[Fantasia 2020] THE COLUMNIST Review: A Wildly Entertaining Cautionary Tale for the Internet Age

By: Emily von Seele

You know those assholes on the internet — the trolls and the griefers and the dickbags whose only purpose in life is to make other people miserable by shitting on everything? Yeah, we all know them. And if you’re a woman on the Internet, then you are intimately aware. The comments, accusations, and remarks about our work, how we look, and anything else they come up with between massive helpings of Cheetos and a few conversations with their mom, who, for the love of god, wants them to move the hell out of her garage so that she can have some semblance of a life now that she has finished raising this piece of shit. Yeah, them. This movie is about what happens when someone finally pushes back.

Femke (Katja Herbers) is a writer who faces massive criticism online every day. From her controversial opinions (like how maybe it’s time for the Netherlands to retire the very racist character of Black Pete) to her physical appearance to just about any detail they can get their hands on, her detractors are beyond vicious.

She wonders what we have all wondered time and time again: “Why can’t we have different opinions and be civil about it?” In theory, it shouldn’t be that difficult to express oneself without making scathing remarks and wishing someone else dead, but in practice, it strangely seems impossible. To make matters worse, anyone can become a ruthless monster behind the safety of the keyboard — the mild-mannered gentleman next door, the seemingly harmless teenager, or anyone else you might cross paths with on the street.

As online harassment becomes a part of Femke’s daily life, it begins eating away at her. It takes over her every thought and prevents her from focusing on her work. Naturally, everyone has an opinion on how she could be handling the situation better. Her friend tells her that if it’s really as bad as she says, she should report it to the police. The police laugh it off and tell her that it’s the internet, it’s not real life.

Eventually, the harassment becomes so much that Femke finally snaps — she begins hunting down her most vile instigators on social media and dealing out her own brand of justice.

At first, it gives her exactly what she needs: freedom and release from the long shadow cast over her existence by the online mob. You know the feeling; it becomes stifling. You’re afraid to make a single move or post anything for fear of what some asshole might say. But for Femke, that fear dissipates for a time. She is once again happy and comfortable and able to think and work with ease. But then she makes the mistake that we all eventually make — she starts reading the comments.

In The Columnist, director Ivo van Aart and writer Daan Windhorst tackle a topic that is very real and relevant to our modern life, examining a lot of the big questions that come along with it. In a society that values free speech, is there a line where that speech becomes inappropriate? Where is the balance between freedom of expression and personal harassment? Is it possible to provide a platform where people of differing opinions can be trusted to co-exist peacefully?

This film examines these questions in a way that is thoughtful, while also darkly funny and occasionally shocking. Whatever your feelings on internet culture, it’s impossible to not root for Femke as she takes matters into her own hands and does what we have all dreamed of doing at least once.

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