Review: Disconnect (The World is Full of Empathy Inhibitors)

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Disconnect is the newest topical drama about the ever growing gap between humans and our humanity. The primary culprit is handheld, but as the phrase (sort of) goes: cell phones don't kill people; people kill people. And those who endanger themselves by "kindling" the flame (get it?) aren't promised redemption when they see the world beyond their handy.

A three part story that covers cyber bullying, identity theft and a sex-cam/runaways doesn’t quite play out the many ways modern technology alienates us from our basic decency (or each other) but it certainly tries.Disconnect is a bummer and sometimes frustrating but it’s also some of the rawest and most energetic filmmaking I’ve seen in some time. Direciton by Henry Alex Rubin (Murderball) is sometimes heavy handed, but cinematography by Ken Seng (Project X, Quarantine) creates a constant glow from windows and computer/phone screens that’s as alluring as it is jarring. Even the light of the sun (which we seldom see) lacks comfort or warmth.

Jason Bateman is the default protagonist as the father of a boy who attempts suicide after he’s cyber bullied. He’s also a cell phone addict who’s belated efforts to reach out to his kid make him the most sympathetic. But Disconnect is full of potentially decent people who nonetheless inhibit our empathy. Alexander Skarsgaard, an ex-marine and a slouch of a middle manager, is the victim of identity theft, but he seems to be sleepwalking through a family tragedies so it’s hard to forgive him, even if he does it out of well earned depression. Everyone’s a victim first and then sympathetic only when they reach catharsis or breakdown—and you’re not happy for their redemption, just their punishment. It's a strange twist on old seasonings that feels terribly modern. "Don't fix it until it's broken" has become "don't recognize it until it's broken," in which case you have to ask what proper working order even looked like.

The ethos of this film reminded me of Gore Verbinski’s The Weatherman, a film I found as tedious as Rabbit Redux because it had a similar axe to grind. When that film ended I told a friend “Cybil Sheppard screwed her mom’s boy toy in The Last Picture Show and cried “Ain’t nothing like it’s supposed to be!” and that’s all I really need on that subject.” Everyone gets confused but wallowing in shit will lead to sickness and that’s a cycle I’d rather avoid than watch play out ad nauseum, because that cycle loves to play out ad nauseum and it makes for tedious storytelling. This, consequently, was also why I thought Cloud Atlas was a wash--repeating the same mistakes is true to life and dull for drama. But the moments of energy and pathos are often trenchant and anyone who's dogged by the thought their lives are somehow less because of their reliance on technology will see something sobering and effective with Disconnect, even if they don't see any solutions.

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