Going to the Movies – Disconnect

Photo by PoPville flickr user ep_jhu

Going to the Movies is written by Mount Vernon Triangle resident Catherine Taegel.

Timely. Powerful. Unexpected. That’s what “Disconnect” felt like to me. Going to the movie I didn’t know too much about the plot and expected an artistic documentary-type film centered around how tied we are all to technology. Well it is has some of those elements, but it’s so much more than that. Starring Jason Bateman, Alexander Skarsgård, and Paula Patton, “Disconnect” is pointed, expertly acted, and beautifully executed. It’s the rare film that is able to be current and timeless, providing a relatable narrative and commentary on how our online identities can affect our offline realities.

“Disconnect” opens with a scene in what appears to be a group house but the audience quickly sees that the young group house is really a base for online youth prostitution. A young, ambitious female reporter stumbles onto the website and sees a story in one of the young boys who offers himself up for a pair of Nike’s. We’re introduced to two fifteen-year-old boys who play dirty tricks and are too confident for their own good. An unfortunate moment of time brings them into contact with a reserved, artistic loner who quickly becomes the target of their next pet project. The last story we learn about is of a young couple who lost their young child and are fast becoming strangers living under the same roof. Searching for solace, they are brought back together to face a reality where their child has not only been lost but so has their livelihoods.

Continues after the jump.

This film is so well produced and directed that it effortlessly moves between stories and the lives of these characters. Through a private chat room, paying for his time, the young reporter (Andrea Riseborough) builds a rapport with Kyle (Max Thieriot), a teenage boy offering a virtual, meaningless sexual encounter. The conversations are purely platonic and she provides him with a caring confidante. She tries to encourage him to leave the situation he is in and do something with his life. Unsure but curious, the teenage boy agrees to be anonymously featured in a piece about online youth prostitution. The piece is a success and gets picked up nationally. However, the reporter soon realizes her encounter online blurs journalistic and ethical lines. Things quickly become complicated and as the teenage boy desperately reaches out for help the reporter becomes paralyzed between her ability to help and her desire to stay removed from the situation.

The audience watches another lost boy, Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo), who feels misunderstood by nearly the entire world around him. He gains an unexpected admirer in a girl on Facebook and we watch as cruel teenage boys craft the identify of the fake girl and develop an intimate relationship with Ben. It’s insight into what cyber-bullying looks like in real-time. I thought it sucked when I was in high school? I had no idea. After a disturbing scene, the young boy’s distant father (Jason Bateman) begins an obsessive quest to find answers on how things got so bad. In the process he discovers who his son really is and how easy it has been to become removed from his own life.

Derek (Alexander Skarsgård) and Cindy (Paula Patton) show the hardship of losing a young child. No words are spoken between each other and both develop vices for dealing with the pain. Derek takes to business trips and online gambling. Cindy takes to support chat rooms and develops a platonic relationship with a man whom she’s never met, but who understands her pain and the grief that she’s faces daily. Denied his gambling vice by a faulty credit card, Derek calls Cindy in a panic. The next day Cindy checks their bank account to find it’s been emptied. Someone has stolen all their money and most likely their identities. The police are unable to get to the case and Mike, a private detective (brilliantly played by Frank Grillo) with an expertise in cyber-crimes, is hired to figure out the culprit. In order to track who the thief is Mike has to delve into the couple’s online lives and expose their online identities. The audience watches as Derek and Cindy attempt to manage the situation and reestablish their lives.

“Disconnect” uncovers the danger of anonymity. It highlights just how reckless and unabashedly trusting people are online. We just expect things to be private and secure. We expect our feelings and choices to be respected. As a global community we are only beginning to understand the far-reaching effects of our online lives. While this is scary, and at times overwhelming, there is a silver lining. “Disconnect” shows us that no matter how advanced and interconnected our online world gets, it’s still the decisions we make in the physical world that bond us as human beings. Technology cannot replace empathy and human emotion.

“Disconnect” comes out in smaller theaters April 12, 2013.

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