Making best picture nominee “127 Hours,” director Danny Boyle sought to craft more than an adventure-thriller. He wanted the movie to illustrate the importance of human connection in a modern world that, with each passing day, lends itself more to the ease of isolation.
Surveying this year’s best picture nominees, Boyle sees he isn’t the only one mining the theme.
“It’s interesting, isn’t it? And I really believe it says something about a feeling that’s out there, a feeling of disconnection,” Boyle says. “That’s why our movie begins with people and ends with people. People. That’s what it’s about. Poet John Donne said, ‘No man is an island,’ and it’s true.”
James Franco’s canyoneering athlete in “127 Hours” has plenty of company in a picture race littered with buttoned-up protagonists. There’s an English king who can’t make friends, much less address a crowd (“The King’s Speech”), an emotionally dysfunctional billionaire inventor (“The Social Network”), a mumbling marshal (“True Grit”), a brooding boxer (“The Fighter”) and … well, you get the idea. Throw in the repressed and reticent leads from “The Kids Are All Right,” “Inception,” “Black Swan” and “Winter’s Bone,” and you have a gallery of characters in dire need of emotional rescue.
“Pop culture, intentionally or not, tends to reflect what people are grappling with collectively,” says USC sociology professor Karen Sternheimer, author of “Celebrity Culture and the American Dream.” “Here in this hyper-wired age, there’s a lot of communication, but not a lot of intimacy in the communication. If going online is your main way of interacting with people, you might find yourself wanting more.”
That idea keys into what may be the defining moment of American film from 2010, the final image of “The Social Network,” with Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg sending a friend request to his old girlfriend, his Rosebud, and then repeatedly refreshing the screening to see if she has responded.
“If you’re somebody who has never considered yourself physically attractive, you get to be sexy and flirt,” says “Social Network” screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. “But you are socializing by yourself. You are doing it from the solitude of your room and not in real time. There’s a big difference between sitting at the computer and being able to look at somebody and hear their voice.
“Even the abbreviations, the special language that has been created for text messaging, you get a sense of fifth- and sixth-graders in study hall, passing notes back and forth.”
But Sorkin and others may be a little quick to lay the whole disconnection malaise off on technology. After all, the movie industry, by and large, is based in Los Angeles, a city in which, if you believe the old Missing Persons song, nobody walks.
“The ability to jump on the street makes a big difference,” says Javier Bardem, a lead actor nominee for his work in “Biutiful.” “The world is someplace where you have to go and face yourself. If the only thing you are facing is cars and highways, that might be a little difficult.”