I am obsessed with Sandra Bullock. I mean not in a John Hinckley kind of way, more like she makes me go on a journey with her every time she is onscreen and though a multi millionaire, has the ability to seem like a girl you would love to hang out at the mall with…wait do those even still exist? (As far as I am concerned, white savior problematic Blind Side does not exist ok? Oscar who?) The Bullock role that I most often come back to over and over and over again, that is more pertinent today in 2020 than it was when it came out in 1995, is Angela Bennett,
a computer programmer in that summer sleeper hit, The Net. With a reported budget of 22 million and a box office of 110.6 million, it was a commercial hit, but apparently though so many people spent their hard earned money to see it, apparently no one other than me actually likes the film, as it has a 40% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This is why I hate Rotten Tomatoes as their tastes do not dictate mine, and being mostly straight white male reviewers, they often come down harshly on films with female leads who are smart, and are not emulating masculine ideas of cool. Meaning if you are a woman who is not naked and shooting guns, punching people, or acting toxically masculine in movies, (argumentative, loud, aggressively assertive) you will not likely get good reviews.
Come with me, down the rabbit hole into why a Black, gay, cisgender male, found The Net, fascinating when I saw it in theaters back in 95' (God, I cannot believe I have to say “back in 95” yikes) and why I keep coming back to it today. Those who follow my instagram have been messaging me as of late about my multiple instastories regarding the film. I like to watch it and give it the Mystery Science Theatre treatment with love. Lets get into some reasons why I loved the film and cant stop coming back:
- The film was prophetic
It is like the film was looking through a crystal ball into 2020. All of our quarantine/pandemic lives of isolation, loneliness and paranoia are on full display in the life of Bullock as Bennett here. She works from home, every day, ALL DAY, sound familiar to anyone? Her entire community of friends are faceless people in chatrooms. Ok sure, we have some video faces in Zoom now that we did not have in 95 (though video conferencing existed) but mostly I still see a lot of,
Identity theft seemed far fetched in 95. Cookies were something you bought and ate to the majority of Americans, not programming that stalked you around computer networks. According to some estimates, In 2019, 14.4 million consumers became victims of identity fraud. Between the years of 2011 and 2013 over one billion dollars worth of money was stolen from Americans. Now identity theft is so much the norm, with every vendor we deal with selling off our information, over and over again, I’ve come to expect the call from my credit union asking me, “Mr. Flood, are you in LasVegas currently at the MGM Grand?” Let us face the hard fact, the movie was sounding the alarm and telling us to watch out with this fire we were starting to play with called THE INTERNET…
2. It holds deep nostalgia for me. 1995, the year the film came out, is that time period in between analog days and the infancy of the internet. 1995 was on the cusp of everything, some people had dialup internet, but not many. Cell phones had plans that were based on MINUTES, and had different rates for weekend, versus week and night versus day. In fact, we spoke on our cell phones so rarely it was still routine to be WITHOUT ONE outside of the house. We regularly left our homes, sans cell phone. People actually had to call your land line phone at home and leave a message on your landline voice mail or GASP a cassette tape in your answering machine. You still had control of when and where people could contact you. It was a lovely time where there was no instant message, BARELY text, no real immediate way for people to get to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and yet we still managed to fly planes, build industry, run hospitals, launch space crafts and be told by Alanis Morissette, “You Oughta Know.”
3. Bullock is…well Bullock.
She plays every moment with a fresh sincerity and truth that always emits “girl next door” but fun and cunning enough to escape from a multi national hacker terrorist organization which is moving its entire aparatus to take her down. Bullock manages to play computer geek/hermit (before it was cool) with quarantine body goals, while supposedly sitting at her computer 8 hours a day…right.
This trope soon became common (Man/Woman/Person vs the Internet/Big Brother State- Enemy of the State starring Will Smith would soon follow in 1998) but this film to my tastes started the genre with a bang. Let me be clear, the movie becomes RIDICULOUS, but her acting holds it together for me. As insane as the plot is and as crazy pants as the decisions the script forces this brilliant computer programmer to make, (fly to an island, meet a dashing fellow, get in his boat at midnight and let him take you out to sea in the middle of nowhere, and have sex with him, sign someone else’s name to your own passport application etc lol, and it gets better, or worse depending on how you see it) but the brilliance is in her acting that convinces you these choices make sense, and she manages to combat all of these ludicrous choices with aplomb. Bullock as Angela Bennett fights and claws her way back to normalcy and is that not what we are all trying to do every day during this pandemic? An unofficial number (4) as to why the movie is constantly on my mind these days is that the film has become comfort food for my soul in the aforementioned ridiculous choices that mirror the millions of ludicrous situations daily life in a global pandemic put you in daily. As a member of a racial minority who is dying from Covid 19 at over twice the death rate as whites, I am determined to not catch the virus and pass it on to my immunocompromised parents whom I am the sole caregiver for.That means my daily interactions are extremely limited, but every choice I make to touch a person becomes as ridiculous as a scene in The Net. When I go jogging wearing my mask daily for my general health and to help my anxiety, I get stares from whites who think me ridiculous thanks to 45, but I face comical situations that overlay real fears. As a white unmasked person is running towards me, expelling droplets (and I have to assume they are doing this everywhere so they are most likely asymptomatic) I have to decide in split seconds to turn and run away from them, run off the sidewalk, or run across the street altogether…
I have laughed at this, but only after I have made my decision, until in another five minutes one more unmasked white person comes my way from a different direction. Over and over again I am forced into unnecessary panic inducing decisions that are the definition of triggering a flight/fight response in real time, due to a global pandemic, I did not cause, I did nothing to bring into my life, that is adversely affecting black and brown people the most, via systems i did nothing to create. Just like Angela Bennett.
5. (or 4 if you do not count unofficial numbers)
Just like Bullock as Bennett was the subject to scrutiny and systemic oppression from her government, I mean do I need to even spell out America since 1619?
The revelation I have also had with recent viewings maybe the biggest reason why I keep coming back to The Net. What his movie does is take a white woman and strip her of her privilege. Bennett at every turn is treated similar to (but not nearly as harshly) as GASP- any Black person walking down the street. She is chased by police and violently thrown to the ground, (a real black person gets shot in the back when they run from police for a crime they did not commit,
She gets arrested and is not believed, though she clearly points out the false claims by the state. As she continues to explain the systemic ways she is being targeted, characters in the film-her court appointed public defender, authorities gaslight and misname her, continually calling her “Ruth Marx”, the name the state has given her rather than Angela Bennet which is her real name. This echoes in 2020 as the plight of my trans sisters, brothers, and non binary folk who are misnamed/gendered constantly under incarceration.
The film The Net is a journey of awakening for this white woman. In short, it was a white woman becoming “woke” before it was a thing for white people. Stripped of her privilege, life becomes a nightmare as Bennett is scrutinized, followed, and watched everywhere she goes. She feels a small portion of what the marginalized, Black Americans, face every day. She starts to hide from police, walk the other way on the street from fire fighters, make sure cameras don't see her, because the state is against her. I root for her in the film and revel in every “win” as she slowly and courageously gets her privilege back, regains her identity and agency and pulls herself out of the grip of the state. She also sees to it that justice comes to all of those who have wronged her. She reverses the wrongs of the state committed against her. JEALOUS! The movie leads me to believe in the hope that one day, my people, Blacks, and Gays will be able to do the same.
In hindsight the film only seems “ridiculous” because all these things are happening to… a white woman. If Angela Bennett were a black woman, the film would have to be called, Tuesday.
In the thrilling climax of the film when the beautiful British assassin,(the one who screwed her on the boat right before he tried to shoot her in the head- no really) played by Jeremy Northam, catches up to Bullock as Bennett, when she has entered the Moscone center to get to a computer and back door her way into the Gatekeeper system-( its A LOT). There is an interesting exchange,
Northam as Devlin:
“What did you think you were you trying to do?
Save the world?
Bullock as Bennett:
“No not the world, just myself.”
I feared this was a return to isolationism for Bullock as Bennett, this same kind of Karen, “I am not wearing a mask because I am saving myself from tyranny” type selfishness, however in saving herself, Bennett does manage to help others, see the film to see the ending and give it another look and tell me what you think about the movie. Let’s have a conversation.