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Opinion – How Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’ masterfully portrays Gen Z angst

Written, directed, and shot all by Bo himself, ‘Inside’ could be this decade’s first true modern masterpiece, an isolating and self-referential rollercoaster that derails into a nightmare of Millennial and Gen Z angst.

I’ve no doubt you’ve seen the rave reviews and social media buzz surrounding Bo Burnham’s latest special ‘Inside’ by now.

Released last week, this new 90 minute ‘comedy’ was created entirely by Bo himself. Recorded, directed, written, and performed all within the confinements of a single room over the span of a year, ‘Inside’ begins as a fairly standard comedy musical, but quickly devolves into a chaotic and frightening spectacle. It is nothing short of astounding.

Throughout its run, ‘Inside’ pokes fun at white girls on Instagram, Twitch streamers, and reaction videos, while also providing poignant commentary on how we cope with modern living.

Bo dives deeply into themes of paranoia, isolation, existentialism, and the hopelessness of a world he believes to be inevitably heading toward self-destruction.

Self-made and created alone, ‘Inside’ is a film that could only truly exist in 2021, making use of multiple lighting apps, calculated camera angles, and improvised props to create something wholly unique.

Bo plays his keyboard to an audience of nobody and uses canned laughter via an improvised laptop button.

It was made for the silver screen, and is so self-aware and layered that you’ll find yourself coming back to it at least once to understand everything fully. ‘Inside’ depicts an angst and unease that will stick with Gen Z viewers, particularly regarding the climate, connectivity, and content as a whole.

Assessing decades of invasive internet culture

Perhaps the biggest of these themes throughout ‘Inside’ is its frequent critique of the internet.

Literally any subject can be researched, discussed, or examined at breakneck speed by anyone with a keyboard or smart device, and we’ve seen the consequences of this sudden influx of conversation play out in real time over the past ten years or so.

Whether it be Donald Trump’s rise to power, echo-chambers of misinformation, extremist groups or hate forums, the internet is infinitely more complex and disconcerting that it was in the late nineties. We no longer expect our privacy to remain intact when we browse online and many of our political structures have become heavily influenced by a handful of tech entrepreneurs.

Nowhere is this more obviously explored than on ‘Welcome To The Internet’, a near five-minute epic in which Bo charts us through twenty years of internet evolution. It is both unsettling and manic, playing out like a victorious villain’s speech before the world collapses in on itself.

It is here where the nightmarishly inward themes of ‘Inside’ begin to spiral out of control.

Big tech businesses and social change enterprises are not immune, either. One segment satirises the greenwashing of big brands that pretend to care about social issues, a reality of modern marketing we see rinsed to near oblivion on a regular basis.

Amazon’s CEO Jeffrey Bezos is also called out several times via short, catchy interludes, no doubt partly due to his incomprehensible wealth and apparent hesitation to truly help the world solve its many economic and environmental problems. He is being flung into space soon though, so there’s that.

Bo is seen at one point lying in a pit of messy wires and pillows. ‘Maybe giving tech giants access to our every waking thought was a bad move, in hindsight’, he croaks in defeat.

Living with the existential dread of climate change

Where Bo’s film truly shines, however, is through its unfiltered examination of mental health and paranoia.

Isolation over the pandemic has caused worldwide upticks in anxiety that experts are struggling to keep up with. Suicide is mentioned regularly throughout, with Bo crying on camera and describing himself as ‘unwell’. He talks of putting a ‘bullet through his brain’ several times.

It is very dark subject matter but, like with all Bo’s work, it is unclear what is performative and what is candid. Perhaps we don’t even need to know.

What is true is that many people will relate to the desperation shown on screen and his uncanny disassociation with the world at large.

The internet and our constant connection can inadvertently cause the opposite – where everything is so noisy, so loud, and feels so utterly pointless that one winds up in a paralysed state of detachment, dependent on the safety of home to feel at ease.

We are powerless to stop larger corporate forces destroying our planet and we live with an unshakeable knowledge that our current way of life is not sustainable. As Bo sings toward the end of the film, ‘you say the ocean’s rising, like I give a shit, you say the whole world’s ending, hunny it already did.’

Acceptance of death and ‘the end’ rings throughout ‘Inside’, which can be harrowing or comforting, depending on which way you lean. It is a theme that will resonate with many younger viewers and is the best representation of this generational fear I’ve ever seen on screen.

It’s a reminder that our world is fragile and close to being completely ripped apart at the seams, leaving us only with an existential dread for the future.

Resonating with a disconnected Gen Z

‘Inside’ could become a landmark work that influences and inspires a whole new generation of content makers.

Bo himself is technically a product of YouTube success, having first found an audience in the late noughties by uploading songs from his bedroom. He understands how online content works near flawlessly – hence the many satirical takes on streamers, reaction videos, and overly wholesome creators that feel more unhinged than authentic.

I’ve already noticed a huge surge in Bo related content on TikTok. ‘Inside’ as a film is so music based that it is almost designed to generate interest on social media platforms that boost quick, immediate songs and music videos – even though it ironically mocks and critiques these very same applications.

As a piece of cinema it pushes what is possible from one person in a confined space and proves that self-made, innovative content that’s uncomfortable to watch can permeate mainstream audiences and ripple through the zeitgeist.

Gen Z is facing a world that looks almost irreversibly doomed. ‘Inside’ shows what this really feels like, as all of us reckon with a never-ending pandemic, loneliness, and an overly competitive and bloated capitalist system.

Sometimes all you can do is dance and sing through it.


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