Netflix’s recent thriller You has been gripping viewers as tightly as Joe Goldberg’s hold on the underwear of women he barely knows. However, the edge-of-your-seat drama is far more complicated than a simple psychopath stalker narrative. The show has attracted significant controversy from viewers and critics alike. What is it about this show that takes such a firm hold on the imagination?
In a word – conflict. Like it or not, when watching this show you will at one point be rooting for an obsessive serial killer. And no, it isn’t because of Penn Badgley’s cheekbones as Twitter would have us believe. No, it is because everything about You is a manipulation of the way we romanticise obsession, particularly when it comes to love.
On paper, Joe Goldberg is the dream man. He is caring. Unselfish. He makes us laugh. He listens. However, he is also a stalker: he tracks every movement of his target Beck on social media, he follows her through parks, he masturbates outside her window. Yet we are reluctant to immediately dismiss him as a freak. For some reason, Joe is more complicated than that.
In reality, this is not because of Joe’s character at all. Joe is a creep. The reason the show inspires conflict within our confused millennial minds is because the show is less of an American Psycho style murder spree and more of a bitter satire on romantic comedy tropes. The thing that makes Joe so terrifying is that his interior monologue reaffirms everything women are told to admire in men. Like the books he cares for so deeply in his…book cage… Joe believes his girlfriends need his constant and suffocating protection. Lines such as “when we’re together, I’ll cook for you every day” lose their clichéd sickly sweetness when narrated by Joe as he invades her privacy on every conceivable level. The way rom-coms have taught us to admire the man-who-will-look-after-us throws into question problematic depictions of ideal relationships in all our favourite films.
The sweet-sinister vibe is masterfully constructed not just through the voice-over, but even the way the show is shot. A dark shadow is thrown over all of our favourite rom-com conceits: the opening pan over the New York skyline, the camera zoom on their first kiss, the warm sunset quality of the light, the classic whimsical music. And so on. You is jarring as it challenges the very notion of what we believe to be love on television and what we know to be true in real life. The recognisable tropes play with our expectations of both thrillers and romance narratives, helping to set the show aside as a truly unique exploration of love gone too far.
The idealising of obsession is a problematic area deserving of attention in the #MeToo era. A moonlit serenade is Shakespearean from your lover – or harassment from your stalker. What makes the thriller so disturbing is that Joe is not an othered, monstrous freak who likes to lock up girls for fun. He genuinely falls in love – far too hard. This is not a show about a creepy basement murderer but rather the all-consuming power of love on an obsessive mind. It is truly a show for our times.
Image Credit: Gordon Correll via Flickr