Let’s say you’re a guy. And the girl you really like has finally agreed to go out with you. You’re at the restaurant ordering pizza. And she says her favorite pizza is Hawaiian, with pineapple. The idea makes you feel a little queasy; normally you order pepperoni. What do you say? On a first date, isn’t it likely to be, “Sounds great!” And you hope someday you’ll be telling your grandchildren the funny story of your first date with Grammy, and how you either discovered that you loved pineapple on your pizza or that three months later, when you were finally comfortable enough with the girl to tell her how you really felt, she laughed and confessed that she wasn’t really interested in college basketball as she had pretended to be on that same first date. So you may not have pineapple pizza and the NCAA in common, but you have something even more important — you both cared enough about making the relationship work to create some superficial commonality while the more important connection was building.
Now let’s say you’re online. There are two reasons online attachments get intensely personal so quickly. The first is the capacity of the internet to connect you to the one other person in the world who cares as passionately as you do about not just pineapple pizza but pineapple pizza with pesto-encrusted pineapple slices and fontina cheese. That connection is so immediately validating that you can’t help feeling that whatever else you have in common is enormously significant and whatever you don’t doesn’t matter. The second reason is that online communication is like a Rorschach test; we project onto all the empty spaces all the things we subconsciously want to see there, unable to realize how much of what we see comes from our own minds. Which brings me to a third reason — they work because we want them to. They are the perfect fantasy relationship, creating the illusion of intimacy without the risk because we have control over what we send back. Until we don’t, when it stops working and fantasy relationships lead to real-life heartbreak.
And yes, there is a movie review here, not just a meditation on the pleasures and perils of online relationships. But it is hard to talk about the movie directly without giving too much away. So, I’m going to tell you as much as I think is fair and then, after you’ve seen it, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and if you’d like to see the rest of my review, I’ll send it to you. [I’ll also be posting it later today with a “Spoiler Alert” warning.]
Nev (pronounced Neev) is a young, New York-based photographer whose brother, Rel, is a film-maker. Rel and his partner Henry Joost, started filming Nev as he opened a package from someone who had seen one of his photos. The gift, a painting from a little girl inspired by the photograph, led to connections online via Facebook — the little girl’s mother Angela and sister Megan and their relatives and friends, all in Michigan. Nev began talking to them on the phone and texting them, getting caught up in the daily details of their lives, and growing increasingly attached to Megan. And then, when he began to have some doubts, Nev went to Michigan to see them, bringing Rel, Joost, and the camera along.
What happens then is a haunting exploration of identity, intimacy, desire, and the temptations of online relationships. Whatever you expect, the movie will surprise you. And if you want the rest of my review, send me an email.