Social Media has pervaded so deep into our world that even after we die, our consciousness would still live through the technological footprint that we would leave behind. Maybe someday, Bioscientists would become capable enough to recreate us from the string of binary shadow of us that would be floating around in the ocean of the internet. Our lives are so intertwined with our social media avatars that technology has assumed a human form that lives, breathes and behaves like us. Even though you may not have any real friends around you, a few likes or comments from any of your 500 facebook friends may give you an instant rush of endorphins, one of the happiness-inducing hormones. Technomorphism is a concept wherein we start humanizing technology beyond what it actually is. We provide it with our memories, our relationships, our dreams and our deepest darkest secrets, trusting it even more than our closest friends.
Film-makers have taken to this concept in their own unique ways which have given birth to a whole new style of story-telling. The 2016 film Nerve, that describes itself as a ‘techno-thriller’ revolves around a girl who is pulled into an online game that requires her to complete tasks in the physical world as a ‘player’, while her progress is shared with the game’s subscribers by other participants called ‘Watchers’. Besides the actors themselves, the game itself is treated like a character that controls and drives the plot. Another interesting entrant of this genre would be the 2014 film Unfriended where a group of friends is joined by an unknown person while video chatting on Skype. The friends try to get rid of this unknown pop-up, which doesn’t even have a display picture, in various ways but to no avail. Things start turning upside down when private photos of the friends start turning up on Facebook and Instagram. It becomes even stranger when the intruder starts messing with their reality. The common theme weaving through each of these films is how technology is being used as a persona non grata.
Debutante Director (and Ex-Googler), Aneesh Chaganty conjures up a crime drama into the ever-burgeoning world of technopomorphism. David Kim is a doting father to his daughter, Margot Kim. Both father and daughter are coping with the loss of his wife Pamela who had recently died of cancer. The film opens with the nostalgic home screen of the Windows XP hill, with David organizing their family photographs into folders. We watch their family grow through the changes in the photographs and a parallel change in the user interface of the computer that David had used at that time. The social media montage shows social media platforms fleeting in and out, the genesis of Facebook which becomes David’s new place for sharing memories, the rise of Youtube where he uploads his daughter’s Piano recitals, etc. As we approach the present day, we notice through a FaceTime conversation that an invisible distance had cropped up between the father and the daughter. Margot tells him that she would be pulling an all-nighter at a friend’s place and would not return home that night. When David wakes up the next morning, he notices a few missed calls from his daughter. He tries to reach out to her. Hours later, he senses that something was amiss. Fear creeps in as some of her apparent friends are also unable to give him her whereabouts. By the time he files a missing person report, he is livid. He had already lost his wife, and now he was on the verge of losing his daughter too. As the police start gathering information about his daughter, he realizes that he knows very little about his daughter’s life. The only way out is her life that she might have recorded in her social media accounts.
The very idea of portraying a crime drama and a potential murder mystery as it turns out through the perspectives of social media applications is ambitious. About a quarter of an hour into the film, I noticed that none of the shots showed the actors talking into the Director’s camera. Instead, every single shot of them was through the popular apps that we use on our phones and laptops every day. I was intrigued to watch if this rule is broken anytime throughout the film. The theatre was transformed into a full-blown live-screen recording of what David was doing on his computer or phone. The only time we got to see his emotions was through what he wanted to write but didn’t, or through his face when he was facetiming with someone. The same applied to every other character, and the story was somehow consistently driven forward without breaking the rule.
About a quarter of an hour into the film, I noticed that none of the shots showed the actors talking into the Director’s camera. Instead, every single shot of them was through the popular apps that we use on our phones and laptops every day.
Keeping aside this novelty of the film, the screenplay did not cut corners too. Writers Chaganty and Sev Ohanian use technology as a prop to tell a gripping story that never lacks in pace and shows some ingenious ways in which David is able to track the social media trail of his missing daughter. John Cho, as the father, plays a very authentic character of a father who desperately wants to reconnect with his daughter after his wife’s death but doesn’t know how. Michelle La as Margot Kim gives a measured performance through the limited screen time that she gets.
Chaganty’s debut is a rave and deservedly so. Being from the Tech world himself, he understands the pulse of the global social commune and how technology influences our collective evolution. Searching provides an optimistic and a concerning picture at the same time. On one hand, our social footprint may someday be able to save our lives but on the other hand, it may also prey on us by subverting our insecurities and desires back on us. Whatever be the case, we have added Searching to our list of classics and Chaganty on our list of directors to watch out for.