The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014)

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron SwartzOpening with a Thoreau quote questioning how best to tackle unjust laws, The Internet’s Own Boy makes it very clear where it stands on the issue, lionising legendary internet hacktivist Aaron Swartz’s downloading (theft, if you prefer) of library documents as a necessary act of political rebellion. The documentary is disingenuous, making the tenuous argument that the clinically depressed Swartz’s suicide – following his arrest – was a direct consequence of this prosecution. It’s upfront about its point of view at least, one that I’m pretty well aligned with (even if it’s hard to unequivocally support the hacktivist notion of freedom of information after recent celebrity photo leaks). While I couldn’t swallow the film’s strong suggestion that the Obama government (indirectly) “killed” Swartz, it does present a convincing argument that the decision to prosecute was, if not illegal, then fundamentally immoral.

Director Brian Knappenberger – and his cast of talking heads, all close friends/colleagues of Swartz – raise some profound questions about the privilege required to access the United States legal system, even if some sharp edges are smoothed over. Knappenberger powerfully evokes the painful emotions associated with Swartz’s death, thanks to both an excellent score and an effective portrait of the man’s genius.

3 stars

4 thoughts on “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (2014)

  1. Very good review Dave. I actually quite enjoyed this one when I saw it a few months ago. Unbelievable how smart he was to figure all this out at such a young age.

    • Cheers. I thought it was good, though as far as I can tell most people liked it more than me. Swartz himself is an immensely impressive, admirable person – my only real qualms were how many knots the producers tied themselves in trying to imply that the prosecution directly lead to his suicide, when simply suggesting it may have been a factor would’ve made for a more effective film. Thanks for the comment!

    • Yeah, the one-sidedness isn’t that troublesome – most docos are – but the stretching of the arguments when the core story is so moving occasionally irked me. Then again, the core story is so moving, so it still mostly worked as a whole package!

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