In his review of Syriana, Ebert calls it a “hyperlink movie” [warning, some spoilers]:
A recent blog item coined a term like “hyperlink movie” to describe plots like this. (I would quote the exact term, but irony of ironies, I’ve lost the link.) The term describes movies in which the characters inhabit separate stories, but we gradually discover how those in one story are connected to those in another. “Syriana” was written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, who won an Oscar for best screenplay adaptation for “Traffic,” another hyperlink movie. A lot of Altman films like “Nashville” and “Short Cuts” use the technique. Also, recently, “Crash” and “Nine Lives.”
In a hyperlink movie the motives of one character may have to be reinterpreted after we meet another one. Consider the Matt Damon character. His family is invited to a party at the luxurious Spanish villa of the Gulf oil sheik whose sons are Nasir and Meshal. At the party, Damon’s son dies by accident. The sheik awards Damon’s firm a $100 million contract. “How much for my other son?” he asks. This is a brutal line of dialogue and creates a moment trembling with tension. Later, Damon’s wife (Amanda Peet) accuses him of trading on the life of his son. Well, he did take the deal. Should he have turned it down because his son died in an accident? What are Damon’s real motives, anyway?
The blog item Ebert is referring to could be Mark Bernstein’s post about Adaptation from January 2003:
Adaptation is strange, curious, improbable little film. It belongs in the all-time hypertext film festival. Interesting double-feature with Wonder Boys. Fascinating double-feature with Mullholland Drive. Ebert, like everyone else, loved it.
Update: In a review of Cape of Good Hope published subsequent to that of Syriana, Ebert reveals the source of the “hyperlink movie”:
The movie belongs to a genre that has been named “hyperlink cinema” by the critic Alissa Quart, in Film Comment. She suggests the structure was invented by Robert Altman, and Altman certainly brought it into modern times and made it particularly useful for showing interlocking stories in a world where lives seem to crash into each other heedlessly. “Crash,” indeed, is an example of the genre, as are Altman’s “The Player” and “Short Cuts,” and such films as “Traffic,” “Syriana,” “City of God,” “Amores Perros” and “Nine Lives.”
Quart’s article isn’t online, but here’s a bit of it:
In fact, Happy Endings could serve as proof for the currently fashionable theory that we shouldn’t worry that our web-based, video-game-loving culture is dumbing us down. Watching Happy Endings, you too can conclude, as some of our brightest young pundits have, that multi-task entertainment actually makes us sharper. If this is true, the new genre Happy Endings belongs to—hyperlink cinema—could be the most IQ-enhancing of all. Happy Endings, which Roos also scripted, joins his The Opposite of Sex (98) in the hyperlink canon, alongside the likes of Magnolia, Time Code, and, most recently, Crash (with a special mention for TV’s 24). Of them all, Happy Endings is best in show…The best thing about Happy Endings is that, like hyperlinking itself, it’s irremediably relativist. Information, character and action co-exist without hierarchy. And we are always one click away from a new life, a new story, and new meaning, all equally captivating but no better or worse than what we have just left behind.
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