Feels Good, Man (2019) [Fantasia Festival 2020]

Director Arthur Jones’ documentary is probably one of the most important and depressing films of the last five years. It’s mainly a movie that doesn’t just touch upon the snowballing of a mascot for pure hatred and violence, but the horrifying power of the internet and its litany of sub-cultures. It also explores the little known fact that its original artist never intended to give it the kind of purpose that’s given it a notorious unstoppable life inside and outside of social media.

“Feels Good, Man” is the story of Matt Furie, an aspiring artist who formed a love for drawing cartoons and sought out to create his own popular character. Soon enough he’d created the infamous frog that almost immediately took on a life of its own. With the undercurrent of internet social media and a large cultural divide before long, the frog evolved in to a mascot for many ideas, none of which were positive, and Matt has to reflect on how he’d inadvertently contributed to the fall out of violence and hatred given a face with Pepe the Frog.

“Feels Good, Man” is a movie about artistic pursuit and how sometimes our own creations can take on lives of their own and go in directions we never expected. Sometimes it can explode in to pure pop culture fame, and other times, it can turn in to Pepe the Frog, a cartoon mascot that became synonymous with hatred, violence, terrorism, and a bizarre underground movement. Much of Jones’ film tracks the origin of Pepe the Frog, and how it’s crossed wires with the internet and was almost immediately co-opted and turned in to an icon for various movements. “Feels Good, Man” watches almost like a reality based Frankenstein tale where Pepe the Frog invariably takes on its own life. For reasons never quite pinpointed, Pepe is absolutely accessible and easily tacked on to literally any ideology (like NEET and the Alt-Right).

Furie spends most of the documentary watching his creation in the hands of others and tries in vain to re-claim it, appearing at conventions to sell “official” merchandise for the character and is greeted with surprising scorn. There is sadly not a lot of exploration in to Furie’s own thoughts on the phenomenon and how it’s affected him as an artist in the end. In either case, there is the heavy implication that he is absolutely horrified at what havoc it’s inspired, and even has to face a committee of peers who discuss Pepe and awkwardly almost expect him to apologize for Pepe. “Feels Good, Man” is a stellar, and important look in to how art can take on a life of its own and sometimes cause immense chaos.

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs every year, and this year runs virtually from August 20th until September 2nd.