“How could she just lie to me like that?”
Boy meets girl online, through mutual friends. Boy and girl fall for each other. Boy and girl try to meet, but keep getting thwarted in their plans. Then boy makes a shocking discovery. Girl is a liar. Girl is not who she says she is, but boy is determined to find out the truth. Yaniv Schulman and his brother Ariel, along with their filmmaking buddy Henry Joost finally team up to uncover how much of Nev’s relationship with a woman named Megan is real, and how much is the work of a Catfish.
Yaniv, nicknamed Nev, starts corresponding with a little girl named Abby. The talented Abby has a penchant for painting pictures that Nev originally photographed. So impressed, Nev then becomes Facebook friends with Abby’s family members, one by one. Soon, Nev starts spending a lot of time talking to Abby’s older sister, Megan. Beautiful, talented, and compassionate, Megan might be the girl of Nev’s dreams. Other people meet their soulmates online, so why can’t Nev and Megan be the next two to tango?
Because…Megan is not real.
Dating apps are not a thing of the past. Catfish came out in 2010, a full decade ago, but more apps tower over the possibility of finding love IRL. Unfortunately, it’s a little too easy to lie online. As Nev, Ariel, and Henry discover, lying online is sometimes easier than telling the truth. If someone is trying to hide, doing so under the massive blanket of the Internet is a good place to stay hidden.
What Catfish brings out so well is the possibility that cons or tricks do not just result in financial strain, but emotional strain. Nev seems to be pretty calm when he realizes that Angela is really Megan (and Alex and Abby and several other online personas). The last few moments of the film, though, show a more irritable, angrier Nev than the first one we met. He has been profoundly hurt by a lie. Unlike meeting in person, when you can get a sense of someone’s mannerisms and hear their voice and watch them speak, the Internet is a platform where anyone can pretend to be exactly who they wish they were and Angela is no exception.
Catfish is not just about a malicious prankster. In fact, Angela does not seem malicious at all. Escaping from her reality is a pleasure for her, but real people are affected by her actions. She admits to the trio that she did believe she would eventually be caught. Other cons are set up and orchestrated from beginning to end, but Angela almost seems to have gotten as fooled by her setup as the filmmakers.
It is the nature of love online that we fall for ideas. Human beings, even in a time of uncertainty and political upheaval, want to believe each other. I personally dated a guy that I didn’t know very well, but based on his Facebook profile, he appeared to be a “family man.” There were many pictures on the social media platform of him with his brothers, his mom, and his dad. After we started dating, he told me that he barely spends any time with his family and doesn’t even like them.
I remember that I was repulsed. It took a long time before I understood why.
He didn’t exactly lie to me…but he didn’t exactly tell me the truth either, based on what he cherry-picked to display on Facebook. It turned out at very long last that this particular guy was a habitual liar, but it’s hard to say at this point whether he was deliberately lying to others or if he is just lying to himself. The result with anyone whose social media accounts veer from their real values is that people end up perceiving them as liars, whether or not lying was the original intent.
Like Nev, I believed what I saw online and filled in the blanks. I don’t think this is uncommon. We see pictures and draw conclusions. Nev does this with Megan; he sees a picture of her posed with a guitar and speculates, “Maybe she even plays the guitar,” though there are no videos or other pictures proving this theory. The film and its culmination are a staggering look at how others fools us, but how willing we are to be fooled by our brains, and by our hearts. There are plenty of fish in the sea, but to a hungry soul, snagging a Catfish is better than coming up empty.