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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: “The Devil All The Time,” Lady Gaga, and more

Sep. 21, 2020
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Watch: The Social Dilemma (2020, dir. Jeff Orlowski)

Easily bleeding into the mainstream as long-awaited proof that The Internet Is Bad, The Social Dilemma stitches together interviews from prominent Silicon Valley insiders to reveal just how eroded our individual privacies are. These talking heads are spliced with a micro-drama detailing how the decisions of Facebook execs trickle down to a fictional suburban family, starring not only Jared from Booksmart (Skyler Gisondo) but also a grown-up Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward).

Facts are what ultimately make the film gripping; the fictional narrative functions more like a placeholder between interviews as it carries very little weight or impact. Some even criticized it for being reductive of the nuance and dystopia the interviewees try to convey. While its popularity is thanks to word of mouth rather than critical acclaim, at least it accomplished what it set out to do: get people talking. 

There is no shortage of think pieces on the inherent evil of social media, but there is a distinct horror in hearing it directly from those who seem to be responsible—and a deeper feeling of dread when you hear them say the state of social media is well beyond their control. Before this film was released I went down a Facebook rabbit hole: what role the platform played on electing authoritarians globally, how it outsourced content moderators from developing countries. Several Washington Post articles and a viewing of The Great Hack—another Netflix doc, this time on Cambridge Analytica—later, this documentary served as yet another affirmation of my nihilism. But when the credits rolled and I went back to scrolling through my little apps, I felt exactly the way I had before: helpless, like seeing the world fall into desolation and having no idea how to stop it. 

The Social Dilemma is streaming on Netflix.

Watch: The Devil All the Time (2020, dir. Antonio Campos)

It’s become my unspoken rule in this column to only write about things I’ve actually enjoyed, but like I’m Thinking of Ending Things a couple of weeks back, a new release sometimes breaches everyone’s radars and writing about it just becomes inevitable. With a target demographic of dads who always fall asleep mid-movie and young people interested in white men and/or cinema, The Devil All the Time follows the bleak life of one Arvin Russell, played by Tom Holland—who we quickly discover is more attractive in denim jackets than red and blue spandex. Alongside him are Bill Skarsgard, Robert Pattinson, and Sebastian Stan, all happy distractions from a plot that sounds more gripping on paper. 

As a critique of organized religion, it’s a lesser There Will Be Blood; for a story of a son forming his identity through what he knows of his father, you’re better off watching The Place Beyond the Pines. There’s nothing fresh and robust about the film—except perhaps its hard-working casting director—but even seeing so many of my guilty pleasures on screen (Pennywise is on top of that list if you’re curious) becomes tiring after a while. It was fascinating to see all the loose threads tie together by the end, but if you’re not amused by Love, Actually-esque narrative structures or hot British men pretending to have Southern accents, then maybe sit this one out.

The Devil All the Time is streaming on Netflix.

Listen: “911” by Lady Gaga

For someone so sensationalized, Lady Gaga has always been authentic and hard-hitting. It’s easy to forget that “Lady Gaga” is a persona, a performance both onstage and off it. Her latest album Chromatica, while aesthetically her most fantastical, is lyrically her most truthful; because reality is difficult, she needs fantasy to survive. That took a toll on her—it’s only a matter of time before fantasy affects how we perceive the world and ourselves, and Gaga has opened up that she’s beginning to struggle with the character she’s created. 

The line between reality and fantasy continues to blur in the short film for her single “911.” In a conversation with Apple Music a few months back, the artist explained that the song is about Olanzapine, an antipsychotic medication she’s been prescribed. “It’s because I can’t always control things that my brain does. I know that. And I have to take medication to stop the process that occurs.” She’s always been very vocal about her personal struggles in her physical and mental health, and “911” is her at her best and most honest. In an Instagram caption promoting the video, Gaga wrote, “Something that was once my real life every day is now a film, a true story that is now the past and not the present. It’s the poetry of pain.”

I’m not going to ruin the video’s plot twist (although you’ve probably seen the memes by now), but once you see it, read this Twitter thread on its symbolism, then watch this interview where she talks about Lady Gaga The Persona. 

Watch the “911” short film on YouTube.