My duo's screen is black and white and the keys stick and when I get onto the internet it takes about 45 minutes to download just one pornographic picture. To get into the Defense Department records or flight control computers would take much longer than that.
One could spend a lot of time debating the realism of The Net. No, actually that's not true. Most of the computer stuff is hyped-up bunk as anybody who's ever tried to do anything over the internet can tell you. But that's hardly the point. The truth is, The Net has a lot to tell us and almost none of it has to do with technology.
At its heart, The Net is your basic thriller. Somebody knows too much. Bad guys want them dead. Technology is just window dressing, like setting the movie in the 20's or on a college campus. Cyber is the buzz word of the season, Sandra's not busy, the logic is impeccable. What's amazing is that out of this cynical calculus emerged a movie that, at times, creeps dangerously close to brilliance.
Bullock's character, Angela Bennet, an asocial computer genius, is deftly placed in a fascinating position. She sees no one IRL (In Real Life), working entirely over the net or by phone. She has no friends, never leaves the house and her only family member is a mother suffering from advanced Alzheimer's disease. Angela is, for all intents and purposes, a ghost in the machine.
This turns out to be a dangerous position for Angela after she stumbles across a kind of deus-ex-machina program which allows anyone to control every bit of information on the net. It's also a program which proves to be very useful for the filmakers as it allows them to patch plot holes of unwieldy size with a simple mouse click. The people who's program this is then set about deleting Angela's life. Mousy, law-abiding Angela is electronically transformed into a drug dealing, car stealing, prostitute, Ruth Marx (with venereal disease, as the movie rather obsessively reminds us). All of the support mechanisms of a white, middle-class existence -- charge cards, identification (though somehow she always seems to have money) a believable story -- all wiped out. Angela is become a non-person, absolutely alone against what she knows to be monolithic conspiracy entangled in every facet of our existence.
This is where The Net is at its best, not as realism, but as drama. And it is at this point also, where The Net totally blows it. Handled by a better director, Roman Polanski, Terry Gilliam or Stanley Kubrick, the basic premise of The Net could have been made into a chilling, kafkaesque (that's right, kafkaesque) drama. It was that close to getting inside our paranoid nightmare -- all of this, everything we have and believe to be so solid, our possessions, our homes, our very identity, is in truth the frailest of fantasies. A fantasy at the whim of powers beyond our control.
Sadly, with the oafish Irvin Winkler (Fonzie's father, I believe) at the helm, directing out of the John Grisham Manual For Hackneyed Thrillers, The Net turns into a lot of Sandra Bullock running around and ends with a nauseating happily ever after. Now I have nothing against Sandra Bullock, but she just doesn't look very fast. And too make her footspeed an oft-used plot point seems, to me, extremely ill-advised.
What makes The Net so interesting, despite its obvious plot twists and predictable ending, is comparing it to the dark, terrifying, Net That Could Have Been. The comparison is illuminating. In its refusal to stop and allow the horror of Angela's situation to sink in, to allow her, and us, to see just how her situations, The Net points to the heart of something deeply American.
Angela never sees the irony of her situation, never apprehends the systemic nature of the threat. She just keeps running and running until she finds the simple solution, the push of the button that will set everything right. And find is she does. It is tempting to begin the argument of realism at this point, to mock the shallow "Hollywood" ending. But the pat happy ending, the plucky optimism and the single and obvious solution to a complex problem is more than just hack filming. It is closer, I think, to a national philosophy. A philosophy that, surprisingly perhaps, has seemed to work. At least so far.
...I was about to use this point to illustrate a fundamental difference between, not just American and European filmakers, but between America and Europe. Then I realized that the directors I thought could've made The Net brilliant are, arguably, American. Then I also realized that they are also all, arguably, exiles. It's amazing what you can learn from dumb Hollywood thrillers.
Read more of the Movie Guru's Reviews
Return to the Ooze Home Page