So says a text message sent by Ben Boyd, a moody, introspective, Radiohead-loving adolescent who's more at home in his head, in his music and online than he is with his own family.
Ironically, the person Ben thinks he's communicating with, a young woman named Jessica who's friended him on his social media page and taken a liking to music Ben's posted, really is fake. "She" is actually two bullies who are preying upon the unsuspecting Ben the way hungry lions go after vulnerable wildebeest calves. By the time he realizes Jessica isn't Jessica, Ben has been baited into sending a naked picture of himself, a picture that soon goes viral … and prompts the horrified youngster to hang himself.
That's just the first of four seriously cautionary tales in Disconnect, a movie about how Internet-enabled relationships promise more intimacy than they deliver, even as digital connections unwittingly undermine our most important real-world relationships.
Disconnect's second story revolves around an alienated husband and wife. Derek and Cindy are struggling with the loss of their one-year-old baby and their inability to get pregnant again. Derek has shut down emotionally, retreating into his work (which requires lots of travel) and into online gambling. Meanwhile, Cindy is desperate to talk, and she finds a compassionate ear in a widower who goes by the username "fearandloathing" in a grief-and-loss Internet chat room.
But when Derek and Cindy become the victims of identity theft, online security specialist Mike Dixon tracks down fearandloathing and discovers that Cindy's confidant—real name Stephen Schumacher—is actually a savvy thief milking her for information. When Derek asks Mike what he'd do in their situation, the latter replies, "I'd strangle the son of a b‑‑ch." Thus, Derek and Cindy perilously seek to turn the tables on the thief.
Mike, however, has problems of his own. A widower, he's doing the best he can to raise his adolescent son. But even though he's adept at sorting through other people's online missteps, he's not so good at it with his own flesh and blood. His son, Jason, is one of Ben Boyd's bullies—yet another blow to the father and son's already troubled relationship.
Finally, putting an exclamation point on 21st-century society's damaged ideas about intimacy is Kyle, a formerly homeless 17-year-old who now lives in a house with other teens doing sex webcam work under the watchful eye of their digital pimp. It's a story that ambitious reporter Nina Dunham wants to tell. But when she convinces Kyle to talk—anonymously, of course—it ends up on the national news and invites the attention of the FBI. If Nina wants to keep her job, high-powered lawyer Rich Boyd—Ben's father—tells her she's going to have to turn Kyle and his outfit in.
Disconnect invites viewers to wrestle with the suggestion that many people in the Internet age are more likely to seek emotional (and sexual) intimacy with complete strangers online than they are with the people they're closest to. The results, the film further suggests, can be devastating.
Ben is an artsy, quiet, misunderstood kid who's not only an outcast at school, but an outsider in his own home. When he tries to commit suicide, his action serves as a catalyst for the family to take a hard look at what they value and how they're living. Dad spends hours going through Ben's pictures and music, really getting to know his son and lamenting the fact that he didn't do so earlier. Sis mourns the fact that she did nothing to protect her brother from those who taunted him. And the family comes together in a way that they never have before.
Rich also reaches out to "Jessica," who at this point is being personified via texts by Jason. Jason feels guilty about a prank that got out of hand, and begins an odd relationship with the older man—one in which Rich acts as a kind of accidental surrogate father. It's clear that Jason's relationship with his own father, Mike Dixon, is damaged, and Rich's willingness to reach out and "talk" proves strangely cathartic for both … until, that is, Rich learns the truth about Jason's role in his son's suicide attempt. Still, this odd relationship once again illustrates the film's main point about how easy—and dangerous—it is for complete strangers to fill important emotional roles in one another's lives online.
Meanwhile, Derek and Cindy's quest to track down Schumacher is fraught with peril. But as they go forward, the couple begins to talk again. And in the end it turns out that Schumacher is also a victim of identity theft, a fact that ultimately stays Derek and Cindy from perhaps assaulting the man. He's "just another victim," Mike tells them, reinforcing the movie's theme that the Internet claims many such victims.
As for Nina and Kyle's relationship, it's a muddy one, to say the least. At some level, Nina genuinely wants Kyle to get out of his "career" doing sex work on webcams. On another level, though, Kyle (brutally) helps Nina see that she was just using him to get a story that would burnish her career. Kyle accuses her of being even more exploitative than the job he's in, an accusation that clearly rocks Nina.
Thanks to social media and the Internet, we're digitally connected to more people than ever before. But as many social commentators have noted as of late, the word digital may make all the difference between those connections being a great thing or a devastating thing. Instead of real, life-giving connections with others, many people get conned by counterfeit intimacy—virtual relationships that ultimately serve as a shallow substitute for the genuine article. Or worse.
Disconnect locates the scabs of online wounds and then digs underneath them, relentlessly picking at this painful reality.
It's brutal to see the end result of a young boy's longing for love and affirmation get turned so horrifically against him, an outcome that leaves him dangling at the end of rope.
It's brutal to hear a 17-year-old argue that performing sex acts in front of strangers is a fulfilling vocation for him—not to mention seeing the other young men and women deceived by this lie.
It's brutal to see a veteran reporter come to the realization that she herself is willing to exploit someone if it means furthering her career.
It's brutal to see parents and husbands and wives learn, too late in some cases, how badly they've failed one another.
It's brutal to watch Disconnect, an unflinching movie—and unflinchingly graphic at times—that paints a dark portrait of the even darker side of our technological age.
In the tradition of ancient Greek epics, John Milton begins his poem by calling on the guidance of a heavenly muse to help tell his tale, stating that his goal is to justify the ways of God to man. He begins his story in medias res (in the middle of things). God has cast Satan and his rebel army of fallen angels out of Heaven, and they are floating on a fiery lake in Hell. These angels become devils and form a council to debate how to overthrow God. Through his second-in-command, Satan convinces them that the best target is man, God's newest creation. Satan volunteers to fly to the world full of God's new creatures. His daughter, Sin, and their incestuous son, Death, help him escape from Hell. The personifications of Chaos and Night also help pave the way for Satan to enter the new world, because they have no particular allegiance to God.
God, in his omniscience, already knows that Satan will succeed in tempting and corrupting mankind. He announces that man will be punished for his disobedience, because he created humans to be strong enough to withstand temptation. He claims that his new creations will be punished by death unless someone in Heaven is willing to die on their behalf. Only God's Son volunteers.
Satan lands in the new world and sneaks into the Garden of Eden disguised as a cherub. Once inside the garden, he spies God's new creations, Adam and Eve, and is deeply envious of their innocence and happiness. Though he has a moment of doubt and almost feels love for the humans, he resolves to continue with his plan to corrupt them. It is the only revenge he can get against God. He overhears Adam and Eve discussing how God forbade them from eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and decides that he will trick them into disobeying God by eating the fruit.
Uriel, the angel guarding Paradise, realizes that the cherub is Satan in disguise and sends for the archangel Gabriel to find the intruder. Gabriel confronts him, and Satan reveals himself and prepares for battle. God then sends Satan a warning: a pair of Golden Scales in the sky that demonstrates how pointless it is to fight. Satan flees, recognizing that God does have the ultimate power and advantage.
Satan whispers an upsetting dream about eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in Eve's ear while she is sleeping. God decides that although he cannot control their actions, he must warn Adam and Eve about Satan. He sends his archangel Raphael to discuss with Adam the idea that they have the free will to make their own choices and to warn them about the temptation they will face and its consequences.
Raphael also tells Adam the story of Satan's rebellion in Heaven—which began when Satan, then a high-ranking angel, became envious of the Son, who would become King of Heaven. Satan then convinced other angels to rebel against God and forms an army. Yet all angels are immortal—while they can be wounded, they can't be killed. The battle that Raphael describes to Adam seems pointless, especially because the all-powerful God can call an end to the war whenever he likes. He does so on the third day, telling his Son to banish the rebel angels to Hell.
After Raphael finishes telling Adam the story, Satan returns to the Garden of Eden, taking on the disguise of a serpent. He finds Eve alone and speaks to her. Eve is curious about how he came to be able to speak, and he tells her that he learned by eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. He tells her that if she eats the fruit she can become a goddess and gain knowledge as well. After hesitating, she eats the fruit and then offers it to Adam. Though he realizes that she has disobeyed God's orders, he eats the fruit so they will share the same fate.
God then sends the Son to the Garden of Eden, where he condemns Eve and all future women to experience pain when they give birth. He also condemns Adam to have to labor to grow his food and tells Eve she must submit to Adam. Satan is gleeful that he has accomplished his plan, and his children, Sin and Death, build a bridge between Hell and Earth. Though Satan arrives triumphantly in Hell, believing he has outsmarted God, God punishes Satan by turning him and the other devils into serpents, doomed to eternally hunger for fruit that turns to ashes when they bite into it.
God next orders angels to make the new world more hostile to mirror Adam and Eve's fall. The angels create storms and turn creatures against each other to create discord and suffering. Adam and Eve begin fighting and blame each other for the punishment they are enduring. Ultimately they decide to repent to God, swearing to be obedient. God agrees to be merciful, allowing them and their offspring into Heaven in the afterlife if they are obedient to him.
God sends the archangel Michael to show Adam what his and Eve's future will look like: their sons will murder each other, tyrants will rule, and biblical floods will wipe out most people. Yet he offers them hope in addition to depicting the suffering that future humans will endure: he shows Adam a rainbow meant to reflect God's mercy and biblical characters such as Noah, Enoch, and Jesus—men who will redeem humanity through their selfless acts. Adam and Eve finally leave Paradise, accepting their fate.