Ten years ago, it was really taboo to say you met someone online. There was still that feeling of uneasiness about meeting someone “from” the Internet, because it’s so easy to lie on the Internet and so easy to be mislead about who a person really is when they can hide behind profiles and avatars. I feel like now, though it still isn’t universally accepted, it’s definitely more common to hear about people meeting online and even relationships coming out of online friendships. Of course, there are online dating sites that are made specifically for these sort of things, but there are also regular social media sites, like Facebook or Twitter, where two people could conceivably meet and begin a relationship.
Heck, my boyfriend (edit: my husband…:)) and I even met online. We originally met on Twitter, became friends, realized we felt something more, entered into a long distance relationship, and now we’ve been together for almost two years and live together. We were upfront and honest about who we were and what we looked like from the beginning of our friendship, and turned out to be an online dating success story. Unfortunately, not all online relationships end as well as ours did. The 2010 documentary, Catfish, explores a situation just like that.
The story begins innocently enough, introducing the friendship between 20-something New York photographer, Yaniv “Nev” Schulman, and 8-year-old painter, Abby Pierce. Abby and Nev became friends after Abby painted a portrait based off a photograph that Nev took for a newspaper. Abby then sent the portrait to Nev, whom was impressed by the artwork, which eventually led them to e-mailing one another and Abby regularly sending collections of her work to Nev. The documentary starts with the premise of Nev’s brother, Ariel, and their friend, Henry Joost, filming about the friendship between Nev and Abby.
Shortly into the movie, though, we find out that Nev has not only been corresponding with Abby, but he’s also been spending time getting to know Abby’s mother, Angela, as well as several other members of Abby and Angela’s family, including Abby’s 19-year-old sister, Megan. Suddenly, the documentary turns its focus from Nev and Abby’s friendship to the rapidly developing relationship between Nev and Megan, whom he is beginning to fall for. As time passes, small things begin to crop up which question the validity of Megan’s life (for example, Nev realizes she lies about a song she “recorded” while looking up the same song on YouTube and discovering the exact recording performed by another artist).
As Nev’s main means of communication between himself and Megan (as well as the rest of Abby’s family) is mainly through Facebook, e-mail, and telephone, Nev begins to doubt that he’s actually talking to a real person at all. Nev, along with Ariel and Henry, decide to make an impromptu visit to Angela’s house to meet the family. When they arrive, they’re shocked to find out that Angela has lied about several things- first, and most noticeably, her physical appearance. Unlike her glamourous Facebook profile, Angela is middle aged with oversized spectacles- bascially the exact opposite of what Nev expected her to be. As the visit goes on, Angela reluctantly reveals that nearly everything was made up. Abby, though a child, and the person in the pictures that Nev saw, never did any paintings. When Nev spoke to Abby on the phone, it was actually Angela. Likewise, Megan is completely made up; Angela doesn’t even have another daughter, and the woman in the pictures was actually a model that Angela found online. Angela also pretended to be Megan during her phone calls and text messages with Nev.
The gripping thing about watching Catfish is seeing the web of lies Angela told and the way they all unravel. It’s incredible to see the lengths Angela went to in order to keep up her front; she even went as far as making Facebook profiles for friends of Megan, and friends of friends, and so on. You can’t help but feel bad for Nev as he sits across from Angela and quietly listens to her admit that Megan, and subsequently, the very real feelings he felt for her, were all lies.
Surprisingly enough, you even feel bad for Angela as the film shows what her real life actually consists of. Angela is revealed to be the artist behind “Abby’s” paintings, and though she is extremely talented, we learn that she lives a sad, lonely life as a stay-at-home-mother and caretaker for her husband’s severely handicapped twin sons. It’s easy to sympathize with Angela once you see what her life really is- taking care of the twins seems depressing and hard, and it’s no wonder she chose a bit of a escapism. It’s just a shame that she got someone else involved in her wicked game.
Catfish is a thoughtful and interesting film, which is perhaps a bit more relevant to my generation, though still important. Yaniv and Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost do a terrific job of filming a raw, believable experience that I think everyone should watch- not just for entertainment purposes but also as a cautionary tale to the risks of online dating. Not everyone online is a liar, but there are plenty of people out there who are, as this story perfectly illustrates. If nothing else, this documentary shows that it’s definitely worth doing some research before falling for the person behind the avatar.