There are still people who believe that people who are truly mentally ill don’t talk publicly about it and this movie helps cement this damaging idea in their minds.[TW: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR INGRID GOES WEST & DISCUSSES SUICIDE]
By Sarah Khan
When I saw the advert for Ingrid Goes West and saw that it starred two of my personal favourite actresses working today—Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen—I was damned excited to watch it. I did so last weekend and though I went in with a decent idea of what to expect from the film, the irresponsible and problematic ending ruined the entire experience for me.
Ingrid Goes West is the story of Ingrid Thorburn (Plaza), a 20-something woman who, since the death of her mother, has been developing unhealthy and one-sided obsessions with Instagram personalities. The movie opens with Ingrid spraying mace into the face of a bride, who happened to be someone Ingrid had been obsessively following on Instagram. The next few scenes show Ingrid in a mental health facility getting the help it’s obvious she needs and when she’s released (and regains possession of her iPhone), she returns home and falls back into her addiction to Instagram.
In a magazine, she reads about Taylor Sloane (Olsen), an LA-based artist who documents her enviable life through Instagram. Ingrid begins to follow her and after one interaction with Taylor via Instagram comments, Ingrid takes the substantial amount of money she inherited after her mother’s death and moves west to Los Angeles.
Once there, she spots Taylor at a local store and follows her home, then kidnaps her dog in order to meet Taylor and her husband, Ezra. Having successfully inserted herself into Taylor’s life with lies and manipulation, Ingrid’s new life is threatened by the arrival of Taylor’s brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen), who eventually exposes Ingrid leading to her being shunned by her so-called friends on whom she spies through the house next door, which she used the last of her money to purchase.
The second-last scene of the movie has Ingrid recording a suicide video to her followers expressing that she knows she’s sick but doesn’t know how to help herself before swallowing a bottle of pills. She falls asleep and when she wakes, she’s in hospital and it’s revealed to her that someone saw her video and called 911 in time to save her life. She then also finds out that her naked exposure of her true self-made her a viral hit and gained her thousands of new followers who leave words of encouragement for her.
In theory, this sounds like a pretty happy ending, and I’m sure that’s what co-writers Matt Spicer and David Brandon Smith intended. Instead, it only feeds into the rampant and hugely problematic belief that people who post things on social media do it just for the attention. While it’s true that there are people like Taylor Sloane who use social media to curate a persona for themselves that is often miles away from their true self, the movie and its ending implies that everyone is like that and—worse—that those who discuss their mental illness publicly are doing it for the follower count.
Ingrid had a fair number of followers before she exposed her true self and that number increased tenfold when she revealed she was suicidal. When she awakes in hospital and sees she’s become an Instagram celebrity in her own right, her expression is unreadable, but it’s safe to assume that, since she’s not received any help for her addiction to social media, she is likely to fall back into the same trap she’s fallen into twice as far as we the viewers know.
Ending the story on this note is highly problematic and very obviously implies that Ingrid now sees her mental illness not as something for which to seek help, but as a tool with which to entertain her fans. It also implies that Ingrid’s mental illness won’t be as much of an issue any longer since she now has a following of people who happily send her well wishes at the drop of a hat.
The implication that a person living with mental illness needs only the validation of a bunch of anonymous followers to feel better and go on with their lives is not only absurd but insulting as it downplays the seriousness of mental illness. The fact that suicide is handled in such a flippant way is not terribly surprising since suicide in has always been romanticized in movies, but it’s particularly troubling to see it handled so casually in this day and age, when more and more people are talking about living with mental illness, the effects of depression, and the stigma behind it.
Ingrid Goes West is a disservice mental health advocates who use social media to reach a broader audience since it only reinforces the incorrect and ignorant narrative that people only talk openly about mental illness to seek attention. There are still people who believe that people who are truly mentally ill don’t talk publicly about it and this movie helps cement this damaging idea in their minds when, in fact, the reality is that the stigma around mental illness that kept so many people silent about their battles is slowly being dismantled. That is a great thing to do, and movies like Ingrid Goes West that are irresponsible in how they present these issues are only hurdles in the way of an already difficult task.
Author Bio: Sarah Khan is a Toronto-based editor and writer, a Marxist of the Groucho tendency, and raging intersectional feminist killjoy. You can follow her on Twitter @sarathofkhan.