Film Review – The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

In The Internet’s Own Boy, director Brian Knappenberger has captured the work of a genius, Aaron Swartz, and along with this important story of a man’s life, makes a statement on society, government’s failure to protect the civil rights of citizens and provides information that wasn’t part of the headlines over Swartz’s arrest and death. There are conspiracy theories flourishing on the internet, which is hardly irony, actually more like deserved. Swartz’s ghost is alive and well and filtering in and out of the worldwideweb in a fashion that would make Anthony Hopkins’ “spiritual switchboard” in the film Freejack proud.

“Aaron was looking at the very real possibility of spending much of the rest of his life in prison” says a reporter on The Daily take while Cenk Uygur states “You know what’s criminal? What our government is doing to its citizens.” See the YouTube video to get a taste of the buzz out there since Aaron’s passing.

Knappenberger takes the “secret and suppressed” (thank you the late Jim Keith) out of the film and puts the facts front and center. Where Looking for Johnny (the 2014 Johnny Thunders documentary) director Danny Garcia jam-packs the music bio-pic with information, as Thunders’ story demanded, Brian Knappenberger has to be specific to make this complex saga work to both keep the attention of the viewer as well as slamming the moral of the story home. From his mother to his brother to his girlfriend and colleagues and heroes, the genius at work can only be understood if pleasant music is behind the quotes, the conversations, the speeches. Of course it is Swartz himself who resonates with his prophetic vision, take a quote from the Huffington Post:

I think you should always be questioning. I take this very scientific attitude that everything you’ve learned is just provisional; that it’s always open to recantation or refutation.

The not very subtle message is, along with Swartz’s inventiveness and grasp of things much larger that ordinary people miss is his mission of “access to public information.” The problem is, of course, that TMI – too much information – can bog one down in sifting through tons of sand to find a nugget of gold. The movie is so inspiring that it demands multiple views, and there are a number of lessons to be learned, not the least of which is John Lennon’s message in his song “Working Class Hero” – that the “they” out there “hate you if you’re clever” while despising “a fool.” Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

With a waterfall of data people can make up their own minds, but there’s always that tug of war between those we consider the good guys and those we consider the bad element. The film The Internet’s Own Boy brings some kind of clarity to all of these issues and more – was Swartz a thief or a tortured genius? Did the government overreach? What are the implications for those using the computer on a daily basis – or walking by stores with video cameras capturing your image just about every moment of the day.

And perhaps the most chilling point made is what we lost with Swartz’s untimely death. That a human being was bullied with no mediation, no give and take, no respect for what he gave to the world, just a control by those in positions of authority, is what provokes thought. The “very rich 19 year old” was important to progress that our society needs to make. My perspective on the film could go on for fifty pages. Let’s leave it at this: The Internet’s Own Boy is one of the most important films of the year.

Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for,, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.