Ingrid Goes West is out now. Get your tickets here!
Disclosure: Tim League owns Birth.Movies.Death and co-owns NEON.
The Social Network, David Fincher’s 2010 film, begins in an age when a hashtag simply indicated a number and Emojis were yet to become their own language, before someone could be Insta-famous and even before Instagram existed. This bygone era could also be referred to as 2003. While it is a portrait of a time where the internet and the way we interact with it was different in so many ways to the experience we have now — an experience deftly captured in Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West —The Social Network perfectly articulates one of the ideas which make social networking sites successful: people want to go online and check out their friends. But for The Social Network, going on Facebook and seeing your friends is about taking the social experience you get in real life and putting it online. In 2017, being online is the social experience. As Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) phrased it, “We lived on farms and then we lived in cities and now we’re going to live on the internet!” The problem is, while we’re living on the internet, we still have to find a way to live with each other.
This is exactly the problem that plagues Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) up to and including her decision to go west. We first meet Ingrid scrolling through wedding photos as they appear on her Instagram feed. But Ingrid isn’t just looking at wedding pictures; she’s sitting in her car mere feet away from the reception she wasn’t invited to. Ingrid decides an appropriate response to the invitation snub is to mace the bride. As we later learn, the bride, Charlotte (Meredith Hagner), wasn’t Ingrid’s close friend or even a real friend, she had simply commented on Ingrid’s Instagram once to be nice. Here Charlotte could have easily borrowed a line from The Social Network spoken by Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) to ex-boyfriend Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) after he confronts her in a restaurant halfway through the film, “I was nice to you, don’t torture me for it.”
While Ingrid’s actions were drastic to say the least, her mentality does address the fact that it’s difficult to know at what point a mutual following becomes a friendship. When Ingrid packs up her belongings and moves to Venice Beach with the intention of befriending her latest Insta-obsession, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), she is caught somewhere between being a celebrity stalker and just being someone who wants to be friends with one of the cool kids. Ingrid herself is often unable to articulate what she hopes to achieve. At times she seems to desire nothing more than to be friends with Taylor and to share experiences, secrets and inside jokes with her the way that all friends do. At other times she seems to want Taylor’s life, her status and her popularity.
Both Ingrid and Mark feel a desire to connect with someone, but while Ingrid is scattered and unsure of whether she wants friendship with one person or to be adored by thousands, Mark’s desire is specific and focused on Erica. After she breaks up with him in the first scene of the movie, Mark drunkenly and angrily blogs about her, proving she was right in her decision to dump him and ensuring she’ll be in no rush to take him back. Yet throughout the film there are indications that despite his own growing fame and fortune, he’s still hung up on her. This culminates in the final scene of the film: Mark sitting alone in front of his computer after requesting to be Erica’s friend on Facebook. As the text on screen informs the audience, he’s the youngest billionaire in the world, and he’s not over his college girlfriend.
Ingrid and Mark each struggle with the process of understanding their relationships to other people both online and in real life. Mark becomes successful by understanding how to take the social experience and put it online, but when it comes to actually connecting with people, he’s lost. Ingrid, whose life is ruled by the social experience sites like Facebook and Instagram create, has no idea what actually constitutes a friendship online or in real life. Though Ingrid takes some drastic measures along the way, her complicated relationship with social media is familiar and even poses the question: now that we’re all living on the internet, is the next step to go west?