Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Hot Docs 2014: Web Junkie
*For this particular film, since we both watched it., we did a his (Robert Stephen)/her (me, Melissa Arditti) movie review! Hope you enjoy it!
Life can sometimes be overwhelming and we need to escape for a while and indulge in something pleasurable. But when it gets to a point where the virtual world that you've escaped to blurs with actual reality, there is a problem. When you cannot remember the last time you washed your hair, let alone slept in your bed, World of Warcraft probably comes to mind; one of the most highly addictive online fantasy role-playing games.
In Web Junkie, directed by Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam, internet addiction is a growing problem in China, especially within the teenage population. To combat this issue, there have been over 400 treatment centres built with the hope to rehabilitate these adolescents before they lose all connection to the real world.
Like many who have addictions, denial is at the forefront, so parents will go to extremes to get their teen help. Some of the methods seem pretty morally disturbing.
These centres are anything but a walk in the park, with intense military-style physical training, group psychological counselling, and pretty much being under a watchful eye at all times. Parents relinquish their parental rights, which is relieving yet heart breaking for them, and in this film we follow three internet addictive teens during their three-month period of stay at a facility.
Compared to an addictive drug, this particular “electronic heroin,” off which they are trying to be weaned, is just as deadly, especially with its psychological dependency. Although people must be responsible for their own behaviours and actions, the abuse, neglect, and the overall feeling of never being good enough are huge factors as to why cyberspace is far more pleasant.
It’s interesting to note not only the openness (or perhaps desperation) of some of the parents, as well as the confrontations that take place during the therapy sessions. In the Asian culture it is often frowned upon to “show face”. It relates to the idea of avoiding the expression of any kind of emotion.
Watching a father break down into tears over his son’s behaviour and his perceived failure as a father figure was quite powerful.
One thing that I take away from this film is that sometimes disconnecting from the virtual world makes you truly appreciate, and reconnects with, what you have right in front of you.
There is a seductive element to Web Junkie: poor teens trapped by an evil addiction to the internet being more or less drugged and kidnapped by parents and sent to this particular Beijing internet addiction rehab centre.
Let’s step back a moment and put an historical context to this. China controls internet content that flows to its citizens. The Gang of Four and the Cultural Revolution are long gone and have been replaced by a pro-capitalist, anti-democratic Communist Party which controls internet access and filters out any China -negative content.
It reminds one of the Ontario Censor Board in the 1950’s. So, the internet is a suspicious activity in China.
A few teenagers go over the edge and 400 internet addiction rehab centres are established. Is the internet in China sweeping the nation in some Reefer Madness fashion? Is there a distorted overreaction? Is there real addiction here or are the teens political dissidents imprisoned for bypassing state sanctioned limits on the internet?
Is the problem World of Warcraft or are those who threaten the rules and sent to re-education camps?
Is this another Cultural Revolution the authorities are bound to lose?
Interesting here is that the internet addiction rehab centre, Chinese Teenagers Mental Correction Centre, filmed in this documentary is administered by the Beijing Military Hospital, and the chief psychiatrist is a military doctor.
My reaction to the documentary was to trash it, and trash it I will, but with a bit of restraint as I know an internet junkie and I recall vividly watching a Polish Film, “Suicide Room” reviewed by Square Media Group.
A bit of reality and fiction keep me narrowly from saying directors Medalia/Shlam were set-up on this film.
(Web Junkie, Israel/United Kingdom, Mandarin with English Subtitles, opens 30 May 2014, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Toronto)
You can also read this review at Windsor Square: Web Junkie