The Social Network

Hype be damned, this is about as great an American mainstream movie that I can remember seeing for a few years. That it chronicles a guy and his creation which is so pervasive that it would have been on the cover of every third magazine without the movie is that much more impressive. It could so easily have become a relic, b/c when we all do jump ship from Facebook, there’d still be this entertaining movie. It could have come out when we’re on the next thing. It wouldn’t matter how good a movie about Napster is, if it was released in 2010. Or even in 2003. Fossil. Instead, we have a movie set in 2003 that might feels like it’s set right this very second.

I’m failing to come up with proper analogies. All the President’s Men perhaps? That was a four year gap between events and the movie. Social Network has a longer gap between the depicted events and today than President’s Men, but the important difference is this time the movie is out, and Nixon is still in the White House.

Well, I relished every minute of this. Previously, I could take or leave Eisenberg, and the only thing I’ve seen Timberlake in is an SNL sketch. Fincher and Sorkin though – they will always get the benefit of the doubt, to the point that I actually watched all of Charlie Wilson’s War – even scenes with Julia Roberts.

The breakneck dialogue, the multiple lawsuits, the insults…

I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try – but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.
Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

…and the very excellent score form Reznor and Ross. Andrew Garfield. The Winklevoss twins. Fincher’s trademark green-grey glow. I found no fault with this. It made me excited. It looked and sounded great. It moved. It satisfied. And it handled a character and a subject that a lesser director would have fumbled a dozen ways.

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Mark Mauer likes movies cuz the pictures move, and the screen talks like it's people. He once watched Tales from the Gilmli Hostpial three times in a single night, and is amazed DeNiro made good movies throughout the 80s, only to screw it all up in the 90s and beyond. He has met both Udo Kier and Werner Herzog, and he knows an Irishman who can quote at length from the autobiography of Klaus Kinksi.

10 thoughts on “The Social Network”

  1. I too was riveted and thoroughly entertained. All are on top of their game, and the two hours buzz by. The film is certainly well-constructed and though talky, every word seems to count. There’s not an ounce of fat. Furthermore, The Social Network sparks thoughtful conversation about big issues like character (morally speaking), capitalism, commodity fetishism and egalitarianism. It serves as something of a Rorschach test for the audience, and I must say I found Sorkin and Eisenberg’s “Mark Zuckerberg” to be immensely sympathetic – heroic even.

    At one point, a character suggests that Zuckerberg is not an asshole but someone trying too hard to be an asshole. It’s a gem of a line and makes perfect sense. For every moment of disengaged calculation, passive aggression, and caustic invective, Eisenberg invests the film’s Nietzschean-derived computer-nerd/Ãœbermensch with subtly defined grace notes of human decency and remorse. The kid has high expectations, and if you don’t measure up he cuts you loose. Fair enough. He’s the five billion dollar man (and mostly because he had the nerve and the intelligence not to sell out his vision to anyone). Eisenberg’s is a fantastic performance, which, I imagine, was sculpted by Fincher’s demanding presence behind the camera (take after take after take after take).

    I’ll share some caveats if only to spark debate. The film is both simplistic and nuanced when it comes to issues of class and the politics of identity in the rarefied world of the cultured elite. Some of the early scenes set at Harvard felt a little too easy – maybe even cheap. Then again, there is a hell of a scene between the Winklevi and Larry Summers (then Harvard’s president) which just crackles with wit and bite. Still, I wish some moments were smarter and less cartoony. I also think reducing Zuckerberg’s drive to succeed to the kid’s rejection by a very pretty girl to be simplistic, and, well, unnecessary (even if the opening scene is brilliantly written and performed).

    Something that really interested me is the notion that the internet is or can be the great equalizer, collapsing class boundaries, country club nepotism, capitalist hegemonies, and national borders with a bunch of source code. Timberlake’s Sean Parker is dazzling, but maybe a bit too one-note upon closer inspection (he’s all shine and charisma but I wanted a bit more of the grit and rebellion). Parker’s desire to rewrite prevailing economic power-structures (the record industry) through 21st-century entrepreneurship is a fascinating story.

    Finally, it may be grounded in fact, but I thought the film’s uncritical embrace of Asian-American women as exotic, fetishized objects of desire (not to mention one particularly egregious example of the “dragon lady” from hell) to be problematic (to say the least).

  2. I will see TSN this week, and I will post on this other film later, too–but the other facebook movie this week is Catfish, a documentary about an online relationship that was very well-edited, engaging, affecting… if it’s around, I encourage you to check it out (’cause it’ll disappear fast), and avoid reading much about it beforehand.

  3. i should say more:

    i thought it was very well made, stylish, as all of fincher’s films are. the delivery of the dialog was very good, but the script was a little too sitcommy at times. one big problem, as jeff indicates above, is the too pat and trite psychologizing of zuckerberg as motivated by the girlfriend who got away. another is that i’m not sure if a film about someone as affectless as zuckerberg–or facebook, for that matter–should be this slick. eisenberg conveys his blankness well, but it’s often as though the film itself doesn’t want to commit to it. it also doesn’t really incorporate the user experience of facebook into its form in any way. i’m not sure what that would look like, but one of the things that’s interesting about facebook is how impersonal it is in terms of its interface: we can’t really personalize it or customize its look. in fact, we have very little control over any of it. it’s certainly not as slick or cool as this film.

    nor does it want to commit either to any sort of analysis of the financial/technological world in which all of this is happening.

    none of this makes it a bad film by any means–it’s a few hundred thousand times better than the king’s speech. i just don’t think it’s a great film. maybe there’s a better one to be made with some distance. maybe spike jonze or michel gondry will make it.

  4. That was a great essay–so much loving fangorial detail about the gels used to make eyeballs ooze. . .

    . . . and then I read the essay about Paul Haggis’ defection from Scientology. Hey, those guys are BATSHIT. And mean.

  5. Catfish. I’m not sure why I was expecting something different. Perhaps the marketing encouraged me to imagine a cross between Facebook and The Blair Witch Project. Still, this is a very humane, compassionate documentary which is very well made and leaves just enough gaps in the narrative to force some intriguing questions about life in the wired lane.

  6. Saw this last night, and I think I’m somewhere between Arnab and Mark (a very smelly place to be indeed). I also found the psychologizing of Zuckerberg a little trite, though perhaps it’s a bit more complicated than what they say. He’s driven not only by the girl’s rejection, but by his jealousy of Eduardo, who is well on his way to being elected into the Phoenix Club.

    Perhaps the triteness is not the film’s suggestion that Zuckerberg was driven by rejection (and jealousy), but in the simple manner in which it treats “the social.” I still have no idea what the film tries to say about it, though I had some vague notion that there are old-timey social networks (the final clubs, the connections the Winklevoss twins have, Crew and regattas with Oxbridge, British royalty, whatever is spelled out in the Harvard freshman handbook, etc.) and then there is the internet. Zuckerberg cannot survive, much less function, in the former; he’s a nobody, a geek, a dork, an untouchable. He goes out of his way to be an asshole in the latter.

    This film pitted two vaguely defined domains against each other. Was it any more complicated than that?

    Strange that we didn’t see anyone actually using Facebook, until the end when Zuckerberg tries to “friend” Erica. And I wonder if the film couldn’t resist siding with her in the end. She has, after all, the best line in the film: “Good luck with your video game.” And the friends she hangs with seem so, well, ideal and well-balanced. “Is everything okay, Erica?” one of them asks, when Zuckerberg approaches her. There are kids with their internet, then there are the cunts who are still running the world…and then there are people like Erica. The one that got awaaaaaayyyyyyyyy!

    Unlike Jeff, I didn’t find Zuckerberg too sympathetic and certainly not heroic. I admit that in the litigation meetings, I found him to be a bit sympathetic, though c’mon, he’s going up against lawyers. If I’m not rooting for him in those scenes, something is terribly, terribly wrong.

    Great score. And hell, I was engrossed (jesus, I sound like reynolds there).

    Arnab is right, this was much better than the movie about the stammering prat.

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