The Net (2003) Poster


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Provocative and frightening but inconclusive
partnerfrance1 May 2005
The film was shown this weekend (30 April) in Paris in the presence of its director, Lutz Dammbeck, who stayed to take questions from the audience afterword's.

The film's premise is frightening enough -- the internet was originally developed through a sort of unholy alliance between (i) scientists bent on "remodelling" post-WW II man in order to avoid a repeat of war by isolating (through various mind-control experiments) and then removing the genesis of authoritarian personalities, (ii) the American intelligence community bent on winning the Cold War, and (iii) (somewhat improbably) a group of "hippie" non-conformists and artists who shared the vision of the aforementioned scientists. Dammbeck develops the premise by a series of interviews with various members of each group whom he considers as having been the "architechts" of the internet.

Against this alliance stands Dammbeck's unpalatable anti-hero, the Unabomber (whom Dammbeck certainly does not admire, yet has some sympathy with -- Dammbeck reminds us that Kaczynski was one of the students who actually underwent the mind-control experiments in question, which may have triggered the unhinging of his mind).

The problem with the film is that in each of the interviews, after having drawn out his subject into explaining his role in the development of the internet, Dammbeck then asks the interviewee whether such development was not subject to legitimate criticism and then provides as an example...the criticisms made by Kaczynski in his Unabomber manifesto! Of course, this simply triggers an emotional response from each of the interviewees that Kaczynski was either a madman, a dangerous criminal or both, so that the question of whether there is not some truth to the argument that such development was dangerous is never answered. Dammbeck never first alludes in his interviews to other critics of technological positivism who did not feel it necessary to make their criticisms by means of letter bombs.

This "technique" reaches its paroxysm when Dammbeck interviews one of the Unabomber's victims, who lost an eye and a hand to one of the letter bombs, and asks him whether he does not feel that Kaczynski had some worthwhile criticisms to make. Needless to say, the interviewee responds with an entirely understandable emotional response which the audience is somehow supposed to feel constitutes a refusal to consider the merits of the question.

Dammbeck might have been better off asking his of his interviewees a series of less "loaded" questions first before springing on them "So, do you think that this fellow who killed three people and wounded a dozen others (including in one case the actual interviewee!) had something worthwhile to say?" It is too bad that this technique takes the edge off what is a very troubling theory developed in the film. Still, it is a film worth seeing, particularly as it becomes clear by the end of the film that Dammbeck has in fact been keeping up a running correspondence with Kaczynski and has a good idea of what makes him tick.
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The Weaving Of The Web
K2nsl3r17 March 2007
The Whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the System will survive a couple of loose parts and weak links. Arpanet, as the precursor to the Internet, was designed to withstand localized damage. The Global Economy, too, has survived the terrorism by Al-Qaeda as well as by the Unabomber. Likewise, this film, as a film ABOUT the Internet and the Global Economy, withstands the critiquing of its weaker attributes.

The subject matter of this film is the Brave New World of technological utopia, a Mega-System of sorts. This story entails systematics, globalization, technological rationalization and the paranoid fantasies of this world's discontents. Human behaviour becomes a fabrication of control mechanisms, and in such a world nothing is feared more than a total lack of control, i.e. arbitrary terrorism, such as that of The Unabomber. The ingenuity of this film, on a purely intellectual level, is the way it connects the dots between The Internet, Esalen Institute, New York Times, M.I.T., Henry David Thoreau, Montana and Ted Kaczynski. In a word, this film weaves an intriguing Web about the Web.

One shouldn't be put off by the problematic morals of this film. This film, as a document, is too important to be dismissed as sensationalism or misguided hero-worship. For one, Dammbeck puts Unabomber in a context where one is not made to agree with his radical (and borderline insane) ideas, but instead is given a good sample of the institutional background of the professor-turned-killer, forcing a transition from the merely personal and anecdotal into the realm of History and Causation. What, we are asked, is the relationship between fundamental mathematics and the paranoid fantasies of Gödel and Kaczynski? And what if there is a linkage between the CIA-Army behavioural experiments of the 1950's and 60's and the very real madness of Unabomber? What, after all is said and done, is the role of individual responsibility in a world governed by trends, fluctuations, computer technology and economic mergers? Lutz Dammbeck's documentary is a fascinating voyage into the dark underbelly of the American Dream (to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson). The film maker slices through a number of interweaving threads in search of something intangible yet real, something to cut through the virtual. In fact, the film may be accused of being somewhat incoherent in its production, because the internal logic of the film follows too closely the subjective voyage of the director (with mind maps and internal dialogues given precedence to the voice of the interviewees). That said, subjectivity in documentary film-making can be a strength, and the director takes full advantage of the opening up of new doorways into strange, dark alleys of underreported American history. He is bounced around from door to door, from person to person, from topic to topic. The viewer is in for a roller coaster ride, both dazzling and dizzying.

The film maker exhibits clear signs of ignorance, arrogance, confusion, banality and moral ambivalence - all in varying proportions. Still, the end result manages to be inclusive yet not over-effuse, and, for the viewer, the combinatory effect of topics and interviewees boils down to an altogether charming and fascinating experience. It is hard to say what lessons to learn from this film, but one is at least given a glimpse of the full compass of Genius on the moral scale from the Humanitarian to the Criminally Insane. It is less than comfortable to find out that the difference between a Benefactory Visionary and an Evil Genius is a thin red line...
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Pulls the cover from our eyes
placebotonic4 March 2009
This documentary nailed me to the seat, because it explores the social links with great care and shows just enough for me to get the big picture. Kaczynski, no matter what you think of him, no matter what his victims think of him, has a very, very valid point. Philosophically, his goal could only have been to deconstruct society, make the links fluid, then reconstruct it in another way. It is only sad that he thought he had the power to do so, since the society, the whole world works in a uniform way, we are all, with very few exceptions driven by instinct through mind to obtain wealth, status, partner, family, luxury, security, and this is intertwined in such a way, that the common denominator is simply: mo'better. More and better, more of better, better and more of it. This inevitably means that everyone will be inclined to actively and passively seek shortcuts, most come by means of new inventions, technology. This is the driving force behind technology and an individual, or even a group of individuals, cannot possibly challenge that. It strikes me a bit odd that one of Kaczynski's victims dismissed his theories simply because he is a murderer. The difference between him and a soldier who kills is that the soldier has a mandate from the state to do so. Both are widow/orphan makers, but only one was allowed by the state to do so. Is he therefore not a murderer simply because the state allowed him to kill?

A historic fact is that former USSR and Nazi Germany were quite equal in ideology, but the reason we don't hear that is because Russia has been too powerful to be challenged like that. Because of politics, Russian holocaust of Ukrainians, for instance, was overlooked. It's the state that decides what you may do, what you may know. You see, things aren't always black or white and this movie is trying to show just that.

If you're thinking about the world, where we're going and just want your eyes to be able to perceive more, watch this documentary.
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Compelling Connections. Educational and Stimulating.
Kiers776 June 2010
There is no denying the facts uncovered by Mr. Dammbeck. If you are a student of the history of technology, of computing especially, and its relationship with society then this film is a must see.

It raises questions which have never been addressed elsewhere. Indeed Mr. Dammbeck discloses that the biases are "systemic".

For example, Why did "Silicon Valley" develop in California? Why is the University of California a beacon of BOTH computer science education, and the vanguard cultural movements in the 60s? How exactly were computers marketed to the public at first? In what context? How was the decision to disseminate the mass consumption of computation taken? (This is WAY beyond the "chicken and egg" problems of scope Guy Kawasaki faced with marketing Apple PCs to the public.) What are the Taboos underpinning our technological society? Who benefits from these taboos? What has Thom Friedman left out in his discussion of our presently Global, multi-ethnic society?

This is a spare, lean philosophical exploration of things never or rarely discussed in the media, but it is extremely relevant to our present!

A Must See, especially for engineering students.
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Intriguing if not wholly successful look at the battle between technology and anti-technology
dbborroughs30 June 2007
This is a German documentary about the rise of the internet, mind control and other military experiments and the unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. Told through interviews with various people who were involved with the various subjects the film is more an essay on the change in society and the encroachment of technology for better or worse into our lives. Linking it all together is the story of Kaczynski who's actions were some how connected to the people interviewed. As a look at the rise of the thing we call the internet the film is quite good and thought provoking weaving together a fabric of information that probably wasn't well known before.

The problem with the film is that making Kaczynski a focal point the director often goes off the rails, indeed almost all of the people interviewed abruptly end the interview when the unabomber is mentioned. This would be okay since what we get up to that point is often choice material, however by the time the final credits roll we are not certain what the point of including Kaczynski was. Is he a hero or villain? Does he side with or against him? Is he really connected to all of the other subjects as the filmmakers seem to think he is? I don't think so. Certainly if he's siding towards anti technology there is the chance of being hypocritical since it clear how much of the film comes from computers, the net and other sources of technology.

I'm a bit flummoxed by the film. Certainly the film is thought provoking and eye opening but in the end it falls apart. Allowing for its final crash this is a film that I look forward to seeing again. It simply has too much material to tickle the gray cells to ignore. Worth a look for those who want to be made to think.
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Cyber-age documentary
Polaris_DiB15 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The term "post-human" refers to the postmodern status of the human being transcending beyond the boundaries of biology and genetics and into the cyborg reality of ultimate reliance on technology. That reliance is translated as more of a symbiotic relationship than that of an addiction or psychological dependency. Information technology is at the forefront of analysis into post-human critics and thinkers, as humanity has seemingly willingly jacked itself in to a hive construct with mass communications and productions of personal computers, cellphones, and other networking devices. Front and center, really, of all that is the Internet. Tied in to the Internet is its industrial-military beginnings. And where most of humanity seems to generally accept these new ways of living with only cursory glances as to its implications and consequences, for the most part there is still an undercurrent of unease running under and through the signals shot around our atmosphere. For some people, this unease is the source of a desperate need to look at these technologies and ask the question of what they are doing to us, instead of for us. This movie, The Net, is simply the best documentary on that vein I've yet seen.

What this movie is essentially is Lutz Dammbeck dialoging with Ted Kaszynsky and his victims. Center to that is the relationship between technophobia and technophilia, the integrated relationship between that technology and contemporary history, cyberpunk mentality, and our new way of viewing ourselves as information carriers as opposed to psychobiological vassals. All of these concepts provide the bigger picture. The details are disturbing, but still open to interpretation. Dammbeck is not interested in placing a specific value into his documentary, but traveling around the nation and letting the values speak for themselves. He even has a woman narrate his role, kind of like Chris Marker in Sans Soleil. All along he keeps a written correspondence to Kascynsky, which makes for an interesting character study in and of itself.

A good point is made within the movie that as technology changes, our relationships and perspectives of ourselves change with it. This is meant to detail the reason why the Internet has interdigitated itself into our lives, but it also should be understood to mean that these ideas might justifiably change. Who knows what the future holds for us, really? The issue at stake is, as always, do you use technology as a tool, or a weapon? --PolarisDiB
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An provocative way to ask fascinating questions (8/10)
mikyle16 February 2005
Where does technology lead us? Ted Kaczynski, the ex-Mathematician who lived a secluded life in the woods until he was arrested and convicted as the "Unabomber", believes that it will be our doom.

Lutz Dammbeck confronts us with a puzzle, looking for connections between technological positivism, mind control experiments and the hippie movement, all traced back to state power interests developing as results of World War II. However, the links are weak, and instead of presenting us with a final conclusion resulting from his research (as other documentarists would eagerly do), Dammbeck simply leaves us to solve the puzzle by ourselves, strengthen or break the links as we find appropriate, raising interesting questions on science, technology and human's role in society along the way.

Thus the movie's subject reaches far deeper than the "Unabomber's" biography, which is, in Kaczynski's own words, irrelevant. The movie provides a platform for Kaczynski's critique on technological positivism, which Dammbeck seems to at least partially sympathize with. However, the final decision is left to the viewer, who is aided by additional background and research material on the movie's website.

Dammbeck is coming from an artistic point of view, consciously and deliberately breaking the limits between what is art and what is "real life", creating a disturbing, thought-provoking documentary. It is admirable and a sign of true plurality that publicly financed institutions such as SWR and arte stand behind an unconventional project that handles such a provocative subject seriously.
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Fear the Fear
Bill-27612 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Despite some lofty dialog and cherry-picked quotes by everyone from Norbert Wiener to Wittgenstein, this documentary is a train wreck of thesis, exploration and conclusion.

Let me summarize the entire film for you here so you do not have to view it: In an attempt to understand the evolution of computing and it's future impact on humanity (a noble endeavor), the director takes such a disjointed path that the audience can only draw this conclusion: Rather than joining the "Digerati", computer scientists or other profound government-related technology projects like his contemporaries at Harvard and Berkeley during the 1960's, Ted Kaczynski "may have" developed his anti-technology views and perspectives after being subjected to psychologically stressful mind-control experiments while a student at Harvard.

There you go.

There is certainly a conversation around cybernetics that needs to be had by society, but as it's pointed out emphatically and eloquently multiple times by those who helped orchestrate "the system", killing people to have this debate takes away any legitimacy or credibility Kaczynski had. And the Unabomber is the primary source of counter-argument which the director depends. These repeated encounters destroy the director's agenda (whatever it actually was).

You can fear technology as Kaczynski did or as the director is trying to make you, or you can view it the way Stephen Hawking does: Humans, limited by slow biological evolution, will not be able to compete with machine evolution, and would/(will) be superseded. Hawking believes machines are the natural evolution of humanity and likely our only way to get off the short life of our earth and solar systems, and navigate the universe.

I don't know what I think, but I'd rather not live in fear if possible. And fear of technology, while completely excusable (Ed Snowden, et. al.) is not presented with any effect in this film.

And I still don't know what LSD had to do with the film's premise!
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Fundamentally flawed
MoritzM24 April 2005
"Das Netz" seemed like an interesting subject matter in the first glance, but the movie is fundamentally flawed by the fact that the author has no profound knowledge about the topic. He's giving obscure statements about the internet being "an agglomeration of machines with indefinite size and power" and his not even partial knowledge about mathematics (and especially Gödel's theories) are hilarious. The scenes in which the director is drawing the "big picture" are completely pointless and it's extremely rude to confront a victim of Kaczynsnki (who lost an arm in a bombing) with the statement that he'd been a victim of a legitimate fight against the "system".
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