“Go back to sleep”, says Katie, and the response she gets is, “now I am awake”. Those are the two lines that stuck with me the most from White Lie and are the two I choose to describe the film. White Lie is a 2019 film by directors Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis telling the tale of a girl who supposedly has cancer and spends all her waking hours trying to raise money for both her case and charities, except that it is not true, she does not have cancer and it is all built on a big, not-so-white lie.
The plot of the film sounds so simple but the truth is, nobody ever attempts films like these. This unorthodox story and the directors’ way of capturing it resulted in one of the truest, most intense and most uncomfortable films you’ll see this year.
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White Lie opens with a shot of protagonist Katie shaving her head to either keep up with the image of the cancer fighter she had created earlier or to start it, then we get a look at the world she lives in at school and online, a world where she is a hero bravely resisting this malicious disease, and trying to help others like her meanwhile, a world where she has become a mini-celebrity of sorts, taking pictures with fans and giving them a few minutes of her time before she moves on to others, but this whole play is just that, a play.
As the play’s plot holes begin to unravel, and as some uninvited characters enter the scene, Katie finds it hard to keep up with the lie she started and consequently tries everything she can to keep the truth from spreading.
White Lie’s main theme is the truth and its value in social media, and how thousands of people’s affection or hatred can be manipulated easily, and how it can be manipulated by truth, or at least some twisted form of it, as well as by fabricated lies. Katie’s supporters would have been just as supportive if she actually had cancer, and would have abandoned her just the same even if she actually did have cancer and somebody told them she didn’t.
Social media is a world where truth takes another form and another meaning, whatever our own individual definitions of truth maybe, I think we can all agree that in the virtual world, truth is really just a rewording of “trends”. White Lie treats many other themes that have strong relevance in our modern world, the most important of which is our contemporary definition of morality, and if there is even such a thing as morality. Were Katie’s acts “wrong”? Well, that is up for each individual to decide, and that is shown throughout the film, as she interacts with people who oppose her and her deeds, and with people who actually aid her.
As mentioned above, I found the film extremely distressing, that maybe thanks to the lead actress’ incredibly powerful performance, the directors’ method of capturing this already-uncomfortable story, with shots that portray both Katie’s public innocent persona and her frighteningly evil side, and a horror-like noisy score, or simply because the film is too honest, and nothing is ever too honest, it may be because this film truly captures this virtual world we all found ourselves in and just how perverse it can be.
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White Lie sends a powerful message, in the age of social media, there are no such things as truth or morality, and even old familiar notions like family and love become hazy, and trust is no more. It captures this idea in an awfully blunt and distressing way which results in a true but very uncomfortable watch, and for me, that is a film worth seeing.