Beyond Believable: ‘Monolith’ and Misinformation in Modern Society

I want to tell you a story.

Thus begins director Matt Vesely’s chilling sci-fi horror debut, Monolith, and thus begins the audience’s uneasy descent into a world of conspiracy theory. What’s real and what isn’t becomes irrelevant. The story is king. The story is power. And when told in a convincing enough manner, the story is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be. We put an immense amount of trust into a storyteller. We show them the door to our minds, give them the key, and ask that they try not to destroy the furniture. And what Vesely’s film reminds us of—pleas for us to understand—is that we cannot be so trusting, nor can the storyteller be so careless. To do so on a mass scale risks the devaluing of truth, and potentially, the collapse of a civilization, crushed beneath the weight of lies.

Lucy Campbell’s spellbinding script introduces us to a disgraced journalist listed in the credits as The Interviewer (Lily Sullivan). Fired from her previous job at The Evening Journal for an article in which she made unsupported claims, she’s taken a position she views as “beneath” her, hosting a podcast dubbed Beyond Believable, “the podcast that investigates the unbelievable”. Desperate for a story, her wish is granted when she receives an anonymous tip about a woman named Floramae (Ling Cooper Tang) and her connection to a mysterious black brick. Upon investigation, The Interviewer finds herself leaping down a deep, dark rabbit hole of conspiracy theory involving black bricks, frightening visions, and the possibility of an alien source. Are these tales fact or fiction? Does The Interviewer even care, as long as the story is good?

I’ve just got to make a story that will make people listen.

Unethical journalism is nothing new. Questionable morality exists in every industry, because human beings are inherently flawed. Yet with the rise of social media, there’s no denying that we live in a time where separating fact from fiction is more arduous than ever. Out-of-context quotes are published as headlines. Rumors without basis are sold as news. Straight-up lies are presented as truth. Symptoms of a social economy where likes and clicks are more valuable than integrity. Advertisers aren’t interested in accuracy. All that matters are the views. The listens. The things that keep struggling mediums alive, forcing some between a rock and a hard place of survival or death by ethics, while others gleefully indulge in the game of misinformation for attention. A vicious and dangerous cycle that spins round and round without any end in sight.

This is where we find The Interviewer, under pressure to deliver a story that can save her career, truth be damned. Despite a complex performance from Lily Sullivan that once again proves she’s a master of her craft, Monolith informs us early on of the obvious—this person cannot be trusted. She records people without their knowledge, claiming “always better to ask for forgiveness than permission”. Then, she edits Floramae’s words around to fit her narrative. She misleads. Manipulates. All in the name of creating a show that will get her listeners.

The aim here isn’t to say that this is most journalists—it isn’t—but that there are those who claim the title while also being quite bad at the job it entails. The Interviewer represents those masquerading as truth-tellers, the ones who place popularity over responsibility. Monolith neither gives her a name nor do we see the faces of those she questions, an effort to enforce to the audience that she and her subjects can be anyone and therefore what they say should be taken with a massive grain of salt. Too often as a society, we engage with random blue check accounts or a voice we hear on a podcast, running with whatever is said rather than stopping to ask ourselves, should I trust this person? Do I know enough about them to believe what they’re saying is true?

Do you really believe this, or do you just want to believe it?

Knowing what we know about The Interviewer—that she was fired for making claims without evidence—neither we nor her audience have reason to trust this unreliable narrator. Hell, she doesn’t even believe in her show or the brick phenomena, acknowledging “this is a clickbait podcast” and admitting the absurd story shouldn’t be released. Yet release it she does, under a time crunch to publish something, anything, at risk of losing another job. She gives zero thought to the harm her story may cause.

Instead, she lies, telling her listeners that Floramae’s tale “haunts” her in order to convince them she believes so that they believe. And it works. The podcast blows up. The Interviewer ingests the glowing reviews the way Mortal Kombat’s Shang Tsung swallows souls, rejuvenated by the sustenance of popularity. Her listeners spread her story to others. So on and so forth, until a chain of misinformation has been created, a near-impossible-to-shatter link originating from a dishonest source.  

Monolith interrogates both The Interviewer and our susceptibility to fabrication. Whether or not she truly believes in the phenomena, her “truth” exists in a vacuum. Isolated in her parent’s home in the country, she has closed herself off from the real world. She doesn’t interact with anyone in person. Just voices. Just words. Walls covered in pictures of bricks she’s never seen for herself. Her entire existence revolves around them and nothing else. Not too dissimilar from how we create our own silo of information on social media where all that can penetrate is what we want to believe. Agent Mulder always wanted to believe too, so I get it, but when you want it badly enough, hear something enough, words can take on a Pontypool effect, altering us through a strange power that’s difficult to comprehend.   

We have a duty to protect the public. Not everything needs to be published.

This brings us to the black brick itself, a concept that seems to derive from the black monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey, alien machines inspired by the theory of Jungian Archetypes and the idea that certain symbols are the results of a collective unconscious. In Monolith, these bricks become representations of stories that should never be told. With each account that The Interviewer comes across, a pattern emerges in which the subjects receive their bricks after stomaching a hard truth.

Floramae gets hers after not defending her daughter when she was accused of destroying the living room of the family she worked for. Art collector Klaus (Terence Crawford) earns his after feeling joy in his brother’s death. And The Interviewer? She vomits her own brick in one horrific scene after learning that it was her family who stole Floramae’s brick and that it was she who destroyed the living room. Contained within each brick are marks resembling these truths. Guilty secrets are made visible and holding acute power over each possessor of the bricks. Eternal reminders of what they’ve done.

But the mysterious bricks aren’t the only “black bricks” in the film. The recorder that The Interviewer always carries, which she uses during every phone call, every interaction, is a “black brick”. The USB drive she later receives in a package is a “black brick”. Contained within these “bricks” is the ultimate truth, the only truth, used by The Interviewer however she sees fit, disregarding of consequence. All throughout, she holds her recorder out in front of her as both shield and weapon. She can use the secrets lurking within to protect herself with quotes from others; she can use it to destroy by releasing the truth; that is the power of the bricks in Monolith. It’s a power we give to others all too freely these days.

I have a secret. I’m the only one who can share it…the only one who is willing. And when I tell this story, I will change everything.

By the end of the film, Vesely and Campbell illustrate the utter terror and chaos that results from favoring fame over truth. The more popular the podcast becomes, the further The Interviewer drags listeners down into an ocean of conspiracy without proof. As one caller iterates, the brick is spreading. She must stop. But does she? Of course not. Because attention is everything, giving her a power over others that is intoxicating to her.

The truly terrifying part is that mass hysteria she causes has become as simple to spark as typing two hundred characters on Twitter and hitting send. How often do you see social media conversations taken over for a day by a single post or headline that later proves to be out of context and/or untrue? Anyone can tell a lie now and reach thousands, millions, if convincing enough. Fame outweighs ethics. And we’re much too willing to engage in hyperbole that’s rewarded as a result. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t believe anything we hear, but that it’s okay…vital, even…to be skeptical.

As often goes in horror, The Interviewer is forced to face the consequence of her actions when she is confronted by a copy of herself. Alien or not, it is a reflection of her wrongdoing, the resultant husk of someone who has carved out their soul in an effort to replace it with popularity. Dishonesty has a way of clawing and scraping every last shred of humanity from a person. And when we spread that dishonesty, knowingly or not, it has the potential to destroy on small and large scales.

Monolith hasn’t arrived at this time by chance. It’s here because the filmmakers that made it recognize the potential catastrophe that lies ahead if those in trusted positions continue to lie, and if the rest of us continue to take unverified claims as fact. With the advent of AI and the increasing ability to manipulate reality, the film’s message will only prove more prescient: When people share lies for profit and we as a society engage in those baseless claims without being sure of the truth, we risk becoming a monolithic emblem of our own destruction.  

Monolith tells a story that contains a warning for our future. All we have to do is listen.



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