by Lucy Talbot Allen
The twitter user best known as dril is, apparently, a guy named Paul Dochney. I only know this because I read the Wikipedia page for his account in preparation for this essay. Dril was doxxed in 2017, but his identity was news to me, the fallout from the revelation a rare instance of the internet collectively agreeing to leave well enough alone. The refusal to pull back the curtain–or the pixelated image of Jack Nicholson–on dril probably owes to something approaching reverence for his work. It’s hard to think of a single figure with as profound of an impact on online humor. Dril has been called “the Wise Fool of online” and “a patron saint of the internet itself” with “a Velvet Underground-like influence” on online humor.
Given his unparalleled influence, it follows that a slew of accounts have cropped up across social media dedicated to recontextualizing dril’s tweets for further comic effect. These accounts often rely on a combination of appreciation for drilian absurdity and the satisfaction that comes from subcultural in-group recognition. Take, for instance, Letterboxd’s dril reviews. The account, helmed by a Floridian film student named Zack, elegantly pairs films from Wings of Desire to The Polar Express with dril tweets that reflect upon their subject matter and themes. Some pairings are obvious, as dril has explicitly referenced a handful of films–Goodfellas, Pinocchio, Austin Powers–in his oeuvre.
As a warped avatar of middle-aged white (often conservative) masculinity, however, dril has naturally not shared reflections on the work of Agnes Varda or Akira Kurosawa. The simple incongruity of dril’s tweets with such auteurish work fuels some of dril reviews’ humor: the missive accompanying Varda’s The Gleaners and I reads “digging thorugh all the trash cans and dumpsters at e3 in search of condoms containing genetically superior gamer cum.” Like many dril tweets, it expresses a vulgar, off-putting sentiment. But it also gestures at the substance of Varda’s film, a playful documentary on urban scavengers that subverts both the authoritative documentary voice and the romanticization of pastoral poverty. Dril’s tweet does nothing of the sort, but pairing it with The Gleaners brings its author’s anarchic absurdity into the discourse of experimental art.
The most apt tweet applications on dril reviews tend to belong to films whose nihilistic worldview and bizarre characters place them in inherent proximity to the drilian imagination. “I'm the only guy who knows how to call out the bull shit of society the smart way,” reads the tweet selected for Taxi Driver, “and against all odds I do it for free.” It’s barely hyperbole to observe that this line could have been spoken by the paranoid, self-aggrandizing Travis Bickle himself. After Hours, another Scorsese film set in a surreal late-night Manhattan, gets the tweet “its shit head o' clock and everyones grabbing at my Nuts.” It’s a fitting sentence for a film that sees Griffin Dunne chased around Soho and symbolically castrated by a slew of memorable eccentrics.
Some tweets deployed on dril reviews are so accurate–even without explicit reference to the films they accompany–as to make one wonder if dril published them with a film in mind. The crown jewel among these is the tweet chosen for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which follows a troubled, sexually frustrated World War II veteran who falls into the thrall of a thinly-veiled L. Ron Hubbard surrogate: “ive narrowed it down to the church of scientology & the united states marines. whichever one allows me to jerk off more wins the tiebreaker.”
Each dril review is marked with a specific “watched” date, many of them occurring years before the film in question was released. The date choices appear random, but they in fact correspond with the dates stamped on the quoted tweets. What seems arbitrary and absurd in online humor is so often, in fact, careful.