Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Social Media Key Player in Summer Films, An Ambiguous Friend

It's interesting to see the latest evolution of social media in film, and particularly how our love/not love relationship with it is manifested in a multitude of ways. Take two of this summer's big relationship films, "Before Midnight," and "Frances Ha."

In one of the opening scenes in the recently released "Before Midnight," third in the latest sequel featuring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke love story, Facebook is specifically mentioned early on. Celine informs Jesses that his son has had a crush on a girl all summer, and that they will most likely stay connected "on Facebook." (smirk smirk.)

At one point, Celine takes out an interesting cassette machine shaped camera, and films Jesse stealing a leftover apple from his daughter. They both narrate their circumstance for the camera for their future video-watching kids:
Celine: "If you become anorexic or bulemic later in life because your father took your food, don't blame me..."
Jesse: "I'm just teaching you the value of paying attention..."

In fact, the theme of social media is referenced throughout--the film keeping up with the times, and reminding us how much social has changed our lives since "Before Sunrise" in 1995, whether we like it or not. In a long lunch scene at the Greek vacation home where Jesse and Celine are vacationing, the topic of social media and how automated our lives are, takes center stage. One of the characters even jokes how one day even physical intimacy will be controlled and automated -- this against the backdrop if Celine and Jesse's long affair, whose physicality has been a focal point in all 3 films.

The phone also becomes a plot device as well, creating a divide between Celine and Jesse. During the film, Jesse's son by his first marriage, Hank, is flying back home to Chicago to live with his mother. Oddly, he calls Celine twice on her cellphone, and she never passes the phone on to Jesse, nor does Hank ask to speak to him.
"Why do you keep doing that?" Jesse says. "That's twice now you haven't handed me the phone."

Later on, we see Jesse get a phone call that he doesn't share even to Celine, until hours later -- news that his grandmother has died. This beomes a launching point for another in the many rounds of conversation between the two about love, mortality, life, death, and in this case, the name of their children's pediatrician, and the suggestion that both of them have been unfaithful to each other in the recent enough past.

In another what I would call "more fun" film that examines love and relationships in our twenties, "Frances Ha," art imitates life, as social media and smart phones prove to be not so great friends. Halfway through the film, Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, (who some are calling the new "it girl" in film), travels to Paris for a weekend. She repeatedly calls the friend she wanted to see, but they only connect after Frances is on her way home back in New York. Communication Fail.

One of the key plot points is that Frances' best friend Sophie (Micey Sumner), abandons Frances to move in with, and eventually move away to Tokyo, with her boyfriend Patch. While Sophie posts glamorous photos of her new life abroad online, the real truth as she admits later, is that she's unhappy and wants to move back to New York.

The central theme of the film is the friendship between Sophie and Frances, and the extent to which relationships in our twenties can work and not work, for all the right and wrong reasons. In almost every scene between the two women, smart phones abound, and serve as something of a protective shield around them, as they ruminate over who will and won't be allowed to enter their lives and their inner circle.

To consider:
-Is it possible that in 20 years, Frances will become Celine?
-How will upcoming films treat social media...as both a character and a plot device, for example?
-Will our relationships, both in art and life, grow increasingly automated and fleeting, defined in and by status updates, tweets, texts, and the dreaded eternally decreasing attention span?

-Carrie Jaffe-Pickett
writer, editor

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