Undefended: Scenes From Cyberspace

While the internet is a daily, even hourly, aspect of many Americans lives, I find myself bored when characters in films get online. I want them to acquire knowledge directly, or talk face to face with the texting partners or email partners. Further, a character surfing the internet is static, motionless, looking away from all the color and action of the film.
However… from time to time, a director invents some artistically satisfying way of incorporating the internet into a film. This week, name five scenes which do well to show us heroes online.

Joshua Gibbs:

  1. “Nightcrawler” : The movement back and forth between Lou Bloom’s late night internet research and his vampiric hunting for raw materials to steal during the day rings true for anyone who’s ever gotten obsessed with something online.
  2. “Sneakers” : “Anybody want to crash a couple of passenger jets?” My father was in the military for more than 20 years, and he once commented that any technology which ended up in a movie (like Sneakers, say) was probably ten years behind whatever was actually possible. The scene when the Sneakers crew discovers what the little black box can do was terrifying.
  3. “The Bling Ring” : What if idiots could hack your life and rob you blind simply by using TMZ to figure out if you were home or not?
  4. “The Social Network” : Zuckerberg keeps refreshing his FB page to see if his friend request has been accepted, might still be somewhere out there checking.
  5. “War Games” : Was this the earliest film to ever depict the internet? The scene where Broderick hacks the school network was mind-boggling when I first saw this one twenty years ago.

Sean Johnson:

  1. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” : My Matthew Broderick internet moment is more benign than others that are bound to appear here, but Ferris changing his number of sick days in the school computer has always seemed, in my mind, to balance the fear and threat of the internet in WarGames with an innocent optimism about its practical promise.
  2. “Sherlock” : When I started thinking about ways directors have solved the purely technical and stylistic problems associated with characters using the internet, BBC’s Sherlock was the first example that jumped to mind. Holmes checking train schedules and sending email (the show uses the same mechanic for text messaging, to great effect) in neatly framed floating text is an elegant mechanic for keeping the actors engaged and avoiding cutaway shots of glowing screens.
  3. “The Social Network” : I have to double up on Zuckerberg refreshing his Friend Request. Possibly the truest thing any scene of any movie has ever said about the internet.
  4. “Iron Man 2” : Tony Stark interrupts a federal hearing by forcing his videos onto the TVs in the room. But the real internet is never pushy or smug.
  5. “Tron”/”The Lawnmower Man” : neither was a great flick, but both seemed like leaps forward in the mode of depicting the internet as an inhabitable realm—as something approaching or encompassing life itself.

Rikki Elizabeth Stinnette:

  1. Opening scene, You’ve Got Mail: This is a no-brainer. Nora Epron’s beautiful script captures the wonder of email when it was a budding technology. Besides reminding me why I never want dial-up again, it emphasizes how the internet skews reality.
  2. Neo learns martial arts, The Matrix: Logging onto the internet becomes an action-packed adventure when Morpheus trains Neo to fight.
  3. Hacker meets a computer bomb, Live Free or Die Hard: This film is a terrible actioner sequel. Its one bright moment is when a single computer key becomes the “bomb under the table”…and the hacker goes online.
  4. Moriarty unlocks London, “The Reichenbach Fall” from Sherlock: Sherlock co-creators Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat turn hacking into quirky character development. “In a world of locked rooms, the man with the key is king. And honey, you should see me in a crown.”
  5. Much of the movie, *Her: *Samantha, the interactive computer program, is a character in itself. The scenes where Joaquin Phoenix interacts with her come to symbolize the attraction and isolation of modern technology. While other people spend time together at a fair, Joaquin walks by himself, laughing at the phone tucked in his shirt pocket.

Jon Paul Pope:

  1. Minority Report. Tom Cruise, wearing a cross between the Nintendo Power Glove and a Fendi driving glove, manipulates public information on a glass screen. The web is on Cruise control, and the main character wields technology like a maestro before his orchestra. Here Spielberg has made surfing the web look cooler than actual surfing.
  2. Wall-E. When the captain of the Axiom asks his computer to “define Earth” and rabbit trails his way through “pizza” to “square-dancing,” it is the closest cinematic version I’ve seen of what it’s like to fall into a Wikipedia vortex, and this banal pastime we all know is rendered meaningful. The captain is converted and the world itself is saved with help of the World Wide Web.
  3. Adaptation. After saying “f**** fish” and jettisoning his orchid collection, John Laroche takes up internet pornography. Chris Cooper’s character illustrates the seedy, fly-by-night, easy-money nature of the industry that would become the most lucrative and ubiquitous use of the internet ever. From the screenplay written in 1999: “It’s amazing how much these suckers will pay for photographs of chicks. And it doesn’t matter if they’re fat or ugly or what.”
  4. Winnebago Man. This documentary is a tragic love song to viral videos–a phenomenon birthed in VHS that reached its apotheosis in YouTube. It reminds us that the people in funny internet clips are real, and that the fans, e.g. the curators and attendees of the Found Footage Festival, might not be.
  5. 2001: A Space Odyssey. I remember accidentally seeing Kubrick’s masterpiece at a very young age, and the only thing that struck me as undeniably awesome was the videophone used by Dr. Floyd to contact his family back home. In 2003, Skype was released, so we missed it by only two years. But I’ll often remember that scene and that childhood memory when I use FaceTime and Skype–which is, like, all the time.

Fraser Martens:

Sean: “I asked for a car, they gave me a computer. Talk about being born under a bad sign.”

  1. Dear White People, duelling vlogs. There’s a great moment in Dear White People when Coco, who’s been posting videos to Youtube discussing her life as an aspirational black woman on campus to limited effect, see how many plays her rival’s “Dear White People” videos have been getting and decides the best way to get more attention is to start complaining about people touching her weave. If no-one’s listening, say something provocative
  2. Chef, Favreau’s rant ‘goes viral.” Chef is an awfully simple (but great) little movie built around the story of one man who doesn’t understand the internet. Of course, the movie itself is right on the edge of not getting the internet either, since its depiction of going viral is a little simplistic and convenient, but Favreau’s gobsmacked discovery of just how many people have seen his meltdown is fantastic.
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Hydra’s super-secret underground computer network. Let us never forget from whence our internet came: two-colour monitors blinking a command prompt at us. When Cap and Black Widow accidentally trigger the obsolescent internet mcguffin that gives Hydra control of the world, it’s a great throwback to the almost tactile quality which the first PCs gave to the information they provided.
  1. Skyfall, “The data is a map!” Look, I like Skyfall a lot, but the thing about the Internet is that pretty much noone actually understands how it or computers works, which is how you end up with the glorious stupidity of scenes like the one in Skyfall where Q ‘untangles’ the data to reveal that it’s actually ‘shaped’ like a map of the Underground, which… what?
  1. Up In The Air, remote downsizing: Sometimes it seems like the internet has made it clearer than ever that the first rule of business is that the cheapest, most efficient way is also the most callous. It isn’t until internet video conferencing allows what George Clooney’s character does for a living to be reduced to it ne plus ultra – anonymous face on video screens telling person after person that they’ve been fired – that the inhumanity that’s always been at the core of what he does is brought home to him.

Bonus entry: Hellboy II: The Golden Army: “World, here I come.”

This is one of the greatest movies ever made, and I will brook no debate. Red’s eagerness to leap out the window and finally be unerasably part of the world’s memory runs beautifully counter to Jeffrey Tambor’s weary complaint “I suppress each photo – cell phone videos, they cost me a fortune – and then they show up on Youtube… God, I hate Youtube!”

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches great books, collects records and jogs to work. He and his wife have two children, both of whom have seven names. He tweets at @joshgibbs and blogs for the CiRCE Institute.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *