In a world as connected as ours, with information at our fingertips and an all-encompassing social media sphere, it’s easy to think that we can know everything about a person, while somehow retaining a certain sense of anonymity for ourselves. However, the grim reality put forward by The Stranger, reminds us that this is far from the truth.
Both the shortcomings and frightening possibilities of the internet are highlighted in The Stranger. At its heart lies a young woman who endeavours to expose people’s secrets to their friends and family in order to “release them from’’ the others’ lies, and fulfil her ‘mission’ – namely to destroy the deceit which encompassed her young life. The stranger’s mission is based in her flat, more specifically, on her computers, where she compiles evidence of one’s secrets and lies in order to expose them.
By opening up one lie, The Stranger reveals a whole community connected by and built upon a web of deceit. Throughout the story, the fact of our own ignorance towards the lives of others is highlighted in her unveiling the secret realities of people’s lives.
Adam Price discovers his wife faked their last pregnancy and subsequent miscarraige. He also discovers that a man, who he has been defending his right to stay in his home for years, has really been protecting his house to ensure his wife’s murdered body stays stashed in the wall. A local policeman discovers his wife has been deliberately poisoning their daughter for years with rat poison by mixing it into her food and medicines. In the end, the narrative climaxes with the discovery that Price’s neighbour had been stealing money from the local football club to maintain his lavish lifestyle, and had gone so far as to murder Price’s wife to keep this secret.
These lies are all eventually untangled as a result of The Stranger’s mission to reveal the deceit which her adolescence had taught her to notice. The relative ease with which she gathers this information (and uncovers even more than she expects), is testament to the stark reality of our abilities to delve into people’s lives online. It reminds us that nothing we do online is untraceable, no matter how tight our security.
In the end, ‘The Stranger’ puts it best – “The internet makes us all think we’re anonymous – but we’re not. It’s all there if you know where to look”.
Fictional or not, the premise of Coben’s tale is all too imaginable in an age where we are both the most connected and most exposed.
The Stranger is available to stream on Netflix.
Gemma Farrell – Film & TV Writer