Searching: Layers of identity in the Digital Age

One of my most recent watches on Netflix was a film called Searching (2018). The film follows protagonist David Kim (John Cho) as he experiences every parent’s worst fear – their child going missing. Throughout the film he plays detective and partners with the police in order to find the truth and try and bring his daughter home. I remember wanting to watch this when it first came out but (annoyingly) it wasn’t showing at as many cinemas near me as I would have liked. And when it did it would be showing at weird times like 10pm and who is honestly going to the cinema at that time?!

Do we ever truly know someone?

This is a question I found hanging in the air as many thoughts passed through my mind as I watched Searching. Although I myself am not a parent I could imagine it is something many parents themselves wonder about their children, particularly in the day and age we live in. Social media means many people can carefully select the side of themselves they want exposed to their followers/ those that admire them. If you have watched the Netflix series One Day at a Time the mother of the family it chronicles in one episode discovers that her son has what is known as a ‘Finsta’ – a fake Instagram account specifically created to cater to the prying eyes of parents who love to monitor their child(ren)’s social media. This is not the case in Searching but it is a demonstration of in-authenticity that social media enables and how users can manipulate how they’re seen in followers’ eyes at will.

One thing that is the case for David though is that he discovers – devastatingly so – that he never really knew Margot, his only child. I can only imagine that such a discovery would be a shock to the system of a parent; it brings into question trust, arouses fear and often threatens the very foundation of a maternal or paternal relationship. David’s daughter, Margot is a loner who often eats lunch alone and fails to associate with a group of friends. This unfortunately creates much difficulty in David’s investigation since he is unable to find any close friends that would know details about Margot’s whereabouts. Many dead ends occur and as a viewer you can feel David’s bubbling frustration as well as the thought lurking somewhere in the back of his mind – that she may no longer be alive. It is evident that part of the reason for the disconnect between David and Margot is maybe generational. David, as a parent from a previous generation is slightly in the dark about the availability of social media forums. At one point he’s led to his daughter’s tumbler and reacts in a way that shows he’s never heard the platform’s name in his life. This gap in knowledge may be frustrating for parents once they know it’s there but many children actually find it beneficial.

David desperately looking through Margot’s Facebook friend’s to find a lead on where she is.

Keeping to the theme of truly knowing someone, no one is who they seem in this theme which leaves room for several plot twists at the end of this film. Since Margot is a loner it means that the film cleverly avoids the solid formula of a whodunit. This is simply because the pool of people to suspect is so small that the possibility of stranger being involved almost makes more sense. It also means we see David reach several dead ends in his self-fuelled investigation to find her.

Interestingly, a significant proportion of the film takes place online. We are given all round access as David, for example attempts to log into his daughter’s social media, FaceTimes various contacts and uses google maps to access a location he wants to visit. I’m personally a low-key fan of tech interactions being shown on screen – i.e. seeing texts on screen between characters. It creates a transparency that I appreciate and helps to avoid any confusion or misunderstandings within the storyline. Of course, I can understand the devil’s advocate position may be that it doesn’t leave room perhaps for interpretation. Nevertheless, it means we’re learning information in real time along with David himself as he discovers information. The only thing I found slightly unrealistic was that David was able to access somehow to his daughter’s social media. Something tells me that most parents wouldn’t find it that easy or even succeed at all if the situation required for them to access their child’s social media accounts. Especially if they’re as close to their child as David is to Margot (which is not at all.)

I’m not too sure about the ending since I think I saw part of it coming. I wouldn’t outright call it ‘bad’ but there is definitely room for improvement. Overall, I enjoyed the film; there’s enough going on for you to stay gripped and guessing – just not till the end since you’ll likely see that coming before you reach it.

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