Monday, 17 January 2011

Catfish: Real or No Real?

You know the internet? You know how it's, like, totally taken over our lives and that? Well, here's a film that's kind of about that, and the potential dangers it represents.

Honestly, I think it's probably best to see this film without any prior knowledge of the events it documents. When I was watching it unfold, I kept wishing I didn't already know how it turned out so, if you don't already know what the crack is, please stop reading after the following paragraph:

Catfish is a funny, moving, thought-provoking documentary about a young photographer who forms a Facebook relationship with a family he has never met. The film documents the early days of this relationship and then his eventual decision to meet the family in person and the revelations that entails.


So, the initial big talking point about "Catfish" is the question of authenticity. Is it real, or staged? I must admit, in the early scenes of Nev the hip New York photographer and his film-maker friends, I was unconvinced. There is a stagey, self-conscious quality which may set your suspicions simmering from the outset. Once the big reveal takes place, however, my disbelief was replaced with the notion that nobody could fake this. These people aren't actors, are they? There's no way you could create a story with such intricacy and detail. It is such a heartbreaking absurdity that it simply must be true, right?

The revelation I speak of is, of course, that the family in question is in fact just one middle-aged woman, Angela, creating multiple Facebook accounts and adding layer upon layer to her e-delusion of striking up a relationship with the young photographer.

The scenes revolving around this revelation are both hilarious and tragic. When Nev realises that Megan (the pretty eldest daughter of the family, who he has apparently been phone-sexing for a while) has been sending him MP3s ripped from YouTube and passing them off as her own recordings, his reaction is a priceless combo of disbelief, amusement, embarrassment and anger. This discovery leads to a pathetically simple bit of cyber-sluething that sees the whole charade begin to crumble.

The trio decide to pay the "family" a surprise visit and see what's real and what's balls, and what follows is a cringe-inducing, borderline-exploitative trip into a housewife's multiple life.

This presents us with a very modern conundrum: the riddle of privacy and safety on the internet. Do we know anything about the people we meet online? How much do they know about us?

The film is riddled with omnipresent internet references: YouTube, Facebook, emails, Google and Google maps all help the narrative move along, serving to hammer home the notion that the interweb has sidled into our lives in a huge way, whilst many of us still don't understand the possibilities and dangers it can bring.

Nev and his camera-toting entourage make for mainly agreeable company on this electro-personal odyssey, but some may find their NYC hipster attitudes a little aggravating and glib. There are moments when it feels kind of like watching a road movie about The Strokes, but any sense of Nev's voyueristic detachment from events is confounded by his obvious hurt and confusion in a final confrontation where housewife Angela speaks to him in Megan's voice.

"Catfish" is worth a look for the fascinating questions it raises about our technologised (Is that a word? It is now.) way of life, for a touching story about trust, hope, deceit and innocence, and for the undoubtedly endless pub-arguments about whether it was all as big a hoax as the one perpetrated within its narrative.


  1. Excellent review. I was curious, now I definitely will see it. I had a feeling it was a Cyber-Sybil thing. Thanks.

  2. You should read this if you have any doubts. See any similarities?