Great Movies About the Internet?

by Nav

If you had to make a list of “Things that got huge in the 21st century and were kinda’ a big deal”, you’d pretty much have to include the internets. Maybe even the webs, too. So why, then, do there seem to be so few movies about it?

There are some great films that really grapple with some central questions about technology. Blade Runner cut to the core of what might or might not distinguish the technologized self from the organic one. 2001 wondered about technology’s role in human evolution for better and worse. But where are the great films about some of the web’s central concerns: of disembodied or virtual identity; of the restructuring of hierarchies; of the rise of non-linear thought; or, hell, I dunno, porn addiction.

I’m sure they’re out there. I just can’t think of many. Avatar is on some obvious level about embodying other identities through a technological change; but its potential seems deflated by framing it in a traditional colonialist narrative. It didn’t really present the new; it’s just used a technological plot device to reproduce a trope we could probably do without.

So SiW readers, what are the great films about the internet? Or, at the very least, the films of the last 10 or 20 years that speak to something about the web’s impact on how we think about ourselves and our relation to the world?

Here’s what I’ll throw into the ring:

  • I’d like to submit something for your consideration: Me, You and Everyone We Know is the first great movie about the internet. I think this clicked for me at a specific moment in the film. Amidst this story of people attempting to connect – with virtual selves, with ideals, with expectation – there is a clip of Christine’s moment of direct honesty in her audition tape. She cuts through and stands out through some kind of concordance between her ‘true self’ and her projection on film. Shortly after, she is shown circling random letters in a book called “Going to Pieces”. To me, it was a moment in which the fragmentation of language – its reconfigurability – was put side by side by technology’s capacity to do that to self. More to the point, the film is itself an aching portrayal of, on the one hand, alienation, but on the other, points of connection between people that seem entirely unorthodox – as if the network that connects individuals has somehow been tampered with.
  • Coraline. This isn’t about the web as much as it is games, but: a young girl is beckoned into another world by a smaller version of herself that appears in doll form. If she were to lose herself there, she would adopt the eyes of the other place. But instead, she must pursue a quest in which she collects red orbs, to then travel back to her own world transformed, grown, changed. There’s something here, I think – particularly the conduit between the two worlds.
  • The other day on Twitter, I wondered if Ratatouille weren’t also a movie with ‘web-like’ concerns i.e. what, on the surface, looks like the collapse of the distinction between expert and amateur, but is in fact about the increased likelihood that expertise can come from new, unexpected places.

There are others. Inception is, I think, about the feeling of risk of ‘other worlds’ you can venture into. Fight Club is probably the movie about occupying a provisional, virtual self in order to move to some kind of self actualisation (a ‘trend’ that was followed in novels like Londonstani, and Kunzru’s The Impressionist and Transmission and, I’m sure, many others).

But what else? Which films capture something about some of the unique changes brought about by the web or related technology?