Growing up on the internet, there is both a comfort and a lurking threat. There is that comfort of finding someone who will listen there, that wealth of information, and seeing a likemindedness in traits you can’t always put into words. Then there’s this threat. It’s got a bitter metallic taste, a seedier underbelly of the community found. It’s the eyes peering through a webcam, watching for too long, a little too anonymous, and it’s conversations with strangers getting darker when you’re too young to understand the questions asked. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a dm about that young impressionability, and the realizations that brew from this forced computerized coming of age.
Count to ten, and repeat after me: I want to go to the world’s fair. Do it three times, and meet eyes with the little red dot at the top of your screen. This will take you to a place of paranoia, somewhere rumoured to bring nightmares to life, and to let you walk between dreams. Around the early 2010s, creepypasta blew up the internet, horror stories spread like a virus like young people online, rumors of stretched out men who kill in the forest, and darkened Nintendo characters whispered about and doodled in notebook margins. This was my generation’s horror education, not raised on late night Freddy vs. Jason re-runs, but on tall-tales from web forums preached over cafeteria tables after gym class. This world’s fair is one of these, a cyber-nightmare that gets its power through reputation.
This world’s fair is a bazaar of digital wonders, digital market stalls advertising bodies and lives to envy, then watch crumble. Casey sees a wave of hyper-feminized caricatures all playing the same game as her, whether they’re goalposts or a resentment is left up to us
What’s important in reading this is that director Jane Schoenbrun has explicitly intended this to be a trans film. The subtext of Casey’s out of body experiences with the game, her relationship to her body and the way men on the internet interact with her, as well as how she invents a personal for her small audience are a specifically trans idea, whether knowing yet or not, of growing up online. Though the “movie monster” is that more universal creepypasta-like internet entity, this is a film about how that constant digital surveillance pressures every awkward interaction with the constraints of gender, and it’s important to recognize that.
Though so much of Casey’s experience equates to a transfemme experience, whether it be scrolling through these videos of women playing the game with a distant envy, or her conversations with strange men on the internet who see a different side of her, as they say, it’s hard not to view the film through a transmasc lens as well, albeit a less realized one for Casey. Nights wandered to her father’s shed, possibly a revelation in a traditionally masculine space, and a conviction to reject much of the delicate conformities of femininity as her mental state further falls victim to the game push for this genderlessness of the experience, that had made me wonder initially if this was a film about a boy who hadn’t come around to that possibly at all yet.
The important part here is places like Casey’s destruction of a beloved stuffed animal in a feverish webcam video, rejecting childhood defiantly despite acknowledging its comforts. The androgynous name points to an idea that this is perhaps a film that is more about dysphoria abstractly than a concrete narrative of realization. This isn’t a clear-cut narrative of coming out, or coming into oneself, it’s a film about a more universal realization that this relationship to one’s body, held at arm’s length, and this feeling that being viewed by others isn’t real, that they’re watching others, is a uniquely dysphoric experience.
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair succeeds because it doesn’t spell things out. Different people are going to take away different things from the film. A parent will see Casey differently than a trans teenager or a twenty-something who grew up in the heyday of the less regulated internet. The dreamy Alex G score, and live vlogs when Casey leaves the world’s fair of the internet to wander and dissociate through the world hold the film just enough in common watchability, though it is well cemented in a new cyber-experimental canon. Jane Schoenbrun has created one of the most fascinating (and in my viewing deeply unsettling, and left me with much reflection on myself to do) depictions of deep internet culture in a time where we have an open dialogue about our relation to gender, and the end result is timely without feeling like it will date with specific references.