Okay, Searching honestly blew my mind. It probably won’t win any awards because it’s not pretty enough and there aren’t enough philosophical dialogue scenes, but this movie is innovative in both form and content. When I first saw the commercial for it in the theater this summer, I thought, “Wow, that movie is going to be stupid and awful.” I thought it’d try too hard to artificially stay constrained to the computer screen, or at least it’d get preachy about some statement about our addiction to technology, or at the very least there’d be too much reading text and not enough action.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. First and foremost, Searching is an on-the-edge-of-your-seat white-knuckled thriller. Several times during the movie I heard the girl next to me say, “No way, no way no way, holy cow, no way.” At one point she even declared angrily, “She’s not dead!” Searching is a wonderful movie that blends its story into its form—all the action confined to computer screens—so well that by the end of it I couldn’t separate the two in my head.
Searching convinced me that the movie couldn’t tell its story any other way than through computer screens. It never felt arbitrary or like a gimmick. In fact, by the end, the computer and technological aspects of the film felt as human and illuminating to the humanity of the characters as the form of any typically-shot short film.
The plot of the movie follows the very human (and potentially overdone—I’m thinking of Taken and the eight thousand Taken sequels and spin-offs) story of a father trying to find out what happened to his missing daughter. The innovative thing about the movie is that such a hackneyed story is made fresh by the fact that all the action, backstory, dialogue, everything, is revealed in a natural way through the computer screens. We jump from the original old Windows-running family computer to the father’s newer computer to the daughter’s computer. Through design choices and search history and the way each character interacts with technology (though almost everything we see is controlled by the father) we find out everyone’s personality. We find out with a few clicks of the mouse all about the family dynamics of this particular family. We live in the moment as the father discovers clues to his daughter’s disappearance. The suspense is powerful in this film, and the immediacy and emotional involvement—at least for me—was so great that it felt physically draining.
There have been movies before that tried to do new stuff with digital technology and screens, and it makes sense that our narratives draw towards those themes and forms considering how much of our lives we now spend in front of a computer (or at least in front of a screen). But I think Searching did a better job than any of them at framing its story on a real-world-grounded scenario and the very human (however hackneyed) struggle of a dad trying to protect his daughter.
And Searching also does a good job of having depth and deep messages without being over-the-top preachy. It never turns into a doomsday prophet, warning about the evils of too much screentime. Yet by the end, the message is clear—spend more actual time with the person and people you love. Because although sometimes it feels like you can find out everything about a person through the internet, no amount of Google searches will let you truly get to know a person.
Please, please go watch this movie. It’s fascinating and innovative, and I don’t know how well it’s going to age—but in its immediate context, it’s extremely powerful.
Happy screening! (But, according to the message of this movie, not too much.)