Even in her disturbed existence, writer Sylvia Plath had lurid observations on murder – “Why do we electrocute men for murdering an individual then pin a purple heart on them for mass slaughter of someone arbitrarily labeled ‘enemy’ ?” It is true that taking someone’s life is a horrid, despicable business but murder is not always as unidimensional as we make it out to be. This perspective of the moral consequence of murder has been vividly explored in TV series like Dexter where a Blood Spatter Analyst working for the Miami Police Department is also a raging psychopath who can only satisfy his urges by killing. Fortunately, in his early days, his foster-father identifies this demon in him and teaches him to kill only the scum-of-the-society, hoping that something good would come out of it. Strangely, even though you know what he is doing is illegal and morally unacceptable, you still want to root for him. Somehow the context that he is killing bad people, tends to throw off our moral judgement and root for him. Narratives like these are especially captivating, perhaps, due to the continual internal turmoil that they expose us to. Murder may be a unidimensional subject for the law. But for film-makers, it bodes well to play along the periphery of morality and let the audience decide for themselves who they actually want to side with.
Murder may be a unidimensional subject for the law. But for film-makers, it bodes well to play along the periphery of morality and let the audience decide for themselves who they actually want to side with.
Netflix’s new series You starts out as a stalker-thriller but evolves into a psychological crime-drama through the course of the narrative. Adapted from the book by the same name written by Caroline Kepnes, You is directed by Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble, and revolves around a New York bookstore manager by the name of Joe Goldberg who becomes obsessed by a girl named Guinevere Beck who walks into his store one day. What starts with casual stalking through social media, soon becomes far more intrusive when Joe breaks into Beck’s apartment to “learn more about the kind of person that she is”. Accompanying the screenplay is the background narrative in Joe’s own voice wherein he voices his own perspective of why he is doing, what he’s doing.
As unremitting as the stalking is, Joe sees it as a pet project. He sees a simple-hearted girl who has projected a pseudo-image on social media, has a bunch of fake friends who don’t really care about her, and whose career is in shambles. And suddenly, the outrageousness of his perversion finds a mellow footing. You start asking yourself if she does really need his help. Things take a much darker turn when Joe captures her cheating boyfriend in the basement of his bookstore, eventually taking his life. Joe meticulously places himself in her life befriending her. But Beck’s boyfriend was not the only obstacle. As Joe obsesses about gaining further control over her life, more secrets (and bodies) pile up.
What makes You interesting despite its premise is the fact that Joe is a very likable character. He is unpretentious, well-read, and seems to really care about Beck. Penn Badgley’s portrayal of Joe Goldberg is that of a man who seems to have it all together at the outset but is actually struggling with baggage from his past. There is the memory of his previous girlfriend that haunts him, and before that, the memories of childhood abuse as well that he carries with him. It also works in his favour that Elizabeth Lail’s character of Guinevere Beck is the exact opposite of him. She has daddy issues and is always looking for validation ending up with men who tend to take advantage of her. This context impairs your moral judgement to an extent, as you try to justify to yourself that Beck does need his help. And he actually does love her, doesn’t he ? She deserves better after all. If just for this, the narrative would have felt like pulp-fiction but there are more layers to it. Joe is also shown to be good friends with a little boy who is his next-door neighbour. His mother and her boyfriend are always fighting, while Joe spends time with him lending him books and trying to make him feel safe.
Books or rather the love for books also plays a passive character in the series. Every significant turn in the story is described through the context of a book, or at least referenced to it. For instance, while lending Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the little boy, Joe gives him a quick summary that it was “about a monster who was not actually the monster”. In a flashback scene, he also recants a memory where his mentor had locked him in a cage filled with books telling him that – “…everything that you need in the world is in there.” This sparked his lifelong obsession with books, which he tended to and took care of, almost as carefully he did Beck. Bibliophiles were perhaps the most under-represented faction in the killers fraternity but now we have one here – our very own psychopath book-lover.
Bibliophiles were perhaps the most under-represented faction in the killers fraternity but now we have one here – our very own psychopath book-lover.
You is beautifully shot which adds to the fluid non-linear time-lapses that Joe has from time to time. You can binge-watch this one in a day and barely even realize it. Amongst the myriad of the run-of-the-mill stalker-slasher content that’s floating on streaming websites, You would have to be my favorite so far. While you watch it, let me change my privacy settings real quick.