“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” — Eric Schmidt
I have been a fan of Jason Reitman's films since his first offering, "Thank You For Smoking." It was a decade ago, now, but I loved everything about that satirical film. It was my favorite film of the year when it came out, and it's still a favorite.
For his first three movies, I thought Reitman just got better. "Juno" was, perhaps, the most commercial success, but I think "Up In The Air," based on a little-known novel, is his best film. After that, Reitman expanded his range but it didn't always work.
I was one of the harshest critics of "Labor Day," his oddly paced love story featuring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Then, in the fall of 2014, he delivered another film based on a book, "Men, Women & Children." This film didn't have a long theatrical run, and it didn't grab a lot of acclaim. But, being a fan of Reitman, I gave the film a look over the holiday. I was amazed at what I saw.
This doesn't feel like his early work — it's more somber, serious, and darker. It doesn't have that comedic edge to drown out the drama. This isn't a movie about happy people, and there aren't any happy endings.
But what is does do well is ask hard questions about the Internet and the nature of connection in the modern era. It also makes you ask hard questions about how you can protect your children from a world where access and connection has never been easier, has never been less regulated, and has never been more superficial.
What fascinated me was a sort of dueling look at an approach to parenting and the Internet. Judy Greer, a talented actress and comedian, played a mother who placed no restrictions on her daughter. In fact, she used the Internet to sell her daughter — ostensibly to advance her modeling and acting career, but really to support her lifestyle.
On the flip side, Jennifer Garner played a mother who was way over the overprotective line. She monitored every interaction and everything her daughter did on the Internet, on her phone, and in her interactions with the world. She sought to shelter her daughter, but in reality she hovered and oppressed her daughter without regard to the consequences.
In both cases the children ended up worse off for the approach of their parents. And in both cases the parents had to consider that approach by the end.
The Internet has changed our lives and changed our culture forever. Most of our new technology has. Think about texting and cell phones — no longer do you have to call someone, instead you can carry out all manner of communication with the clicking of keys. The Internet also facilitates quick and easy communication and enables connections in ways that would have been daunting in the past.
"Men, Women & Children" also had some hard things to say about the impact of the Internet on sexuality. The access to adult material is immediate and prevalent on the Internet. Not only is this impacting adults, but it's impacting teens, who are exposed to images and ideas that are not grounded in reality.
It has been said that the flip side of every virtue is a fault, and I think the same is true of our technological advancement. It's a wonderful gift. It has added to our lives, but it also presents unforeseen challenges. I was fascinated by the issues and ideas raised in "Men, Women & Children," as well as the fact it didn't offer any happy endings or easy answers. That's life.
As someone who will, sooner rather than later, become a parent, it presents plenty to think of. How do we protect our children in the Internet age? How do we walk the line between too lax and too overbearing? Is it even possible?
"Men, Women & Children" doesn't have any answers, but it certainly explores those tough questions.