When we see someone through the eyes of the internet, we look at life through a developed persona. Sure, not all of us spewing a stream of consciousness into the internet are influencers, creating caricatures of ourselves to be looked up to, but we are all filters for what our digital worlds see of our lives. When we reveal our pain or our longing to this world, it is limited to an easily digestible, relatable broadness, where the impersonal intimacy allows us to feel connected without commitment. What goes online is an odd mixture of sentiments, we blend philosophical musings on our mental states with tiny details of our likes and dislikes, and mundane details of the day.
Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit‘s Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy is based on a series of over four hundred tweets from an anonymous girl. Their meanings are taken literally, and stitched together into a hypothetical narrative of contemporary teenage life. A high school senior is on the cusp of the world, a world that’s never felt so lonely before. Mary (Patcha Poonpiriya) is seventeen, spending the final days of high school with her best friend Suri (Chonnikan Netjui) fixated on a boy and taking photos for a strangely ambitious yearbook. Mary struggles with her emotions as she feels she has no control over her life, as the events within it never quite feel connected to her.
“I want to take pretty pictures of ugly things” the young girl says. What is presented to the world in these ways is often just the pretty picture, and even when bits of ugliness are revealed they are always limited, filtered in a way that makes them digestible. The film is often a pastel pink filtered version of reality even when Mary is feeling her lowest, because what goes online is diluted down to the aesthetics, in hopes of being loved for an image made of oneself.
Lives are divided by statements, tweets intercut within the film to signal the start of the next chapter. What never makes it into Twitter is unknown, and this life put online is often fragmented, so Mary’s life on-screen is similarly so, the random events in her life making her feel as if it has spiraled out of control. A tweet about stealing cake is reflected exactly as that,
“From a health education book, I read that a hug was a kind of exercise” in another tweet. From a young age, we take in these sentiments that as we grow, we must detach ourselves from emotion. That tender physicality is seen as childish, we hardly touch outside romance as we grow. Touch becomes a chore, and though we are trained to lose our dependency, do we ever really lose it? Entering those wistful days of teen rebellion and recentering is often hailed as the landmark, but the sadder side of things is leaving it. The end of school, thrown out into the world for real is ominous, no cushion or hand to hold, just young kids panicking in the inevitability of change. There’s a freedom in youth, where so much can go unpunished for the sake of a learning experience, when there’s still so much of life to learn from even when this time is up.
“If we could practice our feelings, today I practice happiness” is an incredibly self aware statement. Perhaps we are bound by illusion, bound by forcing a smile and playing a game with our own tumultuous feelings during these waning teenage years. We repeat statements in our heads over and over, hoping someday we can believe ourselves. Practicing feelings sounds like a strange concept, but really, the act of faking a smile, or rehearsing anything to give the illusion of comfort is just that.
“Reality loves dreams, but dreams don’t know. That’s why life is somewhere in between” is what the film is. It’s a merging of the reality from which it is pulled, and the dreamy randomization that comes with not fictionalizing the story that connects these fragments of a life. Dreams are often what we show the world, a reflection of what we are into what we wish to be. Cyberspace is easier to embody these dreams, and our reality is distorted when these dreams are reflected back onto our real lives. The film never portrays what the real Mary’s life would be like, because no one knows. It is a portrayal of what the face Mary puts out to the internet may be living like, so it is disjointed, only the highlights and deeper emotions of what she may really be experiencing.
“Alone” is the final stage of growing up. That independence we learn is to isolate, to grow apart and struggle to reform connections as we change. The friends we make young will someday drift apart, or perhaps parts of our lives we cannot share with them, and all we have is the faceless words coming back on a screen.
All these tweets are so universal, none directly reference any detail of Mary’s life in their presence or their explanation. These are universal words of growing up, one seventeen year old Thai girl could be any in this time. She could be any of us, the 401 tweets pulled not just for the tiny insights into her life, but for the sentiments this anonymous girl shares that go far beyond just her life.
Mary likes Wong Kar-Wai, and romanticizes living in his night light romance cities. Mary fantasizes about America, and idolizes what Obama is doing. Mary thinks the world is beautiful.
Mary is happy. Wait, is Mary happy?
No, Mary is Happy, she must be, she must be if she says she is.
That loneliness, that longing, that uncertainty- that can’t be all. She must know, she must know and understand and this is all just a persona to relate to. If she’s all of us, then why is she saddened by the world. Shouldn’t it be that most of us are content? If she repeats these words to herself they must be true!
Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy…