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We're All Going To The World's Fair (2021) | Review

Source: Roger Ebert

What's most frustrating about the representation of the internet in films and on TV is how incurious it is. Generally being portrayed as a vapid outlet for teenagers who are desperate for attention, social media, that is pretty much ubiquitous at this point and almost essential in staying up to date on socio-political issues, is villainised in a way that only comes across as insecure from the point of view of the writers. And I don't want to be ageist, but it does seem like the fear-mongering attitudes of someone too detached from young people's lives to even try to understand what it's function is in them.

We're All Going To The World's Fair (2021) is refreshing, not just because of its transgressive use of form, but because it was so obviously made by someone who spent hours on the internet as a teenager, like myself and many other people now in their twenties. Jane Schoenbrun's bizarre coming of age story follows Casey as she plays an online game where she must recite 'I wanna go to the world's fair' three times, cut her finger, wipe the blood on her laptop screen and watch the World's Fair video. As she begins to feel the supposed effects of the game, she draws the attention of World's Fair superfan JLB, who becomes increasingly concerned with her mental state. 

First and foremost, what Schoenbrun is able to capture and recreate is the absurd structure of sites like YouTube where, if left on autoplay, users could get shot all across the internet, watching progressively more incoherent and structureless videos. Not only this, it displays a very genuine portrayal of the way people participate in the creation of said videos. Casey uploads in the hopes of being a part of something, as an escape from her very lonely and isolated life. There is very little footage that isn't shot from the point of view of a web cam or from a camera that the protagonist is holding. This is a film that's attempting to imitate the user-created experience of the internet, particularly that of the 2000s. These attempts are reminiscent of chain emails and the Bloody Mary challenge, where the central game of the film is perpetuated by word-of-mouth, living wholly in the online space, in people's recreations and in additions to the original lore. 

The film repeatedly refracts the image of the self - there are many shots where the camera is filming a laptop webcam which, in turn, is filming Casey. This is significant in the way online identities are created and maintained, because there is a sense that we are always at a distance from the people we 'know' online. In terms of creating a stable character, if the film is going to mimic the internet in the way described above, it only makes sense that we are left to doubt the game of telephone we are being made to witness in the creation of Casey as a person. She depicts a very specific version of herself, which is then transcribed to us through the point of view of JLB, her witness and fellow fan of the creepypasta-esque game.

JLB does not show his face to the internet and the only reason we know what he looks like at all is because, part way through the film, we are given his point of view of Casey's behaviour. In a worse film, this could have been a PSA for Stranger Danger and it would have made sense to be that. What we get instead is a depiction of the kind of objectification that is specific to teenage girls on the internet, where you are simultaneously treated as adult enough to invite the advances of adult men but not above being condescended to by these same men. 

In a way, it makes sense that Casey's perspective is absent from the end of the film because at that point, her image seemed to no longer belong to her. The audience is told this story of how she and JLB met up after the events of the film, and that they seemed to end things on good terms. However it's incredibly doubtful that this is true. Casey may never have spoken to JLB again. She may have never spoken to him in the first place. She might be dead. She might have never existed at all. What we come to understand is that Casey participated in the game to gain a freedom not afforded to her in real life and was usurped by JLB, resulting in her perspective being abandoned and replaced by an all-too-convenient ending.

The director's very genuine portrayal of the internet presents the way that it soothes and hypnotises its users, serving as an escape for better and for worse. The horrors of this film are not the avant-garde droning music in the background of a weird video you found on YouTube. It's an all-encompassing alienation that causes you to throw your whole identity into this world, avoiding life at all costs for the fear that it's far too unbearable to cope with. It's having your form of escapism taken from you. It's not being able to give your point of view at the end of the film you were the protagonist in.