Opening 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.