I started watching this film with a misconceived uncertainty, the digital synopsis had been less than helpful and if anything had mentally prepared me for something totally different to what I was actually watching. Hideo Nakata’s people focussed piece turned out to be an uncomfortably morbid criticism of social media and today’s youth, as well as their self-destructive marriage.
The film has its roots in performing arts, a play by Enda Walsh to be precise. I think it carried over well as a film, but the look and feel was very reminiscent of stage acting, especially when the teenagers came together in their ‘chatroom’.
Thematically I thought Chatroom was very bold. It was border-lining eccentric at first, most likely to reflect the utopian atmosphere that cyber space can harbour. But it quickly developed into a concentrated plot with a lot to say about the uses and effects of the digital generation. Just like everything else the good times only last for so long, and when the bubble of safety and trust bursts the characters show their true colours, reclining back into uncomfortable ineptitude.
With the use of claustrophobic, albeit well suited indoor settings the ‘chatrooms’ (such as ‘Chelsea Teens!’, the dating room and the suicide ‘safe-room’) were given faces, so the film cleverly allowed the characters to act out their digital personas to realistic and disturbing extents. This also served as a solid contrast against their ordinary lives, where their imperfections and insecurities were not safely locked away or hidden behind anonymity.
I was impressed how effectively Nakata used simple visual cues such as lighting and colours to support the harsh juxtaposition of reality verses virtual reality. It was composed to such an extent that it likened the characters’ on-line escape to a drug addiction; I have to admit even I was eager to return to the vivid aesthetics of their alter-egos…
…And when the characters were stranded in reality for too long they declined like an addict too. Truly disturbing images of self harm, suicidal obsession and intense depression which played havoc as a causal agent were shown to us in full, unashamed and uncensored light (and eventually this echoed into their alternate realities, corrupting them where they felt safe).
I have to admit this film is bleak, but it’s honest. The character we look to for integrity and leadership is corrupted and broken, but he hides behind the power of anonymity with crooked agendas. These agendas are insidious and seemingly without reason; needless to say there is nothing to gain and that presents the morals of internet socialising: We can be anything on-line without anyone ever finding out, that is dangerous. Especially when trust is thrown into the mix.
I would say this film is not for the faint hearted, but at the same time I would urge people to see it for themselves, because it has a very real point to make. It’s an intense ride, it will disturb you, and it will make you think. It does all this because at the end of the day these characters are very real, and very much like us.
I think the second to last scene summed everything up. The individuals finally meet, they collectively witness something (SPOILER) tragic yet they don’t say a word to one another. In the end they go their separate ways, desperately trying to avoid eye contact as they do. Perhaps it is not the kind of closure we would have wanted, but this film is not one to oblige in happy fantasy.
Still, find a copy if you can. See for yourself, I needn’t say anymore.