Disturbia centers on Kale (Shia LeBeouf), a teenager who’s been put under house arrest—complete with an ankle-monitoring device—for hitting his teacher. As he and his friends whittle away the summer, they begin to suspect that one of Kale’s next-door neighbors is a serial killer.
But the film isn’t exactly what you’d expect with that kind of plotline. First, it treats the plot with more thoughtfulness and suspense than I expected—paying homage in clever ways to Rear Window, a favorite Hitchcock film of mine that I’ve seen at least half-a-dozen times. And, like that film, this one gives us time to know the main characters instead of rushing the story. In fact, the film begins on a very poignant note. Kale is fishing with his father, but they get in a car accident on the way home and Kale tragically watches his father die. The film then skips a year ahead, where we see a depressed and burdened Kale who’s failing his high school classes. When a teacher callously asks him what his father would think of him now, Kale’s pain rises in anger and he hits the teacher. A lenient and sympathetic judge gives him house arrest instead of sending him to a juvenile detention center.
These first few scenes were rather affecting—and they’re a good opportunity to check our own attitudes and actions towards the people around us. Kale’s teacher, while perhaps well intentioned, wasn’t paying enough attention to Kale’s pain. Other characters also fail to look deeper than their first impressions, like the teacher’s policeman-cousin who gives Kale a hard time throughout the film. Far too often, I do the same—peg a person by what little I know about them and fail to take the time to hear that person’s story or take into account their struggles (or gifts).
I also appreciated the film’s commentary on suburbia—what Kale calls “disturbia.” As folks have noted before, modern neighborhoods tend to foster privacy more than community. As a result, you can actually live in a neighborhood where you don’t know anyone—and you don’t have to let anyone know you. Kale is no exception. It isn’t until he’s stuck in his own house that he even starts to pay attention to the people in the houses around him. Granted, spying on them with binoculars might not be the best way to foster community, heh. And this film presents a rather dark look behind the picket fences of suburbia. But the commentary of how many of us live one life outside our homes and another inside is still relevant. And films like this should give us pause to consider in what ways we are participating in “disturbia” rather than working towards paying attention to the stories and struggles of others—and consider how to be authentic people, inside and outside.
Indeed, this film provides a good backdoor to the whole concept of paying attention and being in the room with those folks we cross paths with (a favorite theme of this blogger). When we start to pay attention, we begin to hear people’s stories, and that often times helps us understand and really see them and their struggles, wounds and brokenness—and that often touches our own woundedness and gives us a context in which to relate to them. And that enables us to respond with love—the kind of Love we are loved by.
Sometimes, paying attention will uncover the darker side of this world. While we may not discover a serial killer living next door, paying attention can uncover injustice and oppression—and that requires our witness and efforts towards right-ness.
One last note, I must admit I was intrigued by the film’s use of the ordinary in the uncovering of and fight against evil. Heh, as I watched Kale and his friends start to suspect the guy next door, I turned to my husband and said, “Now, that’s a serial killer’s nightmare—bored teenagers with cell phones and access to the Internet.” And the “weapon” that Kale uses to ultimately defeat the serial killer is something I keep in my own garage. I really like the idea that the ordinary and everyday can help empower and foster community overcoming isolation, love overcoming loss and good triumphing over evil. After all, that is where most of our lives take place, in the ordinary and everyday. And that is where God is, too.
Overall, I enjoyed the film. It reminded me to not only take deeper looks at people around me, but also films.
Note: This film is rated PG-13 for language, violence and adult situations. While I found its themes relevant and worthy, keep in mind this is a film about teenagers as well as discovering and fighting against a serial killer. The last part of the film contains disturbing scenes and violence. It also contains scenes of nudity on a television being watched by young neighborhood boys as well as strong language.
(Images: Paramount and Dreamworks)