"Here we go," you say as you groan and roll your eyes. By the title and seemingly over dramatic poster, it is easy to write this off as yet another one of those preachy movies about how evil the Internet and social media is. And I can understand why it is eyeroll-inducing. Unfortunately, too many movies that tackle this end up falling flat on their face and being more like unintentional comedies by having idiot protagonists who go about it all wrong (see: Cyberbully (2011)).
Disconnect offers an unbiased, but unapologetically raw look at how the rise of texting and social networking sites online have affected human interaction. It follows three different storylines that occasionally intersect with each other at certain points. One is about a socially inept boy who has literally no friends and is somewhat neglected at home. Two bullies from school decide to make up a fake profile of a girl to mess with him. As they take the prank further and further, it inevitably goes horribly wrong, culminating in the boy's suicide attempt that leaves him in a deep coma. The rest of this storyline involves the boy's father (wonderfully acted by Jason Bateman) on a desperate search for answers.
The second storyline involves an unhappy married couple who become identity theft victims. The perpetrator is tracked down as a man the wife frequently chatted with on a forum online. As they lose more and more of their money and possessions, their relationship crumbles even further.
The third tale involves an ambitious female reporter who is looking to do an expose on a teen video chat pornography ring. She gains the trust of one of the young men who reluctantly agrees to be her anonymous informer in the interview. This one is arguably more of a taboo-love story. Though all she wants at first is to "exploit him for the interview", the young man develops feelings for her and she finds herself attached to him. But things get even more complicated when the FBI want to step in and use her to help break up the ring.
What makes Disconnect so special is its raw realism. These characters feel like real people who would react to these situations how actual people in real life would react. In the story with the boy and the cyberbullies, the bullies aren't typical cardboard cutouts. It is clear that they are mostly only doing it because social pressure to seem cool is driving them, and because they themselves are neglected at home. Of course that does not excuse their actions, especially since it drove a boy to try to kill himself, but it offers a more gray view on the subject as opposed to black-and-white. I love that the main bully and the boy actually make a connection; whenever the bully is talking to him under the fake profile without his friend around to goad him on, they actually have otherwise honest conversations and the bully discovers he has alot in common with the boy.
In the storyline with the identity theft couple, the husband is a PTSD stricken former marine who neglects his wife and their newborn had died. While that might sound like overkill by the writers, unfortunately such situations are all too real. The lonely wife was reaching out on a support forum for people who have lost family members when she met the identity thief.
The ensemble cast which consists mostly of unknowns does a fantastic job. The cinematography and editing also play a huge part, and perfectly set the film's tone. Like I said earlier though, Disconnect isn't overly preachy or condescending about it's message. It simply asks us to re-examine how these technologies have changed our communication skills. But more importantly, the most hard hitting facet of all: what it has done to our ability to care about other people. Are we as a society losing our ability to feel sympathy and empathy as we reduce people to little more than text and avatars? With our newfound abilities to make all sorts of new connections...are we actually becoming....well, you know.