Hope you’re all rested up from a great Thanksgiving! Now that you’ve had a chance to digest your feasts, check out this week’s brand new Movie Monday entry: “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists,” a documentary exploring the history behind the thoroughly feared and equally revered hacker collective, Anonymous.
In this modern society, the name can elicit a wide swath of conflicting emotions – all of which are, paradoxically, somehow valid. This group that can make us proud to be in a free country. This group can also disgust us in how they revel in the basest forms of humanity. If you’re reading this review on this website, you’d probably consider yourself well-versed enough in “internet” to at least have some feelings that crop up when you think of the name.
Brian Knappenberger‘s documentary, We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, reveals the history behind the anonymous collective – from its humble, quiet beginnings to its eventual Guy Fawkes-ian explosion under the “hacktivism” banner.
Anonymous, of course, is hard to pin down as we know it – by its very nature, it’s the literal embodiment of Aristotelian “demos.” There is no leadership per se, there are just people — and some people may choose to ally together to accomplish a goal. But this creates an inherent identity paradox, how can you call Anonymous to represent anything when only a fraction of the people behind the masks support it? After all, how can you define a group when a group includes “everyone”?
Knappenberger explores this identity (and its identity crisis) in this documentary, with commentary from legal experts, educators, and members (former and current) of the Anonymous collective. Are they the internet army for good (the “hacktivists”), or are they just “ruining [the real Anonymous’] bad name”?
It’s kind of amazing to think that a group that started by sharing images of the disgusting, the unforgettable, and, of course, cats could eventually become an international, passionate organization feared by corporations and governments. The film explores the group’s evolutionary timeline, and highlights the grand hits (in almost a checklist-like formula) of the group’s most famous activities – from the Scientology protests to LulzSec cybersabotage.
While starting off well, the thoughtful analysis and commentary of the events seemed to sadly dwindle, as the movie progressed. That isn’t to say that it was at any point unenjoyable – on the contrary, the entire film is very good – but it does seem like there is some lost potential by the end. In a strangely funny trend, the most interesting comments came from those who go to the greatest lengths to hide their identities. The latter part of the movie seemed an attempt to humanize the individuals behind the mass collective of Guy Fawkes masks – which it did to an extent – but the inherent bravado that comes across some of these people are a little off-putting.
In any event, this film showcases the amazing power of the demos in democracy – how the people can find power at the click of a mouse. As long as you have an internet connection, it didn’t matter whether you had wealth or status — you too could fight for what’s right. This is the new face of civil disobedience – but is it heroic or threatening? Much like everything else with Anonymous, it’s a paradox. It’s both.
Verdict: Recommended. It’s a good watch to anyone interested in learning the history behind the hacker collective, but its relative lack in truly interesting commentary prevents the average viewer from getting anything profound.
“We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists” is available for download now on iTunes and Amazon, and for streaming directly from filmmakers. DVD (pre-order) and Blu-Ray (pre-order) versions will be available soon.