Disconnect, a film directed by Henry Alex Rubin and written by Andrew Stern, is incredibly timely, focusing on the way contemporary lives intersect digitally but never quite connect in the real world. It’s a film about interpersonal intimacy, or the lack thereof, in an age of deceptively easy communication, a world in which we can hide in the noise we create. This isn’t an easy movie, but it’s well worth watching. You’re not going to walk away “feeling good,” as they say, but you will walk away feeling something.
Disconnect tells three intersecting stories. It is an ensemble drama like Shortcuts, Magnolia or Crash, but to simply call it a movie about intersecting lives ignores its deeper ambitions. It’s a film about attachment, about the strategies we use to connect with each other, about why we choose these strategies, and about why they succeed or, more often, fail. In its focus on these issues, Disconnect most reminded me of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 masterpiece, The Conversation, another story about the how and why of intimacy. In that film each of the characters is intensely private. No one tells anyone anything because they all have something to hide. Forty years later, in Disconnect, the characters are intensely public. Everyone seems to tell everybody everything, but somehow no one finds a way to connect because — surprise—they all still have something to hide. The first movie is about the way we conceal who we are in silence, and the second is about the way we conceal ourselves in noise. Both address the lies we tell, to ourselves and others, to build and sustain relationships.
Each of the characters in Disconnect is lonely. Some are lonely because they’re narcissistic, others because they’re injured, or depressed, or rejected. The narcissists don’t know they need anyone until it’s too late; the rest just aren’t strong enough to assert their needs. But it turns out that everyone wants to make a connection. This is an inherent human quality, something we take for granted. The film addresses how we communicate this need, the codes we use, the information we protect. It’s about the relationship between communication, intimacy, and our desperation to make a connection.
People don’t just want to be loved. They want to be loved for who they really are. They want real relationships, to be seen and loved. In Disconnect, relationships begin technologically, with words typed on a screen. The characters can be who they want to be; they don’t have to worry about being seen, so they don’t have to worry about being loved. The Internet provides them with a safe space to explore intimacy. And these relationships are gratifying, but only to a certain point. When the characters take the next step, a real face-to-face connection, more often than not the relationships turn out to be disappointing. They were perfect when each person could pretend to be what the other hoped for. It’s easy to promise to fulfill another’s needs, but in real life this is much harder to do. Every relationship is a compromise. Nothing is free. Nothing is perfect. We all have to settle for less than what we want.
Disconnect is an excellent film, serious in intent, original in its narrative exposition—and its subject, need and intimacy, is compelling because it is so universal. This movie is about all of us.