It’s a fact that we live in a world where technology continuously and routinely develops. It’s also a fact that in this Digital Age we have begun to rely heavily on the Internet to instigate and maintain relationships, network, vent, express ourselves, and complete our work. Henry Alex Rubin’s drama, “Disconnect,” follows three intertwining narratives depicting the search for human connection in an increasingly technological world. “Disconnect” is a heart-wrenching, honest representation of the potential for human cruelty, and ultimately critiques the Internet’s prevalent influence on our lives, and specifically, our relationships with others. With a tear-jerking denouement, the three stories intersect to leave the viewer unsettled, uncomfortable, and spell-bound.
dis·con·nect: “to sever or interrupt a connection”
The film begins with News Reporter Nina Dunham turning down the sexual advances of Kyle, a victim of Youth Trafficking, as he offers to perform various pornographic acts in the voyeuristic live video chatroom Nina has logged into on her computer. This first scene excellently sets into motion the theme of “disjunctures caused by the failure to understand,” as Kyle cannot comprehend why Nina logged into the chatroom just to talk, and Nina cannot understand why Kyle is so intent on instigating a relationship beyond professionalism. Through the use of hand-held camera tricks, IM language (i.e., ur, im, lol, etc.) and long scenes of silence where communication and plot development occurs only through on-screen, scrolling text visualizing to the sound of keyboard clicking, the viewer is immersed in the world of “Disconnect,” feeling the anxiety and desperation experienced by the characters.
dis·con·nect: “to withdraw into one’s private world”
The second plot focuses on the rocky relationship of the Hull couple after experiencing the loss of their child. Cindy Hull (Paula Patterson) seeks solace through an anonymous chatroom for people who have experienced loss. Derek Hull (Alexander Skarsgard) grieves through his online gambling addiction. Through these two avenues, the couple undergoes the ultimate hardship in having their personal lives hacked, and controlled, through contact with an Internet user. The above definition of “disconnect” speaks wonderfully to this plot, as both Cindy and Derek use the internet to withdraw from their relationship, and their private world becomes exploited through the public domain of the Internet. Ultimately, through this plot arch, Rubin beautifully demonstrates how the desire for solace and human connection from the Internet greatly impacts our ability to form and retain our human interactions.
dis·con·nect: “to take (an electrical device) out of action by detaching it from a power supply”
The third plot is the most driving, poignant, and heart-wrenching story in the film. The reason “Disconnect” resonates so much with me is because of Rubin’s brilliant and terrifying depiction of high school bullying, and Jason Bateman’s uncharacteristic performance of a desperate father failing to understand where the disconnection occurred between he and his son. The third plot is raw, the third plot is heart-breaking, the third plot is shocking. Jonah Bobo (Crazy Stupid Love, Zathura) plays the haunting role of Ben Boyd, the target of cyberbullying, and both he and Bateman prove that their acting ability far surpasses just that of comedy. It is this plot where Rubin reveals his message to the viewer, encouraging less dependence on seeking human interaction only through the means of technology. Simultaneously, Rubin poetically justifies that it is only when the electronic device has been disconnected, real human interaction can develop. Therefore, unplug the electronic power source to plug the gap in human connection.
It’s been a while since I recall watching a film that really made an impact on me. “Disconnect” emphasizes the literal disconnection that occurs between relationships when the parties of that relationship turn to technology for solace. A lot can be taken away from Rubin’s ending of the film, particularly that we need to “look up” from the technology in front of us. But, at the end of the film, I can tell you I really didn’t have an interest in keeping my smartphone or laptop nearby for the rest of the night.