The advent of the digital age brings with it both infinite and frightening possibilities and Hollywood has been quick to capitalize on not only the potential, but the fears. Themes of entrapment and addiction in a virtual world, of technological isolation from reality and direct personal relationships despite being wired to online communities, and the fear that someday we will all become slaves to the machine – have all been a rich ground of inspiration for filmmakers. These are some of their highlighted offerings on the new technological frontier we are upon.
The Social Network (2010)
The rise of Facebook, as directed by David Fincher, it provides an interesting glimpse into how things could have been behind the scenes. Some aspects were clearly dramatized for film of course, but overall it was an enjoyable journey into how a group of young undergraduates seemingly came up with a neat concept, implemented it and reaped the rewards. Then we got to see the jealousies, greed and betrayal that come along with such unbelievable success. The problem is that as the screenwriters and the principal characters that the story is derived from have admitte – most of it is fiction.
The character of Zuckerberg is portrayed as a bit of an awkward nerd and social outcast, almost like someone with Aspergers – of course there is no way of knowing if it even resembles the real Zuckerberg who is alive and well. There is almost this notion that in the film, Zuckerberg is slowly alienating his friends and losing touch with those who had been closest to him – by apparently taking all the credit for Facebook. In the end, the only way he can connect with someone is through his Facebook page.
One also notices that everyone talks at a fast pace, almost like they’re all on drugs. It didn’t seem like anyone was even listening to each other either. A small complaint perhaps. Also college graduates certainly do not talk in clever quips like that.
So, it’s next to useless as a means for others to find out how Zuckerberg did it on his way to being the world’s youngest billionaire. Facebook itself was not revolutionary. Social media sites and instant messaging did exist before FB; I know because I used many of them back then. Also, had the film come out today, it is doubtful it would have been as successful. Facebook’s public listing and the public relations disaster revolving around its privacy settings and data-mining activities, has tarnished the social media giant’s brand somewhat. It’s still a behemoth, but the thorn in its paw is hurting.
This is a film about unlikeable people screwing other unlikeable people, and ending up all rich and alone. Definitely the Citizen Kane of our time. Honestly I’d give both a miss.
Me and You and Everyone We know (2005)
Miranda July, John Hawkes, Miles Thompson, Brandon Ratcliff, Natasha Slayton, Najarra Townsend, Carlie Westerman, and JoNell Kennedy
Unlike many others of its kind, this is not a film that dwells on the dangers of cyberspace or internet addiction. Instead, it’s an offbeat look at seemingly ordinary people navigating the web of their tangled lives despite some unorthodox behavior and attitudes. At the core of this film, it is about the individuals and how they try to make sense of their relationships and finding out what’s important to them.
This critically acclaimed effort won awards at Sundance and Cannes and comes highly recommended by many critics including the late Roger Ebert.
The film meanders through the interweaving stories of the various characters. There is Richard the shoe salesman and his two boys, Peter who is fourteen and Robby who is six. They live in an apartment together after Richard was thrown out by his wife. Later, he meets Christine, a video performance artist and cab driver. Christine is in fact played by the writer and director Miranda July.
Peter becomes the test subject for the sexual experimentations of two neighbourhood girls, who in turn are hoping to seduce an older boy into a liaison, while also flirting with Richard’s co-worker (yeah the pervert). Meanwhile, Richard tries to burn his hand in front of his boys. Robby chats with a much older woman online and even agrees to meet up. Christine starts to stalk Richard. There’s more but that’s the gist of it.
The problem is that featuring underage fellatio/sex, teenage virgins seducing perverts and online hardcore chats involving adults and six year olds talking about scatological acts of love will sort of besmirch and befuddle the rest of the film’s message – something to do with alienation, loneliness and reaching out I think.
A typical romance-slash-find-meaning-in-life story is given a pretentious makeover and presented in an oddball package of too many plots and vague resolutions. In other words, even the critics sometimes get it wrong.
Ryann Philippe, Tim Robbins, Rachael Leigh Cook, Claire Forlani
Once upon a time, when the dotcom boom was young, an Empire arose. This was a time when the Internet was at snail’s pace, a.k.a. dialup, and people chatted through ICQ and IRC. The empire was named Microsoft, and techies viewed its seemingly monopolistic hold on the personal computer OS market as just below that of the Evil Empire under Emperor Palpatine. Back then the only way to connect to the Internet was with a personal computer (PC) and every PC was bundled with the Windows OS.
Of course business jealousy and rivalry also had a lot to do with why successful companies are branded as monopolistic villains, often by their up and coming competitors trying to gain a market share.
Anyway, CEO Bill Gates didn’t help matters with his aggressive, and sometimes even combative, style of business and was accused of acting like an authoritarian geek-tator who refused all compromise. But like any CEO of a successful company, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Nowadays people laud him for his philanthropic ventures like his promise to give away 90% of his wealth when he dies. And besides, there are bigger fish to fry.
Still, Hollywood took advantage of the techie’s vilification, and that’s why we have this film. Here Ryan Philippe plays a young computer coder named Milo Hoffman who is recruited by NURV, a major software corporation to develop a satellite version of the Internet that will connect everyone.
Gary Winslow, the evil CEO of NURV is played with villainous glee by Tim Robbins. But Gary goes one step further. Not content with just crowding out the Open Source developers, he actually goes out and murders them in a serial killing spree. So we follow Milo as he seeks to thwart the evil machinations of NURV. Along the way, he meets hot eye candy Rachael Leigh Cook and Claire Forlani. Does he succeed and save the universe? Tune in and find out!
Today, despite their maverick origins, Facebook, Google and Apple are now seen as evil corporate monopolists. So the Wheel turns…
The Matrix (1999)
Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, Carrie Ann-Moss
Hailed as a visual and cinematic masterpiece, this was actually the second film written and directed by the Wachowksi brothers, and up to then would be their most successful. Spawning a trend not only in Hollywood for greater usage of wire acrobatics in plagiarized Hong Kong-like fight scenes and the usage of the ‘bullet time’ effect to the point of near cliché, the film also became a major pop culture and cyber culture icon. We also got to experience the acting of Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith, the delightfully evil scene chewing villain for the first time – for that I am forever grateful.
Thomas Andersen, the protagonist is fresh-faced and bored. During the day he is a computer programmer running the rat race. At night he moonlights as a computer hacker codenamed ‘Neo’. Along his cyber journey he finds clues and hints about ‘The Matrix’ and follows them till he encounters Morpheus (aka Mr. Black Obi-Wan in leather). He soon discovers the mind-blowing secret (which in truth isn’t really that profound – or even that original) that the world, the reality he knows…is a fake. The real world is a horrifying technological nightmare where humans are kept alive and harvested for energy by machines.
The Matrix played upon many of the fears that people have about the new digital technologies by ramping them up to 11, and adding in some pulp-philosophy, quasi-messianic mumbo-jumbo in order to make the whole thing seem ‘deep’. It pretty much worked. It expounds on themes such as virtual reality and cyber addiction (albeit in a fantastical setting) – things we can see today in headlines about people who starve themselves and their children playing online games. On individuals who have online relationships, online personas, online masks – that seem to captivate even more than the real thing.
Similarly getting information is not about search terms anymore. Neo and his buddies can download any information, even any skill set directly into their brains. Want to be a master at any form of martial arts, or even pilot a military helicopter? Just download it and your online persona can do so in a virtual reality that is even more actualized than anything the real world has to offer.
This is a film that starts out dark in tone and dystopic in atmosphere, but by the end the message is one of resounding hope and optimism for the future… before the sequels and troubles that would beset the world. Of course the counterargument to that is with all the internet, web porn and online gaming addiction, when Neo says “A world where anything is possible.” – does he mean the real world or the virtual one?
ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY AZRAL HANAN @ 360 Celsius
BY KENNETH LIM