User Not Found at Dante or Die Online
We’re often told that what we put online will be around forever; that each of our internet footprints will outlive us all, leaving a lasting impression for decades to come. Indeed, soon, the amount of “dead” Facebook accounts will outnumber the living – the internet will become an important lens in examining those who have passed. However, the majority of media surrounding this issue focuses on the science of it all rather than the emotional implications: we’re shown how it could happen rather than how it will affect us. Luckily, Dante or Die’s new video podcast, User Not Found, tackles this idea head-on, illustrating how the act of remembering can be far more painful than the loss itself.
Adapted from the company’s 2019 live show of the same name, User Not Found places the viewer into the phone of Terry, a young man who’s just suffered a sudden and terrible loss. The podcast, told completely through the medium of Terry’s narration and his phone screen, examines how having access to someone’s social media can prolong the pain and asks us a difficult question: is it better just to let them go?
At its core, the show is a beautiful take on this well-trod genre. It’s the subject matter of Black Mirror’s “The Entire History of You” with the tone and sensibilities of Duncan MacMillan’s Every Brilliant Thing: a timely exploration of what it means to remember someone through their digital presence, with a bittersweet and sombre outlook. As Terry grapples with guilt, anger and recovery, the viewer languishes with him, engulfed in the depth of his feelings.
Moreover, interestingly, we’re never really introduced to the person who has passed, meaning it’s Terry’s pain that hits us, not the death of his loved one. It’s a nominal but important distinction: the impetus isn’t on the lost to choose how they’re remembered, but on the bereaved to decide how to remember them. After all, our loved ones don’t have the option to deactivate their Instagram after they’re gone – it’s up to those left behind to determine how to engage with what’s leftover. It’s in these subtle ambiguities that director Daphna Attias thrives, weaving a complex and beautiful depiction of modern loss.
If there’s a single stand-out of the piece, its Yaniv Fridel’s sound design: the balance between moments of empty ambience and perfervid, pulsing music is incredible, and it’s the strongest tool in Attias’ arsenal. Conversely, if there’s a weak point, its that some sections do drag. Perhaps the poetic passages work better when performed in-person (like the original 2019 production), but as a simple voice-in-your-ear, the lengthy monologues become a bit repetitive and verbose – it almost feels as if we’re missing a key feature of Terry O’Donovan’s otherwise phenomenal performance. Nevertheless, User Not Found is a rare treat that juxtaposes the philosophical with the moving, creating a piece that very much deserves to be seen and lived.