid is not a sympathetic lead. However, as the film goes on we see more and more of ourselves in her. Who hasn’t spent an entire day on the couch doing nothing but surfing the web? Who hasn’t wanted to move someplace new and reinvent yourself in the image of someone you admire? The scenes in which Taylor passes over plans she made with Ingrid in favour of others is heart-wrenchingly familiar for anyone who has ever had something similar happen to them.
Yet, in spite of how relatable she is, the film is careful to always keep Ingrid’s unhealthy relationship with her phone in the back of our minds. The fact that we see aspects of ourselves in Ingrid only serves to make the film all the more disconcerting. We all know by now – it is impossible not to – that social media is strongly linked to negative mental health, but seeing the logical conclusion of statistics presented to us on the silver screen gives one motivation like never before to lessen one’s reliance on social media.
Ingrid compulsively compares her life to the ones she sees on her Instagram feed, and her doing this is precisely what prevents her from improving her life. By the end of the film she is so completely incapable of divorcing her self-image and self-worth from her social media image that she attempts to end her own life, only after ensuring the scene is aesthetic enough to be live-streamed on her Instagram. Even this scene doesn’t seem that far separated from today’s reality; as more and more of our lives are edited and filtered to be better suited for posting on social media, surely it is not that hard to imagine that some people could treat their deaths the same way.
Aside from these ideas about social media addiction and the danger of tracking self-worth through it, Ingrid Goes West also puts its audience at ill ease with their social media accounts by showing just how easy it is for Ingrid to stalk Taylor based on a handful of shared photos. The scenes in which Ingrid tracks Taylor down in seconds from her posts should be enough to scare anyone into increasing their privacy settings.
Taylor herself serves as far more than just a victim, she is also the film’s walking, talking critique of 21st century celebrity culture. In a world in which someone can become famous for choosing the right hashtags and filters, the word ‘celebrity’ ceases to have any meaning. When young people look up to such figures and base their self-worth on how similar their lives are to those of their idols, then that self-worth will be as fleeting as the interest in that celebrity.
Ingrid Goes West offers a biting critique of the social media generation, but not one entirely divorced of sympathy for them. It is a must-see for anyone who thinks that their social media use is taking up too much of their life, and in 2018 that is probably more of us than would like to admit it.
Still here? Check this out: The 6 Different Types of Irish Snowfall