Alienation and angst in the age of Instagram

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Ingrid Goes West (MA). Director: Matt Spicer. Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O'Shea Jackson Jr, Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen. 98 minutes

Aubrey Plaza in Ingrid Goes WestA young woman, Ingrid (Plaza) pours over wedding photos posted on social media. The camera finds her face in close-up; she is smiling, and weeping profusely. After a few long seconds she gathers herself, steps out of her car, and walks into a wedding reception. She locates the bride, who is perplexed to see her, but greets her by name. In response Ingrid delivers her a face-full of mace. 'Thanks for inviting me, you f***ing c***,' the intruder spits.

The moment is shocking not just because of its violence, but for the dissonance between Ingrid's proximity to the celebratory events and her alienation from them, embodied moments earlier by her highly emotional participation in them in a merely virtual sense. We can see immediately that Ingrid has lost the boundary between her relationships to the online and the 'real' world. So severe is the loss that subsequent to these events she spends time in an institution.

Ingrid Goes West is a black comedy for the Instagram age. On the face of it, it's a cautionary tale against relying on social media as a source of relationships and self-identity. That's a fairly retrograde take-home though, as it precludes the possibilities for genuine connection and community that such platforms occasion. The film is actually more than that; it's an exploration of loneliness and isolation that is universal despite a context that is very much of this moment.

In particular, it is a critique of the impacts materialist celebrity culture can have on a vulnerable person such as Ingrid. There is no doubt she is an Insta-addict; even after her stint in the institution we see her grasping for her phone upon waking, mechanically scrolling and liking while she is on the toilet or brushing her teeth. Soon she finds a new obsession; Los Angeles based Instagram celebrity Taylor Sloane (Olsen), whom she discovers via a spread in a glossy magazine.

The film's treatment of Taylor's life on Insta is fiercely satirical; it's a living biography constructed from photos of trendy cafes and salons, inspirational quotes and carefully honed hashtags. Ingrid in her loneliness is smitten, and soon decides to up and move to LA, opening a new Instagram account and preparing to create for herself a new identity using Taylor's as a template. Upon arriving in LA she takes advantage of Taylor's prolific Instagram footprint to stalk her.

Soon, she is able to manufacture the means of meeting Taylor, and insinuating herself into Taylor's life. In doing so she is not above the occasional diabolical manipulation; some possible new friends — such as her would-be screenwriter landlord, Dan (Jackson) — are instead grist to the mill of her infatuation. Soon she is delighted to find herself in the role of Taylor's BFF. Of course it's all a fiction, and we await with dread the consequences when it inevitably unravels.


"On the face of it, it's a cautionary tale against relying on social media as a source of relationships and self-identity. That's a fairly retrograde take-home though."


The film gets plenty of mileage out of lampooning mediocre creative types such as Taylor, Batman-obsessed Dan, and Taylor's husband Nicky (Magnussen), whose work consists of 'found objects' stencilled with motivational slogans. But it's the emotional substance that is most acute; Olsen's earnest portrayal of the graceful but ridiculous Taylor is laced with self-awareness, and the wonderful Plaza synergises the absurd and tragic aspects of Ingrid to devastating effect.

It's not a perfect film. While the first two acts are fast-paced and witty as a well-managed Instagram account, the joke wears thin and the filmmakers find themselves needing to swing some pretty sensational plot devices to kick-start the third act. Nonetheless the emotional through-line is constant and the satire consistently on point, with these eventually converging upon a perfectly cynical 'happy ending'. Only viewers with a well-developed sense of irony ought apply.



Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is the editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Ingrid Goes West, Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O'Shea Jackson Jr, Matt Spicer



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Existing comments

A well-developed sense of irony. Surely, a pre-requisite to a social media career. I was out walking earlier today with a friend I hadn't seen for some time. She asked me "What have you been doing lately?" and my first thought was not to reply "Not walking enough." Instead, I launched into a story about what happened yesterday during some voluntary work I do. I wanted my life to sound interesting. Maybe this is the film for me.

Pam | 25 October 2017  

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