We saw "The Social Network," and so should you

Posted 9/17/2010 by WHayes in Labels: , , , , , , , ,
The Social Network begins with a familiar ending:

"I think we should just be friends."

"I don't need friends."

"I was just being polite. I had no intention of being friends with you."

And lives by a simple maxim: There's power in being rejected.

Not always, mind you, but get the right person good and pissed, and he'll craft a brilliant, eloquent, ground-breaking fuck you that -- if effective -- will flash for a brief but satisfying moment. Yet if effective becomes lucky, he'll take an idea and mate it to the zeitgeist, creating something that resonates and has purpose, that can transcend original intent and become a cause people get behind. Think Tea Party in ones and zeroes.

Directed by David Fincher (Zodiac) and adapted by Aaron Sorkin (Charlie Wilson's War) from Ben Mezrich's 2009 book/creation-myth The Accidental Billionaires, Network sets Facebook's formative months against the company's 2005-2008 legal troubles over whose property the site actually was. The quick-cuts across the timeline are entertaining, aptly described by io9's Annalee Newitz as "the perfect way to tell the story of a guy who invented the ultimate short-attention-span site."

We're finally understanding how the web and its infinite flashing lights have altered our brains, and this is a movie about those changes in practice: what happens to friendship in the face of distraction, making no distinctions between the intellectual and material obstacles. They're one in the same now, as we're in a future where the digital ink will neither dry nor ever, ever go away. Look at us: we willingly pay real money for the experience of "farming" fake crops. This is a time where a few lines of code can carry more weight than all the money you will ever make, and social media marketing somehow transcended its laughable original conceit to become a billion dollar industry. I'll spare talk of "generational indictment," because it honestly doesn't apply here. The real Mark Zuckerberg is only 26, as much a product of the digital world as he is its new-wave pioneer. Fincher and Sorkin do an excellent job of drawing life's social circles in sharp relief -- even offering a great tilt-shift sequence explicitly framing the Have's trappings as trite and meaningless -- but this reality transcends the Millennials blurry age boundary.

Appropriately, The Social Network takes itself as seriously as it's spotlighted industry does, paying major lip-service to the self-imposed costs of being paradoxically connected-yet-alone. Its a film preaching the rewards of being Somebody while warning against the road that leads there. Take the message as "there's always a way to exaggerate just how outside the norm you are, but likewise there will always be situations that leave you outside looking in." Like Pete Campbell with Asperger's, Jesse Eisenberg's Zuckerberg is the type of character who operates in full awareness that he's smarter than most yet entitled to nothing. This makes him reliably bitter, driven by an unrequited desire to be a part of something, anything, and prone to sabotaging even well-meaning conversation with an underhanded remark. He incorporates criticisms about himself into takedowns of others without the slightest wink of irony. He's the guy who heard your idea, flipped it, and made himself a king off it. Coupled with other abstinence parables like Justin Timberlake's Sean Parker, Fincher/Sorkin make good on a truism that could get (ironically) lost in a world bleeding into transparency: a punk with a good idea is still just a punk.

The movie does have its groan-worthy moments, like when the only South Asian character (Max Minghella as Divvya Narendra) shoehorns "fatwa" into a joke. Similarly, the majority of the female characters are mere cutouts. Zuckerberg muse Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) has one mood: justified indignation, and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin's (Andrew Garfield) girlfriend Christy (Brenda Song, dialing down her manic Disney energy) abruptly changes personality mid-film, as if some of her scenes vanished in the edit bay. In the worst case scenario, Song's character got reduced solely to make a now-cliche joke about relationship status updates. This says nothing, of course, of Stanford panties girl, coke-on-her-boobs girl, bathroom bj girl, 7" bong girl, other stoned girl, and the fuck truck girls who open the movie -- no, really, its called a "fuck truck."

Foibles of characterization aside, the film is spotless technically. It makes good use of Trent Reznor's ominous -- and omnipresent -- soundtrack; Very Serious Music saturates each scene from the moment the first, heavy bass line drops. Dialogue is crisp and delivered with spot-on timing and humor that almost makes you root for the antagonists when they (frequently) speechify. The effects shots are seamless to the point where I forgot that twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss -- who seemingly always appear in the same frame -- were both played by real life old money Armie Hammer. This isn't the type of movie that required a slick palette to get the point across, but Fincher's typically dark filmmaking works here.

Some reviews are sure to claim Network's final moments are haunting, damning, or both. Don't buy that. Its an undeniably strong image reflective of a common, ambiguous experience native to the site, but don't take it as a final judgment. As mentioned earlier, the real Mark Zuckerberg has only just started his career; it'd be silly to accept him as some predestined pawn waiting to fall. Yet if you do take anything away from this, remember there are many ways to end up alone, but realize we have too much life ahead of us -- on and away from the screen -- to worry about that now. Enjoy the ride.

The Social Network opens October 1st.

1 comment(s) to... “We saw "The Social Network," and so should you”


Anonymous said...

Yes please.

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