Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Tweet. Poke. Reblog. Text. Imessage. Email. Share. These are all methods we are now using to stay "connected" with one another. Falling out of touch with people who don't live near us is a fear of the past. These methods of communicating through social media allow for instant connections to occur at any time and from virtually any place. The simple convenience of these website features is what makes them so appealing. Why call a friend to see how he is doing, when we can simply look at his Facebook wall? Why waste time making a call to check on a sick friend if there is a live feed of her condition on Twitter? Ironically, as people become more "connected" with these websites, they in turn disconnect from the real world and from the people around them. In the film Disconnect, directed by Henry Alex Rubin, social media are explicitly linked with dysfunctional family relationships. The film's protagonists are driven to make rash decisions and "log off" from the real world because they have substituted computers for intimate kinship.
Perhaps the most tragic victim of a distant family relationship in the film is Ben Boyd. A music lover with long hair and "emo" looking clothing, Ben is an outsider, even to his own family. Indeed, for a large chunk of the movie, it seems like his family doesn't know him at all. Early in the film, Ben's relationship with his sister, Abby, is given center stage. While he attempts to talk to her and her friends, she simply blows him off. In one scene, Abby's high-status blonde friend, in refusing to give Ben a ride home, even refers to him as an object, saying, "THAT'S not going in my car." This scene is particularly important because Abby doesn't defend him. She shows that she doesn't care to protect her little brother and cares more about what her friends think than what her brother might feel. Her negative attitude toward Ben makes it easy to see why he would feel more comfortable with speaking to someone online, someone who may not necessarily know that he is a "loser" at his school and in real life. Abby shows how little she cares about her brother's feelings and well-being despite knowing that he doesn't have any friends. Her disdain for Ben is ultimately what makes her finding his hanged body after his suicide attempt especially poignant. This scene suggests that the only way for her to pay attention to Ben is for him to do something desperate. Although Abby is not the sole reason Ben is driven to kill himself, she is a part of the problem and a contributing factor to his depression.
Ben's connection, or lack thereof, with his father also contributes significantly to his suicide attempt. Rich Boyd is a busy attorney with no time for anything but work. One of the more eye-opening scenes of Disconnect shows him at the dinner table glued to his Blackberry. His work affairs are so important that he makes them a greater priority than his family, and he leaves the table without a second thought. His separation from Ben is also intensified by their different interests. While Rich is more practical and focuses on work, Ben is passionate about music, something his father doesn't pay attention to. Rich doesn't even listen to Ben's original compositions until after the suicide attempt. In addition to not having male friends, Ben doesn't have much of a relationship with his father, so he has no male role model in his life. This lack of responsible male support and guidance lead him to make self-destructive decisions, like sharing nude photos of himself online, to impress a girl.
Overall, Ben's family doesn't pay much attention to him and his emotions. To Abby and Rich, Ben is not important since he is not on their cell phone screens. He is not a priority, so he is disregarded. It can be argued that Ben feels his invisibility. He knows that his family doesn't truly know or understand the real him. They aren't even aware of the bullying he is now facing as a result of his leaked nude picture. His suicide attempt can be interpreted as a cry for help and not necessarily a real attempt at ending his own life. Before stepping into his noose, Ben plays obtrusively loud music, and only then does Abby go into his room. It can be inferred that Ben plays the music loudly because he wants to be found. He wishes for his family finally to pay attention to him and to realize he needs their support and love. He wants to be seen. Perhaps he even wants to be saved.
Another dysfunctional family relationship in Disconnect is that of the Dixons. For the majority of the film, Jason is the antagonist and the bully who drives Ben to suicide. However, as scenes depicting his strained interactions with his father unfold, we see that Jason is a bully because he feels he's bullied. Jason, like Ben, doesn't feel close to his dad and feels as though he isn't loved. In one of the online conversations he has as the invented Jessica Rhony, Jason expresses that he feels imprisoned by his father and is unhappy with their relationship. Ironically, Jason is able to open up to Ben via Jessica Rhony, although he would never have spoken to him in person. Jason initiates the childish and immature prank because he is rebelling against his father's strict parenting. He uses Jessica as an anonymous outlet to bully Ben in the same way his father bullies him. It can also be assumed that Jason is a bully because he is in control of or expects to be in control of the pranks, whereas he couldn't control his mother's death, which led him to be raised by his resentful father. Jason's personal tragedies make him feel like the best way to show control over his emotions and his life is to not show any at all until his tears cascade at the film's end, when the horrors of his prank gone wrong finally hit home.
When watching this movie, I definitely saw ways in which the issues presented were relevant to my life. In the same way that the Boyds are so attached to their phones, my family is attached to technology. Some days, my family will be gathered in the living room, but we won't be truly interacting with one another because we each will be connected to something online. There are times when my family is watching TV shows simultaneously: my mother on our computer, my brother on his cellphone, and I on our TV. Although we are all watching shows, our house is completely silent because we are all wearing headphones. My mom has referred to this euphemistically as "separate togetherness" and a more contemporary way of "hanging out." While this separation doesn't actually cause a rift in my family, I do see it being harmful in the future as we could become accustomed to not really interacting. The greatest issue in my generation is our obsessive use of social media. It's ironic that social media were meant to connect people, but what they really do is create more space. Many people confuse having information with being close to someone, so they don't even realize that everything they know about their friends and family is learned while looking at a computer screen.
Disconnect tackles some of the contemporary world's most compelling issues. In today's culture, the most pervasive threat to family harmony isn't financial trouble or gang violence, but social media and our constant connection to technology. While we are so focused on the screens in front of us, we miss important things happening in the world that surrounds us and in the family we say we are a part of. For the Boyds, their constant connection to technology created a rift in their family, and blinded them to Ben's obvious struggles as an isolated teenager. For the Dixons, technology was the toxin that Jason resorted to as a result of his tragic family life and disconnection from his surviving parent. In both families, relationships were rocky, and it seems like no one really knows about each other. In a world where being logged in is so important, they were actually logged off.
Disconnect, Henry Alex Rubin. Perf. Jason Bateman and Alexander Skarsgard. LD Entertainment. 2012. Film.