Oct 12 2010

The Social Network

This year has been a bad year for movies.  Yes there have been highlights; Inception and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World were great, and there’s about five others that were really good watchable movies, but beyond that the competition drops off really quickly.  Luckily, as we’ve exited one of the worst summers for film I can remember, we’ve begun to get back to the season where studios have deemed it is acceptable to release “good” movies.  While not quite Oscar season, we still have been treated to what some say will be an Oscar contender in The Social Network, the new David Fincher film written by Aaron Sorkin and based on the story of the creation of the ubiquitous facebook.

Let’s get this straight.  This is not really “the facebook movie.”  When I say that, what I mean is that despite its name, it’s not really about facebook at all.  To its great benefit, this film is about people, specifically a small number of characters, their friendship, and the way it was affected by greed, pride, and betrayal.  It takes the backdrop of an important event in recent history and uses it to feature universal human truths and emotions  in a way that every audience member should be able to relate to, not just the people of the “facebook generation” for which I unfortunately must count myself a part of.  facebook’s effect on the world and the way we communicate is only dealt with tangentially, as in moments when characters declare that “facebook me” became a common phrase across the Harvard campus.

Whether or not it’s an accurate portrayal (it isn’t), the depiction of Mark Zuckerberg, primary creator of facebook, is a fascinating one.  As portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, he is the kind of anti-social self-centered genius that is pretty much incapable of change, let alone seeing the need or anything from another person’s perspective.  Eisenberg plays him with both a menacing inner turmoil and a sad loneliness that both interchanges from moment to moment and yet exists simultaneously.  Andrew Garfield, as Mark’s one true friend Eduardo Savarin, places his third intriguing performance in a row for me.  I was very impressed with him in Never Let Me Go, and was happy to see him capable of playing an American with few accent speed bumps (especially

since he’ll soon be Spider-Man).  His character was sympathetic and even-keeled, but managed to bring a unique sense of rage to the scenes that needed it and disappointed betrayal to the scenes taking place in the deposition.  Justin Timberlake steals the show in every scene he’s in, and rightly so since that’s exactly what his character does.  They needed a dynamic superstar to play the man who, for the audience, is the most well known and public figure of the bunch.  The fact that Timberlake’s Sean Parker must play serpent to Zuckerberg’s Eve also means he had to be charming and convincing as well, which Timberlake does marvelously, while still subtly revealing his original geekiness in a few key scenes through clever acting and an inhaler.

Aaron Sorkin is as awesome as ever when it comes to the script here.  Considering this movie takes place essentially entirely in conversation, he keeps the scenes fresh by having fascinating dialogue.  Some of the lines, particularly barbs between characters in the depositions themselves are hil

arious and memorable.  Dialogue-wise the introductory scene is one of my favorites in quite a while, it’s entertaining while revealing Zuckerberg’s motives and, more importantly, his inability to see the irony with which he is currently filling his life with, and will soon embody his life’s masterwork.  Throughout the entire script Sorkin just manages to sculpt phrase and diction in a way that sounds beautiful and compelling, if somewhat unrealistic.

Similarly, David Fincher manages to keep a film about a bunch of guys on computers visually compelling.  The creation of FaceMash, intercut with a wild party at one of the final clubs, is particularly fun.  On top of that, it’s one of the most realistic and best used examples of actual computer software I’ve ever seen.  The scene is done in a way that is both above your head in terms of the programming while being completely understandable and giving you insight into what the process of creating something might actually be like, including its obstacles.  While it may be an almost unnecessary diversion from the film, I think the most virtuoisic scene is the boat race featuring tilt-shift focus and fantastic editing.  Cut to a Trent Reznor arranged version of In the Hall of the Mountain King, it replicates metaphorically what is happening to the characters throughout their story, and particularly in the scene that follows it.  While there are a few Fincheresque camera tricks in the movie (seamless portrayal of twins by a single person, a bottle breaking inches from the camera lens, and camera that manages to dolly through a pillar), he mostly focuses on story and character and keeps things simple but visually diverse enough to keep the scenes of dialogue moving.

While I can’t say that it was my favorite film of the year, The Social Network is certainly one of the best, and it should be seen by all.  Zuckerberg creates a world in which everyone can become as brave as they want through the mask of anonymity, as the Shakespearean characters of As You Like It and many other plays, and in it, he’s able to crown himself king.  But in order to do so he must commit similarly Shakesperean acts of betrayal.  It truly is Julius Caesar for the online generation.

3 Responses to “The Social Network”

  • B.S. Hadland Says:

    James, great review. Really. Plus, it’s good to see something new on the old site. I’ll try to post something myself soon enough.

  • filmlover Says:

    Did you get to see it again? Great job here. You really pulled in all the key elements and enhanced my experience of the film with your insights. Glad to see you’re back in the saddle here!

  • Valerie Says:

    Great job. The introductory scene was also my favorite part of the film. I had to watch it a second time to catch everything, but damn the script was incredible.

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