TFW NO GF
Director: Alex Lee Moyer
Genres: Arthouse Documentary, Special Interest
“You don’t feel like it’s a habit. It just kind of becomes something you do, and you kind of wonder what you did before.”
“I’ve been online so long. It’s just a part of me.”
By worldly perceptions, Charels and Viddy have plenty going for them. These brothers are white young men born in the U.S. They aren’t bad looking and seem fairly intelligent. But these two are not living their best 20-something lives. Most of their time is spent wallowing in self-pity and cynicism with a community of like-minded souls online. “Wallowing” is the word that Charels and Viddy used several times when discussing the motivation for their online habits. It suggests a kind of pleasure in sinking as low as possible when you’re drowning without hope of recovery. Like the other young men interviewed in the documentary TFW No GF (2020), Charels and Viddy have deeply haunted eyes, and their demeanor is ashamed yet eerily apathetic.
TFW No GF explores the lives of several individuals behind the notorious aspects of a strange online world. It’s a culture in which men who believe themselves incapable of finding romantic companionship gather to support each other. Lack of romantic success does not cover the broader state of being that brings them together, however. It’s a sense of being forgotten by the world and of feeling lost and directionless. They feed off of each other’s discontent with memes, inside language and jokes, and cultivating a politically incorrect sense of humor.
According to this mindset, any attention is good attention. Being censored and rebuked online is part of the fun. This disturbing online trend that emerged in recent years is associated with the misogyny and racism of the alt-right and Gamergate. A hallmark of modern fears is the stereotype of a disaffected young white male whose mental illness drives him to violence.
TFW No GF leaves us with the bold implication that the young men in this culture (sometimes known as “incels,” although the word is only used a few times in the film) are not so different from the rest of us. This powerful documentary humanizes these individuals without excusing their culture. The content of the documentary is limited to interviews with no outside commentary, making the film all the more powerful and haunting. Behind the online personas, are deeply lonely individuals desperate for empathy and community — desperate to be seen. They express frustrations that, as young white men, they are not always allowed to say what they really think. They feel pressured to constantly apologize and are afraid of being criticized for talking about their personal struggles.
TFW No GF dispels the myth that this culture is necessarily violent and dangerous. These young men are lonely, lost, and bored out of their minds. I was struck by how much the theme of boredom permeated the personal accounts of the interviewees. “Trolling” might be a joke with no other goal than personal amusement to kill time. At some point, however, when do you become the person you pretend to be? The interviewees seemed to ask themselves this question, though never conclusively answered it.
I believe this film is immensely important for our divisive times. In our polarizing political climate, we cast those outside of our moral code as monsters, as beyond humanity. We fear them and make every effort to prove how much better we are. We forget that those who live in despair pose a greater danger to themselves than to anyone else. It is for our own good that we set aside these well-intentioned dispositions to see the humanity in each other.