Disconnect is a movie that takes on the ambitious goal of capturing the impact of all of digital communication’s worst side effects in one whirlwind of a film. Though cyberbullying, online child pornography and identity theft would be topics enough for separate feature films, Disconnect, directed by Henry-Alex Rubin, unabashedly stuffs them together into compartmentalized subplots that hurriedly rush toward a conclusion.
Unfortunately, the sprinter runs out of breath, as each subplot comes to a dramatic yet unfulfilling conclusion in a fashion that is somewhat cliche. Nevertheless, Disconnect is ultimately successful in its presentation of the perils that digital communication technology brings to society.
Disconnect presents its weighty themes in a distinctly cavalier manner. Kyle (Max Thieriot) is a teenage pornstar who makes money with a group of teenagers by contacting clients over the Internet and soliciting private video conferences.
In an early scene, a travelling hand-held camera shot follows Kyle walking through a residence. Despite how it sounds, the scene is anything but casual. If one looks in the periphery of the shots, one glimpses inside different rooms where webcam sex shows are going on.
The scene manages not to thrust the adult issues out in public, but rather to show how these can happen on the periphery, where one might not look.
Thieriot’s convincing performance also serves to further shine a light on how the advent of technology has intergrated these troublesome issues into society.
Meanwhile, as Kyle’s story plays out, a husband and wife (Alexander Skarsgård and Paula Patton), who are struggling with the death of their first child, have their identities stolen. They hire a private investigator, Mike Dixon (Frank Grillo), to comb their hard drives for clues to the attackers’ identities, which reveals information more harmful than helpful to their marriage. As they deal with tension, the financial ruin befalling them due to the identity theft, and the residual grief from the loss of their first child, the middle school son of the detective (Colin Ford) and a friend cyber bully a fellow student (Jonah Bobo), whose dysfunctional family is caught up in their working lives and the technology that defines them.
Dixon’s middle school son (Colin Ford) is a cyberbully who torments a fellow student Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo), whose dysfunctional family is caught up in their working lives and the technology that defines them. Boyd’s parents (Jason Bateman and Hope Davis) have never understood their son, whose passion for music, gothic fashion and long hair runs against societal norms.
As is the case with movies that develop multiple plots, the casual observer expects a conclusion in the style of Pulp Fiction, where stories collide in a flash of drama and revelation. True to form, said scene duly arrives, sans the epic clash. Though some stories intersect, others remain isolated. In a flash of stereotypical slow motion, each story hurtles through a climactic scene, but one that ultimately leaves some questions unresolved.
The themes the movie presents are undoubtedly timely. As victims of cyberbullying who committed suicide have gained national attention in recent weeks, the impact of misuse of technology must be confronted in popular culture. Disconnect’s unfiltered and raw depiction of such problems is a strategy necessary to raise awareness of the pitfalls of technology. Where documentaries or other films water down weighty themes, Disconnect is unafraid to expose lives ripped apart by technology and is better as a result.
In the face of such brilliant exposure, Disconnect falls short of aptly resolving subtle tensions that emerge over the course of its ambitious number of storylines. Even the emotional impact of the climactic scene is lessened by the unresolved nature of various loose ends. Glossing over such themes gives the film the appearance of biting off more than it can chew, but also reminds the audience that unlike most cheap big screen thrillers, plot tidiness is not the most important goal.
In some cases, the themes of a film demand more attention than the story. Disconnect is one of those cases and deserves additional recognition because it chooses to do so at the expense of the interests of the majority of moviegoers (who tend to favor suspense and drama over depressing and real confrontations with societal problems).
Though Disconnect might not attract wide popular support because of its concern with large, weighty themes and comparatively smaller concern with the finer points of plot construction, it is a film that is powerful and eye-opening.