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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Movie Review: The Social Network

I hate Facebook. Not the most original sentiment, but true, nonetheless. At not as just as a personal "I don't get the appeal" issue. I do get the appeal. Three or four years ago I was just as addicted to the damn thing as anyone else. Most people who've ever been on Facebook can attest just how quickly time-consuming the site becomes when you first start. As this movie itself observes, it's addicting. There's just so much damn stuff to do! With a rudimentary working knowledge of computer script, any code monkey can create an app & have thousands of users jumping through hoops for him.

If you're like me, however, you soon come to this slow realization that all this "stuff" you're spending so much time doing, is, in every sense of the word, useless. It's note accomplishing anything, it's not a social activity (or at least not a healthy one, but we'll get to that), and before long you realize it's not even any fun, at least not for very long. It's busywork, the most empty way to kill time possible.

Then if you're like me, you begin to spend less & less time on the site, reducing it to the occasional status update or message every few hours. And before long you begin to notice just how disgusting and degrading the whole system is, and you become angry with yourself for not noticing it. Facebook is quite possibly the worst step taken in human interaction in the last century. Forget concerns about your kids texting each other from across the room, this is something far more serious that a lack of personal communication. This is a system that actively encourages it's users to publicly label and rank their friends, to compare and dissect their every flaw and personality trait for all to see. Thanks to Facebook we live in a world we're no one need get to know each other anymore through normal interaction, just sum yourself up in a detailed profile & let everyone screen their friends like goddamn job applicants. The entire human experience has been reduced to a digital assembly line...by Facebook.

That may seen over dramatic, and maybe it is. Feel free to disagree with me, but I bring this up to illustrate something very important about The Social Network. Whether you love Facebook or hate it, no one can deny that it can changed our society dramatically, for better or for worse. For that reason, the subject that The Social Network has to discuss with us is one of, if not the most relevant and important issues this generation could possibly face...so it's a shame the film doesn't much feel like talking about it.

As most everyone knows by now, the film chronicles the founding of Facebook by Mark Zuckerburg, and the controversy surrounding said founding. Zuckerburg is one of the more interesting public figures of the 21st century, to say the least, and it's fair to say he's probably not happy with his portrayal here. Jesse Eisenberg gives a career-making performance which brilliantly conveys a Zuckerburg who is nothing short of a narcissistic sociopath. A brilliant sociopath, but a sociopath nonetheless. From the very first scene, Eisenburg exudes a ever so subtle coldness, not a lack of emotion but rather a lack of empathy. He is completely incapable of respecting or even considering the emotional needs of others, a problem only compounded by his staggering intellect. He is Sherlock Holmesian in his inability to contain his utter disdain for anyone less intelligent than himself, which is more or less everyone. And like so many biopic protagonists before him, it is these flaws that will be his downfall, emotionally if not physically (the man's still the world's youngest billionaire, after all).

The films plot structure is nothing to write home about, basically your standard rise-and-fall success story formula. It's through the performances & the dialogue that the film has managed to distinguish itself the way it has. Every single actor with any role to speak of here is well above average. Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin) plays the likable, struggling everyman, giving us a reason to care about the protagonist by being Mark's anchor, so to speak. Armie Hammer undertakes the task of playing his own twin in as seamless a fashion as any actor could, giving very subtle but deliberate personality differences. Rooney Mara, whose character drives the plot almost as much a Zuckerburg himself, is ironically given only two scenes, both of which consist primary of her telling Mark off, but manages to pull of a very likable a believable persona for her character. Brenda Song manages to rise above her Disney Channel roots to a satisfactory level, despite the fact that her character has no real function outside of making Eduardo's live harder. And Justin Timberlake (Sean Parker), proving once again that he is far more talented than anyone wants to give him credit for, steals the show as the corrupting "bad boy" influence who lures Mark into a life of excess.

Aaron Sorkin, famous for the TV series The West Wing as well as the most quoted courtroom drama of all time, A Few Good Men, does his usual excellent job providing his characters with consistently witty dialogue. And combined with the razor sharp editing & directing of David Fincher, the film is surprising fast paced, entertaining and humorous considering it's decidedly mundane subject matter.

And yet, I can't help feeling like there was a massive missed opportunity here. As mentioned before, Facebook is a very important cultural landmark in our development as a society, for good or for ill. Yet all David Fincher seems interested in exploring is what a jerk Mark Zuckerberg was to his friends.

Thankfully there are a few conversational pieces scattered throughout the film regarding the societal implications of Facebook. The film starts right off with Zuckerberg creating the precursor to one the the more popular, and socially sadistic, apps of Facebook, with allows users to compare and rank your friends based on looks, skill, possessions or personality. Zuckerburg & Parker openly state that the site heralded the end of privacy in our culture (and it did). There's even scene in which Eduardo's girlfriend becomes furious that his facebook status was never changed from "single" (though considering he's the co-founder of the damn site, it's not as disturbing as it normally would be).

The problem is that all these individual moments feel largely incidental, and never form into a theme or subtext of any kind. Even as Zuckerburg conspires to control and auction off peoples' personal privacy for his own gain (much as he does in real life), this is never dealt with beyond the fact that Zuckerburg is betraying and alienating his friends, despite the fact that he's if forever altering the world around them as they argue. The film just never takes a moment to seriously ponder the big picture ramifications of what these people are doing. And considering where we are now as a culture, still exploring a relatively new advancement in communication, had the film been daring enough to really deal with those issues, it could very well have been the defining film of our generation.

Aside from the general lack of ambition, there are a few minor issues that keep the film from achieving true greatness. It's relies a little too heavily on some well worn plot elements, like a party getting out of hand and publicly embarrassing the company, or a background character who amounts to a complete stranger coming in to offer a flash of insight at the very end. The pacing, while fun and energetic, feels a bit too fast at times, which is unfortunately a symptom of our times, that filmmakers have to work extra hard now to hold today's anti-intellectual, easily-bored audiences' attention. But despite all this, it is still an excellent film and well worth your time. It's not Fincher's best, nor is it the best movie of the year by far, but it's up there.

8/10

P.S. Yes, I am well aware of the irony in the fact that I despise Facebook, yet have a Facebook fan page. Just because I'm a judgmental dick doesn't mean I'm not also a whore.

1 comment:

MikeyLikesIt said...

Your reviews are great! Glad to hear that you are both a dick and whore ... ha haa!

I agree with the sentiment you expressed that movies often cater too much to the anti-intellectual audiences. When a movie goes to the cutting room, it is always character development and story building that goes before action. People dont want to watch a movie and feel that the movie is trying to make a point, or tell them something important. They just want easy entertainment ... at least most of the time.

This is not to say that I prefer old movies, when the technology sucked, sets were lame and the acting was dreadful. Modern movie making has come a long way ... but I do wish that movies, such as The Social Network, would risk being a little edgier, and thought provoking.

Wake up the herd ... create a stampede ... show them the true meaning of anarchy through mental liberation ... start the revolution.

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