The Internet brings people together and rends them asunder. Such is the case in “Disconnect,” the first fiction feature film from Phillips Academy grad Henry-Alex Rubin.
It’s a triple narrative about strangers who collide online: a kid who falls for a cyber prank; a couple that hits the skids when someone steals their identities; and an ambitious TV reporter who pursues an exposé involving an online porn performer. Like “Crash” and “Babel,” “Disconnect” strives for serendipity, irony, and relevance with intertwined stories that seem ripped from the headlines.
“Actually, the movie I really love in that genre is [Stephen Soderbergh’s] ‘Traffic,’ said Rubin, sunk in the shadows of a vacant cafe recently in the Lenox Hotel. “It’s about addiction and the war on drugs yet all the stories are very compelling because they’re about real people. I’m hoping that the theme of this was not so much technology but the trouble we have communicating with each other.”
Before “Disconnect” Rubin had made several documentaries, earning an Oscar nomination in 2005 for “Murderball,” a rousing look at a wheelchair rugby team. To his relief, he found that his documentary techniques were applicable to a fiction film. “In ‘Murderball’ we stick to cinema-verite storytelling, where you were in the moment watching characters be themselves,” he explained. “In this movie I also try to be unobtrusive with the camera so it would feel like eavesdropping. It’s very voyeuristic. I love that style in movies. Like Ken Loach movies [Loach is director of the upcoming ‘The Angel’s Share’]: He zooms in from far away and lets scenes play out. It’s a more naturalistic way of filming things.”
To add to the naturalism Rubin interviewed real people who had experiences similar to those in the film. “I spoke to someone who lost a loved one to suicide, and he described to me what it was like running through the hallways of the hospital and trying to find the victim’s room,” he said. “That description made its way into the film.”
Rubin’s own experience with the alienating effects of new technology has been less dramatic. “I struggle in my relationship with my phone,” he confessed. “How much I use it and how much I try to just be present in the moment. When my friends and I have dinner we put our phones in the middle of the table. The first person to reach for theirs has to pick up the check.”