Dig­i­tal dis­as­ter sends a mes­sage

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Evan Wil­liams

Men, Women & Chil­dren (M) Limited re­lease IT’S not of­ten we hear Emma Thomp­son mouthing ob­scen­i­ties in a movie. Can this be the Thomp­son we know and love, the one with the re­fined English ac­cent who wowed us in Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity and played the for­mi­da­ble Lady March­main in Brideshead Re­vis­ited? Emma talk­ing dirty? It’s as if Julie Bishop had sud­denly come out with the F-word while ad­dress­ing the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. As the un­seen nar­ra­tor in Ja­son Reit­man’s

Thomp­son gives us more than a quota of dirty talk. She rounds the film off with some por­ten­tous ob­ser­va­tions on the im­men­sity of the uni­verse and hu­man­ity’s in­signif­i­cant place in the scheme of things. And like much else in the film, her words are ac­com­pa­nied by shots of starry skies, wan­der­ing space­craft and dis­tant gal­ax­ies. Yes, we get the pic­ture. Men, Women & Chil­dren is a film with a se­ri­ous mes­sage.

Sam Gold­wyn once fa­mously said: “If you want to send a mes­sage, try Western Union.” Hol­ly­wood stu­dios have been wary of mes­sage movies ever since. Reit­man’s film, by my count, de­liv­ers not one mes­sage but three — the de­hu­man­is­ing power of cy­ber-tech­nol­ogy, the break­down of per­sonal re­la­tion­ships in a world of in­creas­ing iso­la­tion, and the de­struc­tive pro­lif­er­a­tion of ex­treme pornog­ra­phy. It’s pos­si­ble that Men, Women & Chil­dren is the first dis­as­ter movie tai­lored to 21st-cen­tury con­cerns.

The threat to hu­man­ity doesn’t come from a rogue virus, a plague of zom­bies, a freak nu­clear ac­ci­dent or the rav­ages of global warm­ing. The mon­ster that threat­ens our lives is the in­ter­net, that vast global web of shared knowl­edge and in­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion that no one ac­tu­ally owns and no gov­ern­ment can en­tirely con­trol. As Reit­man would have it, the in­ter­net is here to stay — and we’d bet­ter get used to it.

That’s some mes­sage. And judg­ing from first re­ac­tions to the film, it’s not a mes­sage au­di­ences want to hear. Crit­ics ev­ery­where have sav­aged Reit­man’s pic­ture. So em­phatic was the ini­tial re­jec­tion in the US that the film was pulled from cin­e­mas within a week of its re­lease last month. And it’s not hard to see why. It’s a long time since I’ve seen a film so sad, so un­re­lievedly hu­mour­less, so ut­terly dispir­it­ing. It’s as if Reit­man, re­mem­bered for warmly di­vert­ing en­ter­tain­ments such as Juno and the coolly sat- ir­i­cal Thank You for Smoking, found him­self over­whelmed by his own dire ideas.

I have no prob­lem with films in which the main char­ac­ters drift through point­less and un­happy lives. That’s noth­ing new. The Ital­ian ne­o­re­al­ists and the au­teurs of the French new wave built their reputations on por­tray­ing root­less char­ac­ters. Michelan­gelo An­to­nioni spe­cialised in af­flu­ent types who had lost the power to com­mu­ni­cate; Sam Men­des tack­led sim­i­lar themes to Reit­man’s in Amer­i­can Beauty, and

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