While The Social Network has been lauded for its exceptional directing and intelligent script about the founders of Facebook, I was left disappointed by the film. Was it because of factual inaccuracies or that its analysis of the site’s social impact was basic? Probably neither as The Social Network was a fictional piece peering into the human condition. Much more likely an explanation was that I saw Catfish months before David Fincher’s film. Finally getting a release in Australia, the other Facebook film holds the social critique sorely missing from The Social Network.
Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost have created a documentary following Ariel’s brother, Yaniv, and his online relationship with pen-pal Abby: an eight year old girl who lives in rural Michigan. As their friendship blossoms, Yaniv is introduced to members of Abby’s family, including Megan, Abby’s half-sister. Yaniv and Megan find a connection and their conversations become increasingly intimate. Yet as his relationship with the “Facebook family” grows, Yaniv becomes aware of inconsistencies in their perfection.
Shot in 2008, Catfish employs a puzzle-like plotting, where the viewer is handed fact after fact and asked to make sense of them at the same time as Yaniv and the two directors. This is an intelligent decision as not only does the audience quickly empathise with Yaniv’s situation but it also rids the importance of whether Catfish is real or not. In fact, the entire discussion of whether the film is a documentary or pure fiction is a non-issue; the movie works either way.
As the trio of men search for answers on the “Facebook family”, they also present a critique on the use of modern technology as a means of communication. What begins as the great positive of social networking sites with a pen-pal friendship quickly grows into our reliance on mobile phones and instant messaging services to talk to another person. This is not a film purely based around Facebook – Youtube, satellite navigational systems and digital cameras all come into play. While this technology is supposed to give us security, it also becomes another outlet for social engineering.
This is a thought provoking documentary with a number of disturbing moments. Catfish leaves the viewer with a very relevant discussion on how reliable social networking and people are. Even the protagonist, Yaniv, is a conflicted figure. His actions at times are bewildering and he is definitely naive. He is always a relatable character, yet Yaniv is just as fragile and emotionally wounded as the woman in the third act, even if he doesn’t want to show it. While they have very different outlets for their emotional problems, there is a connection between the two. Perhaps it’s because they share the same pain from revealing the truth. No matter why, the two seem attached by more than how they met.
Unfortunately, the film’s marketing has led to audiences expecting an Identity-sized twist. This is not the case. The last forty minutes have little to do with Hitchcock, despite the trailer saying otherwise. Nevertheless, the final act of the film is powerful in its own accord. The suspense in Catfish is perfectly executed and becomes an integral part of keeping the audience immersed. The film works not only through seizing the audience but choosing these moments to work in tandem with the overall message.
Catfish will lead viewers to look at themselves and those they think they know. The film calls into question our willingness to accept information at face value and encourages the audience to employ a certain degree of skepticism. While this leads to a scrutinising of the film itself, it is an unnecessary venture. Once all of the pieces fall into place, Catfish is, at its core, a very raw, emotional and powerful film. While The Social Network also revolves around Facebook, Catfish is bolder in its discussion of social networking and people’s reliance on modern technology to communicate.