Documentary Releases: Social_Animals (2018) - Reviewed

As we enter further and further into the history of the twenty first century, there will be a lot of works about the impact social media has had on us as a society. Film, television, music, and books will all document how we adapted to this strange new world of likes, comments, and shares. Some will talk about the highs and lows of our society. About how social media can bring us together and how it can tear us apart. How it can be the great unifier or another sign of how far we have fallen. Many films over the last couple of years have tried to explore this new era and all of its societal and personal impacts. Many of these films look upon their subjects with scorn and ridicule and our filtered through the perspective of older folks judging the younger people who were born and shaped by these tools and sites. These films are often one-sided, dull, and feel like a philosophical rant directed at you by your angry technophobe uncle for liking the things you like. Social Animals, to its benefit, is not that. 

Unlike other films that cover this era, Social Animals is a nuanced and fascinating look at Instagram and the personalities that are drawn to it. It’s a film about what it means to be molded and created in this era that is all about the cultivation of an image or a personal brand. 

The film follows several subjects: a daredevil photographer, an aspiring swimsuit model, and a Midwest girl-next-door are all looking for the same things from their Instagram accounts. They want to be loved, accepted, and famous. They want to be something in this cold and isolating world and they'll do just about anything to get it. It is a film that dives into the digital and social world of today, focusing on folks who are driven by followers, likes, and comments because they are the modern marks of today’s success and self worth. 

What makes this film so poignant is how much empathy it shows to its subjects. The subjects of the film are compelling and interesting to listen to. We don’t need confessional style interviews because the film captures the confessional and humane aspects of what being on social media is like for people. It’s a film about the light and dark of this new tool and is shockingly not judgmental. Director Jonathan Ignatius Green crafts a film that is humane, compelling, and rich. 

This isn’t a film about how terrible or awful social media is because it focuses on the humanity and the people behind these accounts. Instagram is a platform that doesn’t allow for a lot of self-reflection or empathy. Do you really know who are It is a curated experience of someone else’s life. We never get to really see or feel what their lives are like offline. You get a vivid portrayal of how exhausting and time consuming it all is to maintain this kind of charade or character. This film illuminates the experiences of these people. We see the emotional impact that cruel commenters can have on people and just how consuming it can be and we really feel for them.

After watching this film, I noticed two things. One, I didn’t check my phone once while watching. And two, I have a new understanding of social media and the impacts it has on people. I was thoroughly entertained and shocked by how open and honest its subjects where. This is a film that illuminates the realities of social media without treating its subjects with a cruel or callow hand for wanting to be a part of it.

--Liam O'Connor