#Like. 2019. Directed & Written by Sarah Pirozek.
Starring Sarah Rich, Marc Menchaca, Dakota Lustick, Liz Meinders, Jolene Marquez, Samantha Nicole Dunn, Jeff Wincott, & Marin Gazzaniga.
DAME WORK Inc.
Not Rated. 95 minutes.
Disclaimer: The following article contains spoilers
In the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, there are films tumbling out the woodwork to tackle all manner of social / political issues women face when it comes to abuse, assault, and a sadly endless amount of other terrifying male behaviour. Like any other crop of films, regardless of what they’re about, there are good ones, not so good ones, and some entirely tone deaf to the subject they’re attempting to address.
Sarah Pirozek’s #Like is certainly in the better camp. In spites of its flaws, the film has timely, poignant things to say about what it is to be a girl / young woman in the digital age. Rather than go too hard on the commentary itself, Pirozek opts to create a twisty, noir-ish tale that keeps the audience guessing.
Her screenplay involves a high school girl named Rosie (Sarah Rich), a year following the suicide of her sister Amelia (Samantha Nicole Dunn). Rosie takes justice into her own hands and tracks down the man that sexually exploited Amelia until she took her own life. The big sister’s forced to confront not only the potential man in question, she has to deal with her own morality, as well as the slippery, elusive qualities of truth.
Rich delivers a powerhouse performance as Rosie. Her vulnerability and power alike are what drive the plot. Watching her journey is as exciting as it is disturbing. Underneath the story itself is a much more uncomfortable truth the audience has to reckon with than the ones Rosie faces along the way.
Some viewers might take Pirozek’s film as having a message about the dangers of becoming too paranoid in the #MeToo age. The real message is that the paranoia has developed because women don’t feel safe— online or otherwise— and if we, as a society, don’t do what’s necessary to protect them, can we genuinely blame a woman for taking action herself? Father Gore says no.
“Things don’t always look the way they are…”
Youth’s challenges in 2019 are much different even from Father Gore’s generation, when the internet was just becoming a thing and social media, as we know it now, was nowhere near what it is today (remember ICQ?). Kids today are growing up online. They experience complex aspects of life— love, sex, bullying, racism, sexism, misogyny, transphobia, so on— through a digital landscape riddled with so many problematic and downright dangerous elements. To a degree, the online world is a space in which kids can exist wholly separate from the rules and surveillance of parental authority. It figuratively allows kids to be grown up, without having to actually be old enough to do grown up things.
Worse, we’re leaving them less than prepared for this existence.
Paranoia comes out in a couple different ways throughout #Like. The first concerns online anonymity, and the inherent paranoid feelings it evokes. You can be anybody you want online. If you know how to guard yourself, your true identity can be invisible. Predators are lurking everywhere online. The scariest part being who they are offline and how they can lurk undetected in our lives. These predators can be people we know. They can be people in authority, in positions of communal trust. They’re neighbours, fathers, brothers, uncles. When online anonymity is paired with the fallibility of youth, it gets even more dangerous. Young people are already vulnerable, not knowing how to navigate social relationships / situations, only more difficult when they have to learn this online. Like the rest of their lives, it’s a steep learning curve.
Rosie, as well as her friends, aren’t presented as perfect people, which is a benefit. Some films avoid making their protagonist / other sympathetic characters imperfect. By doing so, this can take away a screenplay’s realism. It’s important when dealing with women’s issues and feminism for writers to ensure they present their female characters in a realistic light. Pirozek does the story justice by not insisting on portraying Rosie as an infallible, perfect young woman. The most perceptive instance here touches on both rape culture and toxic masculinity in a couple different scenes.
In one scene, Rosie and her two girlfriends are hanging out, getting high, and drinking while her mom’s away. One of them makes a rape joke. Although Rosie takes offence, she and the girls shortly thereafter engage in a brief conversation about their confusion over how you can “rape a guy.” One of the girls doesn’t seem to comprehend that it could ever happen. Another scene features Rosie teasing Rory (Dakota Lustick) about his name, telling him it’s “kind of a girl‘s name.” While Rosie deals with rape culture / toxic masculinity in the overall plot, she, and her friends, illustrate how these things aren’t only perpetuated by men. Girls and women can contribute to it, too. Nobody’s perfect.
#Like deals with how young people online are left to their own devices— pardon the bad pun. They’re left without certain legal protection in regards to online bullying / exploitation. Further than that, girls and women are the most vulnerable to being exploited sexually on the internet. Not only is online anonymity a barrier to the real identity of male harassers(etc), the justice system itself is many times a barrier, too. The lack of the law’s understanding re: online issues is terrifying. The further online tech moves forward, the less prepared we are as a society to alter, and grow, our sense of ethics in accordance with its evolution.
The law’s already got endless issues with how it treats women, routinely failing victims of assault and rape(etc). Danger doubles for women online. It’s hard enough for a woman to get justice offline. It’s exponentially difficult when the internet’s nebulousness plays a part. Among other things, Pirozek’s film explores the difficult space the internet / legal system put women in when it comes to exploitation.
Yet if the internet’s taken out of the equation, the ugly behaviour of men remains.
In the end, the viewer learns Rosie hasn’t found the correct man who drove her sister to suicide. She’s left concerned about her own morality and tortured by the fact the real guy’s out there somewhere escaping judgement. Certain viewers might see this is a warning, that quick assumptions of guilt in the court of public opinion can lead to horrible consequences. Father Gore believes a significant scene earlier— Rosie’s interrogation of the Man (Marc Menchaca) she’s chained up in a derelict bomb shelter— actually speaks volumes more than Rosie blaming the wrong man.
The interrogation scene is, for all intents and purposes, the questioning of men as a whole. Rosie interrogates the Man— who’s left unnamed, symbolic in and of itself— about misogyny, sexism, toxic masculinity, and rape culture. He won’t really answer many of her questions, choosing silence over denial (except when it comes to Amelia’s suicide). The compelling part of the interrogation is when Rosie offers him a warm blanket in exchange for a story about either the worst thing he’s ever done or the worst thing that’s ever happened to him. He tells Rosie about when he was young and his girlfriend was exploited by a male photographer who convinced her to take naked pictures then put them in a magazine (notice the Man never says “we” were underage, only that his girlfriend was underage at the time). What should be the story of a girl’s exploitation is framed by the Man as the worst day of HIS life. This illustrates male selfishness and how many men view women: as secondary players in their own lives, supporting roles to the lead performance of men.
Also, the Man’s closely related to Rory, likely his father, or an uncle. Rory’s borderline rapist behaviour towards Rosie suggests he’s learning all the worst things from his male role model(s). The Man may not be guilty of driving Amelia to killing herself. That doesn’t mean he isn’t guilty of treating women terribly and contributing to unhealthy male attitudes towards women, passing down his faults to the next generation. His interrogation and Rory’s brief scene of near sexual violence are important moments. They drive home the uneasy truth that even if men aren’t out there committing assault and rape, it doesn’t mean they’re innocent, either.
If #Like had a thesis statement it’d come near the end. After Rosie’s situation devolves into a mess, she finds the Man gone. She dumps his truck and goes home. On the way, she sees a man pass by in a car. She stares at him as he stares back. She’s realising the man who pushed her sister to suicide could be anybody— a digital ghost floating out there in the real world. She’s left with torturous uncertainty and gets no resolution. But, as mentioned before, the film isn’t saying men are danger from women making false accusations. Not at all.
For one, Pirozek points out the law’s limitations. The justice system’s largely ignorant to the grey areas of not only consent and other sex-related issues, it’s ill-equipped to protect women from the dangers they face online. Pirozek’s main focus is on illustrating just how dangerous the world is for young girls and women. They live in a constant state of fear and paranoia, unsure which men are genuine allies and which are monstrous underneath their carefully cultivated nice guy facade.
When a patriarchal society, shaped in so many ways to insulate men from their own hideous behaviour, fails women, women have to take action in their own ways outside the law’s strict parameters / ‘accepted’ social structure(s). This is why movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up have come into being— because they had to. They’re responses to the law’s systematic failure and society’s exploitation of women. And they’re not perfect movements at times, neither should we expect perfection.
#Like attempts to break down the idea that women have to be perfect to be worthy of justice. Simultaneously, the film tries to demonstrate all the difficult positions we put women in by leaving them susceptible to the worst, ugliest male behaviour. We don’t make the online world safe enough for women. Neither do we make our general culture safe for them. Until we’re able to, women will do what it takes to protect themselves, individually / collectively, and men, along with society, will have to accept the consequences, one way or another.