EDITOR’S NOTE: This review contains spoilers!
I’ll admit I had expectations for Ingrid Goes West. The advertising successfully reeled me in and I was excited by the cast and promise of dark satire. That’s why I was shocked when I walked out of the packed theater with a pit in my stomach.
Directed by Matt Spicer, Ingrid details the journey of an obsessive young woman (Aubrey Plaza) who begins to stalk an Instagram “influencer” named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olson). Alone after her mother’s death and unable to form meaningful friendships, Ingrid turns to her phone for validation. In a haphazard journey subtly influenced by colonial notions of manifest destiny, Ingrid moves to L.A. to infiltrate Sloane’s life and morph into the perfect—read: fashionable, rich, white and neurologically typical—Instagram star she’s always obsessed over.
Ingrid certainly contained moments of amusing satire and, in many ways, successfully exposes Instagram stardom and Los Angeles’ cult of faux creatives. However, the film deals with its most intimate themes—social media obsession, mental health, female friendship—irresponsibly, ultimately perpetuating both ableist tropes of mental illness and harmful myths about women.
While the film has been heralded as a timely warning against social media, this so-called warning is only possible because of the filmmaker’s representation of Ingrid as unstable, obsessive and “hysterical”—depictions which have historically all been used to devalue and control women. Taking a cue from Single White Female, the film relies on the trope that women’s friendships are toxic and unstable. Taking another from films like Swimfan and Black Swan, it predicates its entire plot on the tired notion that women are jealous, irrational and obsessive by nature. The film’s investment in these depictions paints mental illness into an inherently female danger. Indeed, it seems that Ingrid is a stark and visual warning about the (mentally ill) woman we should make sure to never become.
We, the viewer, know that Ingrid has struggled with managing her mental health, but any productive conversations to be had about her challenges are lost amidst these sexist stereotypes and the film’s irresponsible sensationalization of her experience. Ingrid ultimately attempts suicide—on screen—and then achieves Instagram celebrity because of it. The decision to graphically depict a suicide attempt on-screen is dangerous and harmful; mental health professionals have detailed why. To make matters worse, there is also no nuanced discussion of the motivations behind suicide, no thoughtful analysis of the severity of attempting to take ones’ own life and no showcasing of post-crisis healing and treatment. As Sarah Kahn writes, the film’s unresolved ending is particularly harmful in that “it only reinforces the incorrect and ignorant narrative that people only talk openly about mental illness to seek attention.”
As a whole, Ingrid Goes West is a film predicated on making light of traumas and insecurities. It pushes viewers to consider their social media use only by toying with our collective investment in demonizing mentally ill women. It is not merely a warning against social media as many critics suggest but, more accurately, a warning against the ways in which social media obsession may drive us to become mentally ill women like Ingrid—as well as a blaring message that our culture can and will discard and mock us if we do.