Sundance 2020: Arthur Jones' Exceptional Doc Film 'Feels Good Man'
by Alex Billington
February 8, 2020
This is the wacky, weird, wild story of a goofy cartoon frog that became an anti-hero meme in the age of the internet. Feels Good Man is much more than a documentary about "Pepe the Frog". It's a documentary about this dangerous modern society we now live in, and how things have gotten seriously out of hand. It's a documentary about the internet, and how it has allowed billions of people to take control over anything they want, twisting stories and hijacking ideas to suit their own desires, their own ideologies. It's about how you "can't put the genie back in the bottle." It's about how hard it is to fight back against mob mentality fueled by the internet, and how hard it is to defend yourself since we seem to have reverted to the wild west online. Feels Good Man is, without a doubt, one of the best documentaries from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Feels Good Man is indeed a documentary about "Pepe the Frog", the internet meme and the cartoon, and its creator Matt Furie. It's a fantastic film that takes a seriously deep dive into our modern world, specifically the internet and all the billions of users, and how some of them co-opted Pepe for their own nefarious use. For those that don't know, Pepe the Frog is a meme that, while originally just a cartoon character, became the symbol of conservatives and white supremacists mostly based on 4chan. The original Pepe character was created by the humble, spunky, nerdy cartoonist Matt Furie in 2005. He was part of the "Boy's Club", which was also the name of the comic book he was in. Furie published the comic book to his MySpace in 2005, and eventually one frame specifically ended up being the reference for the meme. The rest is history, as they say.
It isn't so easy to explain how this funny frog character was turned into an icon of hate, thankfully this doc does a fine job of taking us through everything. They go back to the beginning, the origins of the meme on 4chan, then follow it all the way through to present day. Feels Good Man director Arthur Jones deserves a great amount of respect for putting together such a detailed and fascinating film. Not only does he cover the history, but he remains as neutral as possible behind it all, providing multiple perspectives and important context. Matt Furie is in the film as one of the protagonists, but Jones also got a prominent 4chan user as a main character, too. He explains the 4chan boards and the history of Pepe and how these anonymous users expressed their feelings with the meme, and even had to fight off other users who tried to steal it from them.
One of the best parts of Feels Good Man is the animation used throughout. Jones and his filmmaking team hired an animation studio to create Pepe the Frog animated sequences, not necessarily to tell a story, but to add some visual flair to the film during moments that otherwise might be dull (voiceover and explanatory dialogue). This special Pepe animation made just for this doc, which appears often, enhances the cinematic nature of the film and adds an additional layer of visual storytelling. It's mesmerizing and kind of trippy, but also makes the film feel like a one-of-a-kind creation in the greater context of the Pepe the Frog legacy. And it identifies it as an official work, not a ripoff. Jones also uses extensive digital footage and screengrabs and other visual data to tell the story of Pepe and make it understandable & digestible to audiences of all kinds.
The best documentaries are the ones that not only educate and inform, but provoke and stimulate the mind. Feels Good Man is exactly one of those, an outstanding documentary that's intriguing and frightening, and challenges us to ask tough questions. To think beyond just a cartoon frog. Are we (or am I?) responsible for this? Did I help create a monster? Can the internet still be used for good? If we can't put the genie back in the bottle, how do we proceed? How do we solve big problems like this? What's next for the internet? How do we stop memes from being used in a bad way? Is there still a positive benefit to social media? These are just a few of the questions that came to mind while watching this doc, and there's no simple answer to any of them. But at least they're being asked, and at least it's a damn good film (and filmmaker) that's asking them.