No Country for Old Men
Two separate worlds, the breach widening. The first is of the unconnected who have no Batmanesque utility belts for cells, pagers, beepers and PDAs, who are not online, who view the technology as insidious Huxleyan soma/feelies out of Brave New World. Partly Luddite, they sneeze at the whole thing, but -- admit it -- a little envy figures in, and a curiosity as to what it's all about, this rage.
Then there is the cyberworld of geeks, hackers and addicts, threatening to some but undeniably the future, or, rather, the unstoppable present and the future. A first feature from former video-game designer and self-proclaimed digital junkie Jed Weintrob, On_Line employs the tricks and terms of technology in imaging a not negligible part of that world. And that part -- chat rooms, cyberporn and sex, voyeurism, exhibitionism -- is more depressing and repulsive than anything dreamt of in Horatio's philosophy.
On this very day when a divided Supreme Court has okayed pressuring public libraries to install filters against "objectionable material," the question of censorship again looms. But director/co-writer Weintrob's direct concern is not the thriving, seemingly implacable universe of Internet sex and sometimes violence. Intentionally or not, his subject turns out to be the dehumanization that accompanies misused, misapprehended technology. Awkwardly obvious from opening credits is that happiness lies, not in anonymous, often pseudonymous electronic contact, but, as pop music put it, in "reach out and touch somebody's hand."
Using cost-effective tape and up to six angled cameras simultaneously, then pushing technique in the Avid, the crew could manipulate digital medium -- notably in multi-split-screen -- for the look of computer windows alongside windows alongside windows in this mostly online universe. Differentiated slightly, even the outside offline is quick-cut, off-balance, jarring, at times through distorting New York building-entrance security video.
Punnishly named sexual athlete Moe Curley (Harold Perrineau) has invited former college roommate John (Josh Hamilton) to partnership in his flat and his live erotic Website, Intercon-X. John moons over a broken engagement of a year ago, still pointedly referring to her as "my fiancée," as his life reduces itself to his monitor, both for business and for an uneasy infatuation with Jordan Nash (Vanessa Ferlito), a cyber-prostitute who webcams herself and charges time, as well, to click onto her AngelCam.
John's web diary allows the filmmaker to get in a good deal of background cheaply, though it proves useful for precipitating the later climax. "This world," he piously begins, "is a lot smaller than you think."
Indeed it is. Continents apart for all they know, these young are not in Yeats's one another's arms. Each net-izen is glued to his/her personally decorated screen-a red boa, mottled green plastic, gold-corded royal purple drapes-through which characters seem at a mere one or two degrees of electrical separation via virtual sex (whatever that may be).
More than a friend of the lamented fiancée, when not taping and selling her sex Jordan is in touch with and fond of Al (John Fleck), a thirtyish dominant homosexual who carries on running chats with miserable small-town college gay Ed (Eric Millegan), who in turn chats on suicide site FinalExit with vodka-and-pill profligate Moira (Isabel Gillies), who is now in love with Moe. One big unhappy family, although the Web does manage to save a life along the way and to bring about a bus ride from Ohio to New York, where at least for the moment happiness is to be found pressing actual flesh to actual flesh.
A simple touch of a real finger, too, to the right ear and then nose of a wrist-strapped, hospitalized possible suicide, brings realization that one does want to hang around for a longer time. Having found love, learned a lesson and computer-freed his heart from the ex-fiancée, why does John re-up his Web partnership? Could it be, all unconsciously, to bring enlightenment to others enslaved to a split-windowed screen or insecurely flaunting themselves for those who click on?
Graphic on several levels but too glib and celebratory of modems and monitors, On_Line cannot be sufficiently self-aware or ironic to realize its cautionary tale. Or perhaps nothing can counter the tsunami that washes the age. What lingers here is great sadness, a world more sordid, because so widespread and accessible, than those of Hardcore, Star 80 or 8MM. Saddest of all, likely right up the alley of a lost, solitary Atari generation.
(Released by Indican Pictures; not rated by MPAA.)