Friday, October 08, 2010

622 - The Social Network review

I try not to make bold predictions about the direction of pop culture, but allow me to make one about a potential contribution of “The Social Network”: this film will inspire countless ambitious teens to decorate their lockers and desktop backgrounds with photos of Mark Zuckerberg, the most famous co-founder of Facebook. At least, those pictures might be of Zuckerberg, or they may be of Jesse Eisenberg, who portrays him as a brilliant wunderkind whose success stem equally from his strengths and flaws. Last week I reviewed the sequel to “Wall Street,” another film which inspired people to admire a character with few redeeming personal qualities who parlayed his talents and lack of morals into enormous success. People have the tendency to strip-mine fascinating characters for their positive traits and admire just what they choose. Difference is, Zuckerberg’s real.

There are lots of characters here, though Zuckerberg’s essentially the main one (protagonist certainly isn’t the right word to describe anyone). I’ve not done the homework that Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have, though no one will have a difficult time understanding why Zuckerberg doesn’t like it. His onscreen counterpart is one of a man with a eerie clinical detachment from others, joyless and savant-like in his myopic obsessions with work. There’s work, and only work. Many wealthy men think of money as score-keeping, but Zuckerberg doesn’t seem to even care about that, because such an activity requires an amount of self-reflection that proves distracting. His eye’s on the ball. When outside events intrude in his field of view, his responses are acerbic declarations of his own superiority, a bitter lash at those who would waste his time with their questions and concerns.

Sorkin’s screenplay, under Fincher’s direction, is astounding in its ability to transmute real events that would read as dry into provocative and thrilling drama. The plot, which jumps between flashbacks and ongoing depositions for lawsuits, covers Facebook from its inception to the period where its creators were either billionaires or suing for the right to be. The witty, often hilarious dialogue fires quickly and lands with shattering force, filmed and edited in a sleek style that raises the stakes beyond wealth and ingenuity into a portrait of strong personalities colliding. What has already been deemed “The Facebook Movie” really has about as much to do with Facebook as “Citizen Kane” does newspapers. It’s interested in the men behind the phenomenon. So many films are about saving the earth or finding love that it’s a rush to see one that treats issues of mental power with such enthusiasm.

Consider the effect of Facebook on its users . Scenes are cleverly written to demonstrate the ah-ha! moment of the sort of genius idea that seems obvious once someone else has thought about it. In one scene, Zuckerberg is hammered with questions about a girl by one of his staff members: is she single, and if so, is she looking to date? Bingo. Relationship status is born. I can say without exaggeration that myself and nearly everyone I know my age has skimmed the Facebook page of a love interest in search of such pertinent information, just as now people aren’t likely to consider anything about their romance official until their status has been changed. Presidents and kings sometimes struggle to have as much effect on human life as this.

As “The Social Network” tells it, Facebook begins when Zuckerberg, then a Harvard sophomore, starts a site to compare the looks of sorority women, creating it in an evening, while drunk, crashing the university servers within hours. Twins and Harvard rowers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) recruit him to develop a social networking site. Zuckerberg and his best, only friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, soon to be Spider-Man) start their own site, thefacebook, though the former neglects to inform anyone of his blatant idea theft. Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster, arrives and manages to impress Zuckerberg with a sleazy charm that speaks to his innate social disconnect. The core of the film’s interpersonal drama is here, as Eduardo, a nice guy and instrumental Facebook founder, sees his grip on the company slipping. In a sense, it’s not as villainous as it sounds, and in another, it’s far more.

Zuckerberg’s quick to gain enormous popularity and financial success, though much of this doesn’t directly concern him (as a teen, he passed on a million dollar deal from Microsoft to sell a music program of his design, uploading it to the web for free instead). Much of his success serves as revenge against those who did better with girls and have been blessed with greater gifts, but he never seems conscious of the fact that the fruits of his labor have now put him above those he ever envied. Zuckerberg might consider the rewards to be hollow, and to focus on what he knows works for him.

There have been questions about the film’s truthfulness to life. I’m not sure this matters so much, unless you were there. “All creation myths need a devil,” says one of Zuckerberg’s attorneys, and that’s a moment of amazing candor. The real story’s always infinitely more complicated than the ones we see transmuted from reality to screen. We instinctively crave something digestable, malleable enough to be chewed as we please, soft enough to be swallowed comfortably. “The Social Network” provides this, the story of the world’s youngest billionaire, a sort of visionary that gave his generation one of its most prized possessions. The screen Zuckerberg’s story keeps from being uplifting because there’s no happiness found, and it only keeps from being sad because we don’t sense he cared about happiness to begin with. There’s notable irony that Facebook might have been created by a man with little use for it to begin with.

4.5 out of 5

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