An interesting film you should definitely check out. Or at least check out the review for.
Disconnect or, You Damn Kids With Your Sexual Glow Boxes, is a contemporary film about the freshest negative force that preys on everyday life: naiveté. Looking at a very brief history of cautionary films, this vice used to be marijuana, as discussed in Reefer Madness (1936). Then two years later it was makin’ whoopee, as exposed in Sex Madness. Now we have Disconnect, which might as well have been entitled Internet Madness. Remember kids, (to quote Reefer Madness), “the next tragedy may be that of your daughter’s… or your son’s… or yours!”
The two Madness films from the mid 1930s have earned their positions as hyper paranoid propaganda and have arrived at such a level by using C-movie tactics through their cautionary storytelling. On top of this, these two films seem to be made by people who don’t actually know anything about the subjects they are intent upon demonizing. And now three quarters of a century after them, Disconnect is in keeping with the simplicity of these movies, but is armed with awareness, relevancy and smarts that set it apart. Still, with an uneven story and goofy caveats, this slick PSA isn’t strong enough to make all that much of a lasting impression on its target audience.
Loosely connecting the tales of people who experience life-changing events because of the Internet, Disconnect tells three different stories with authenticity that can be confirmed by numerous real life news reports. (This is especially the case with two stories that try to wrap their heads around the real chaos that is online bullying and identity theft.)
First, there’s the story of a teenage boy (Jonah Bobo) who is targeted by two other boys in his school as their latest prank. Because they think he’s weird (for being a skateboarder who likes Sigur Ros), they seek to embarrass him by posing as a flirty girl from another school on Facebook. Ben is eventually driven to reciprocate a pornographic photograph, which is then shared by the two Facebooking hooligans with everyone in school. Humiliated, Ben tries to take his own life, inspiring his distant and devastated father (Jason Bateman, in his most compelling film role in years) to investigate what drove Ben to such horrific actions.
At the same time, the film also focuses on a young married couple, who become the victims of identity theft. Alexander Skarsgard plays Derek, a former soldier who is now a miserable cubicle monkey, married to Cindy (Paula Patton). The two are divided by the grief they share over the loss of their baby and spend a lot of time apart, she on counseling message boards interacting with a user played by Michael Nyqvist and he on gambling websites. One day their credit cards and personal information are stolen by an identity thief, leaving them broke and vengeful.
Lastly, there’s the story of video cam performer Kyle (Max Thieriot), who lives in a type of media brothel with other young men and women who make a living as online prostitutes. Kyle’s story catches the sympathy of reporter Nina (Andrea Riseborough), who wants to make a news feature about Kyle’s dark profession and tries to save him, despite his resistance.
As it seeks to caution its audience as to the negative aspects of the Internet, Disconnect shows itself to be narrow-minded in its cynicism, ignoring positive aspects of such a connected technology. Most of all, Disconnect seeks to warn its audience that the internet is a massive monster that needs control, its destructive quality feeds off naiveté and trust and such conflicts will put many people in danger. There’s nothing in this movie about the internet being used as a positive tool. Even a reference to George Takei’s obnoxiously over-shared Facebook page would be a welcome nod to the good such expansive technology can bring.
Texting, Facebook and the Internet are some things that are still hard for movies to wrap their heads around. These three still show up awkwardly in movies, in visual references (like Facebook being used as a source of character background information in recent Sundance movie The East) or in clunky dialogue references; it wasn’t too long ago Nyqvist told Taylor Lautner in the terrible action movie Abduction that he was going to kill him and “all of his friends on Facebook.”
Texting is gradually making its way into movies, which is very interesting; as often as we may text in real life, people in films are still having their big conversations in person. Wouldn’t one suspect that numerous big discussions in contemporary romantic situations would more likely just happen over the phone? (How often do you see people having fights over texts in movies? Not nearly as often as you see them doing it in public, at airports, etc.)
That being said, what Disconnect best captures is the atmosphere of when we are communicating to people on our devices, the illumination of our technology closing off our bubble from the rest of the world. This film is very sharp to the silence during such interaction, when we are talking to people with our fingers, with their presence represented by the emotionless form of text (sometimes accompanied by a profile picture). Along with this, Disconnect is also smart to how people look when using such technology, our faces zonked out, often regardless of whatever emotion we are evoking with our text communication.
It’s an extremely accurate capturing of the type of isolation you’re likely experiencing right now reading this and it’s sure as hell the way in which this film is being written (contrary to my Twitter feed, only my news reports get written in the club).
While proudly taking on the concept of a cautionary tale, Disconnect does show some control of the time with its subject matter. For example, there are no glaring moments in which it is made obvious the lack of phone presence when people are “connecting” (such an element would just be too easy). Along with this, the movie doesn’t entirely lose its mind like Reefer Madness, which constantly pushes its story to hilariously, desperate, dramatic situations to prove a wayward point (rapid piano playing leads to death in the 1936 film). Disconnect sometimes does beg comparison to Reefer Madness for sharing the same simple goal, to reach out to a very specific audience and warn them, but this film proves to be a bit sharper than that. Disconnect has also got more cojones than any regular mainstream movie, as its overall conclusion dares to challenge the satisfaction audiences may crave.
Such dramatic restraint does make Disconnect‘s flaws all the more visible when they do show up in the script. When characters are too slow to realize something that’s fairly obvious or negligent in doing a simple check on something, the film lags in its hope of being taken seriously as a clever, modern thriller. Instead, it’s no more than a collection of warnings to a vulnerable society with people whose lives are at the mercy of Internet connections. Disconnect doesn’t strive to be much beyond a cautionary PSA. It simply wants to point out hazardous scenarios to its viewers; before its audience members fall down some stairs while texting about this movie.