Director: Jonathan Green
Runtime: 87 minutes
Social Animals is an observational documentary about the “Instagram Generation,” the young people in their early teens who use Facebook’s photo sharing app as their primary social media platform. Primarily, the film spends time with three archetypes of the generation, a would-be Kardashian, a daredevil landscape photographer, and a “girl next door” who has been terrorized by social media bullying in her high school. Interspersed with these profiles as sort-of chapter breaks are a series of montage interviews – both profound and hysterical – that feature a handful of unnamed kids about the place of Instagram in their lives and serves as a more moderate perspective on the platform than those provided by the three main profiles.
The would-be Kardashian is Kaylyn Slevin (@kaylynslevin), from Calabasas, California. She has amassed half a million followers by posting photos of her glamorous life and by hiring famous fashion photographers to augment her account. She also employs a brand manager. She appears to be genuinely superficial, though she also has a keen marketing mind, no doubt thanks to her car dealership-owning father, who, at one point proclaims – hilariously and revealingly – that his daughter is “an emerging market.”
The daredevil is Humza Deas (@humzadeas), a New York City-born skateboarder turned photographer who built his profile by posting images on Instagram of himself on top and on the edge of New York City bridges and buildings – mostly accessed illegally. His skills have landed him lucrative gigs working for major brands like Nike and BMW, but his success has also poisoned his reputation among the fierce community of urban explorers who now see him as a sell-out, threatening his livelihood and life in the process. His is a story of rags-to-riches but also of success to social alienation.
The final profile is of Emma Crockett, the “girl next door” in Ohio, who, after starting a dating relationship with a fellow classmate on Instagram and then breaking up the same way, faced immense bullying among her social group. Her story is tragic, mostly, but it also demonstrates the life that can be found off-line when a teenager has a good support system around her. If Kaylyn and Humza showcase the heights of an Instagrammed life, Emma brings everything home.
It’s tempting to judge these kids for being too focused on the image they present to the world. But Social Animals doesn’t condemn them. Rather, the filmmakers simply spend time with them and try to understand the place of Instagram in their lives and how it is affecting them in good and bad ways. Social Animals is like a conversation with a bunch of kids, but the camera just listens and lets them talk. It’s an invitation to the audience to do the same with the kids around them.
As Social Animals continues, one thing becomes clear – for all the ways Instagram allows someone to filter and frame their life, it can’t help but also be truly revelatory. What we choose to show and not show discloses who we are and what we value.
If, like Kaylyn, we’re modeling ourselves after the Kardashians and trying to become “an emerging market,” then we’re also revealing that we center our sense of worth in our appearance. When we defy death by hanging our feet over the edge of skyscrapers like Humza, we’re also demonstrating how disconnected we feel from the world far below and how alone we are. And if, like Emma, we disappear from the platform entirely, maybe we’re trying to disappear from life or maybe we found something better to do. Social Animals reminds us that the truth is in the images and it permeates beyond them. It’s up to us to pay attention.
Written by – Elijah Davidson