I feel like there is no other way to start this review other than by pointing out that I in no way want this review to turn into a five-hundred word rant about what Connected, the latest documentary by Tiffany Shlain, could have been. This is because as a critic, it is far easier for me to point out what is missing from a finished product, than create the product itself from nothing.
However, I also feel it’s important to be true and honest with my opinion of the film. Therefore, because Connected has a true split personality perception to it, I will break it down in two distinct parts: those which I loved and those which seem completely disconnected and irrelevant.
Shlain’s perceptions and views of technology are both vibrant and brilliant. Throughout the film, she paints a humbling and haunting picture of how human’s growth and technological achievements can spawn backlashes and ripple effects. She sites China’s Four Pest Campaign as a shining example. When Chairman Mao Zedong ordered the extinction of sparrows, he unknowingly altered humanity for the worse. Angered that the sparrows would steal the grain seeds his workers had struggled to create, he believed their elimination would result in an endless supply of food. Therefore, he ordered his people to take to the streets, banging pots and pans together in order to create an environment where the birds would be fearful of landing. Eventually, these birds became exhausted and fell to their deaths. Over time, the sparrow population became so sparse that the campaign was considered a success. However, by the 1960s, the Chinese government realized that in addition to eating the grains, these sparrows were also tools in the food chain used to eliminate bugs. In their absence, the rice and grain fields were ruined, yielding less fruit. The campaign has completely failed and left China in a far worse position than when untouched by man.
Shlain’s point, which she manages to convey rather flawlessly, is that our creations through revolutions and scientific creation, as well as over stimulation and significant desire to accomplish and succeed, actually do ourselves a disservice. Sure, the creations themselves are useful and serve amazing purposes that can better our lives, however they simultaneously can disrupt the chain of life. More importantly however, Shlain reminds us how simply one wrong move will jolt us right off the planet. She states Albert Einstein’s Honey Bee Theory as proof:
“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination … no more men!”
Left at just this angle, Connected is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.
Sadly however, Shlain wanders from this point. It is my belief, that there is an attempt to make parallels between the honey bees changing humanity and the death of her dad altering her life. This point by itself I respect and actually find pretty creative. However, I feel that Shlain tends to belabor the the point, turning an artistic passing glance into more of an epic tribute to the life of her father. With more than fifty percent of Connected wandering into parts of the writer and director’s personal life, which honestly adds very little to the film in terms of educational use, part of the film become a detraction. For example, I struggle in finding a fundamental use for how a story about her father saving her from her first major accident on the Golden Gate Bridge illustrates anything other than a love of her father. While vaguely reliant, in the fact that it is significant in the way she came to her conclusions and how she learned and became who she is, I cannot condone the overwhelming use of her father’s death in the film.
Therefore, I have very mixed feelings about Connected. Would I advise a person to check it out? Probably. The points and ideas collected are quite intelligent and leave the audience better for having experienced them. However, I also think there are a handful of things in the film that are a waste of time. While I understand and sympathize with Shlain in regards to the death of her father, having recently lost my mother, I also believe that having not known him, there is very little that I can benefit from, having learned of his death. Therefore, I believe maybe this film was made for Shlain herself, not the general public.
Then again, maybe that’s just me.
To find out if Connected is playing in a theatre near you, go to http://connectedthefilm.com/
I give Connected 2 “cell phones” out of 5
by Joshua Hammond