The topic of twenty-first century detachment has only been a recent source of concern and dissection. The problem with examining it, however, is that it can, at times, be difficult to take seriously (after all, technology tends to come off as whimsical and arbitrary more often than not). In Henry Alex Rubin's Disconnect, the ominous potential of the internet takes effect on a group of people whose lives intertwine in ways they are unaware of. Each ripple effect of the internet serves to bring this karass of people closer together, even though they're not completely aware of it.
As one couple, Derek (Alexander Skarsgard) and Cindy (Paula Patton), struggles through the plight of an online identity theft, another family must deal with the attempted suicide of their son, Ben (Jonah Bobo, an unfortunate last name, to be sure), in the wake of a nude photo of him that circulates on all of his classmates’ phones after he private messages it to a made up girl named Jessica Rhony (an anagram for horny). The world of internet porn is also explored as Kyle (Max Thieriot) is pursued by a local news reporter named Nina Dunham (the much underrated Andrea Riseborough, who is perhaps not as annoyed as I am that her character name rhymes with Lena Dunham). Posing as a woman interested in “going private,” Nina starts engaging Kyle in a probing conversation about what he plans to do with his future. Ultimately, she gets him to agree to be interviewed (in blurry head, scrambled voice fashion), asking him questions about the ringleader of the group, an older man named Harvey (Marc Jacobs, who may have actually turned out to be a glorified pimp in real life if he wasn’t a renowned fashion designer).
Jason (Colin Ford), a lonely bully with a retired cop for a father, finds sadistic, yet empty amusement in creating a fake Facebook profile with his friend, Frye (Aviad Bernstein), to play with the emotions of equally lonely Ben. Believing that Jessica is real (which no one should ever assume in the modern world of imaginary people), Ben begins to confess his innermost feelings to her, including how he feels about his father, Rich Boyd (Jason Bateman, always in the terse button-down roles), a successful lawyer who seems only to take notice of his phone. As Jason starts to get closer to Ben under the guise of Jessica, he starts to have misgivings about what he and Frye are doing, though that doesn’t stop them from sending a picture of Ben with the words “Love Slave” scrawled across his naked body to the entire student body.
In the aftermath of his humiliation, Ben obviously feels that the only course of action is suicide, though, of course such a reaction seems a hair melodramatic and extreme. In the midst of hanging himself, his sister, Abby (Haley Ramm), walks in to find him flailing about and cuts him down as quickly as she can. Ben’s asphyxiation leads him to be hospitalized for a coma, further intensifying Jason’s guilt. In the meantime, Nina has allowed her source to get a little too close to her when she lets Max into her home after celebrating her piece’s feature on CNN. Jason’s father, Mike (Frank Grillo), has also given Cindy and Derek a lead on their identity thief in Pennsylvania. Although their relationship has been in peril, their pursuit of the man she started talking to in a chat room for grief, (due to the fact that they lost their son, Ethan), Stephen (Michael Nyqvist, who looks strangely like Larry Hagman), brings them closer together in their mutual quest for vengeance.
While some elements of each person’s story find resolution, others are left hanging in the air with uncertainty. And perhaps that is the true intention of Andrew Stern’s script—to prove that even with advancements and progress in technology, an instantaneous solution to our problems isn’t always possible. As for the exploration of loneliness in spite of being so “connected” by the internet, Disconnect is one of the first films about this subject that is easy to take seriously (even if it is frequently overemotional).