Cyberlife Lessons

April 19, 2013
Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton play victims of a cyberthief in one of three storylines in “Disconnect.”
Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton play victims of a cyberthief in one of three storylines in “Disconnect.”

For the record, when Henry-Alex Rubin’s phone buzzed during this interview, he didn’t move. It wouldn’t have looked good if he did, seeing as how his film “Disconnect,” out Friday, is all about the intrusiveness of phones and Facebook and webcams and message boards and every other way we electronically connect with one another.

The film weaves together the stories of a Blackberry-addicted father (Jason Bateman) whose son (Jonah Bobo) is cyberbullied, a reporter (Andrea Riseborough) doing a story on underage online sex shows, and a couple (Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard) whose personal information is stolen by a cybercriminal.

“Being able to intercut three stories is a really wonderful storytelling tool,” says Rubin, who co-directed the Oscar-nominated 2005 documentary “Murderball.” “It can make a film feel bigger than the sum of its parts.”

The connections among the characters, he notes, are casual (Bateman plays a lawyer who represents the reporter’s TV station, for example); it’s the online relationships that have the real power.

“I researched each one of those storylines as profoundly as I would have an entire movie,” he says. “Then I made what I felt were three separate films that had a few overlapping themes.”

While all three stories examine how technology can be a weapon, they also reveal how it can unite people in powerful, authentic ways — a change from films in which the Internet is a dark, scary place. Rubin was careful not to make technology the villain of the piece — because it’s not evil, he says, but also because audiences know better than to believe that everyone they meet online is out to steal from them or murder them.

“If I heard that was what the movie was about,” he says, “I would stay very, very far away from this movie.” Good thing “Disconnect” has a more nuanced, realistic take on technology. Just don’t check your email during the film.

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Kristen Page-Kirby | April 19, 2013