Day: October 10, 2010

Social Butterfly: Review for The Social Network

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It’s interesting that in the last ten or so years, new verbs have popped up and become a legitimate part of the English vernacular. “Google” is a verb. “Text” as well as “sext” has entered our vocabulary. There’s “e-mail” and even “tweet” for Twitter. And probably most recently and with one of the biggest windstorms is “friend”. This means “to add as an acquaintance after you’ve met once, on a social networking website”. This is all thanks to the complex, conniving, and incredibly narcissistic Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and co-founder of Facebook. Anyone reading this review probably has a good idea of what Facebook is, even if they aren’t a member. So, David Fincher, the spectacular director of layered and extraordinary films like Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has assembled one of the best films I have seen in years. It is an incredible commentary on society, obsession, narcissism, plagiarism, larceny, and the idea of the “wonder kind”, the young billionaire.

Mark Zuckerberg is played with gusto by Jesse Eisenberg. We first see him at Harvard in late 2003 basking in self-love on a date, and it is his hyper intelligence and fast talking lack of humbleness that gets him dumped. He vents by blogging about the poor young woman and then creating a special website called “FaceMash”, which allows people on the Harvard campus to compare women by “hotness”. This is before Facebook was even invented. As he hacks into the Harvard system, he attains a whopping 22,000 hits on “FaceMash”, crashing Harvard’s seemingly safe network.

The film then jumps to what we can assume is present time, where Zuckerberg is in the middle of two court depositions for “stealing intellectual property” by the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) and by his ex-best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Fincher uses the jumping back and forth between depositions as a method of plot narrative, blending storyline and dialogue within the story with the testimony that Mark, Eduardo, and the Winklevosses give. This is similar to what he did in the nursing home in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but done a bit cleaner and more consistently. However, like most films that choose to have someone tell the story or have something going on to tell the story, midway through it gets caught up in itself and loses that part. But it comes back in the pivotal end. A good example of how one balances polot narrative and actual storyline is in Christopher Nolan’s physcholoigical thriller Memento. Nolan balances the narrative out in pleasant and concise flashbacks between the main character’s memory and what seems like present time.

As the story progresses, the evidence unravels, leaving the audience to decide what the verdict should be. The basic question being that, while the Winklevosses have sued Mark for stealing the idea of “The Facebook”, is it true? There was no coding that was copied, but does exact coding matter? If Mark had a, shall we say, more likable personality, then perhaps we would jump on his side. But, for better or worse, Zuckerberg is so infatuated with himself; it seems that he is in the wrong. ‘

Fincher, who normally has created a very stylized kind of film with glorious cinematography and quaking visuals, has stepped away from letting the camera take place of the story. He lets the film become very character centric, letting every character- tell their side of the story without distracting the audience with annoying and visually cumbersome movements.

Aaron Sorkin, who used the supposed exposé The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich as his foundation for the screenplay, presents a witty, dark, funny, and incredible screenplay that is as fast talking and non-stop amazing as any dialogue Quentin Tarantino has ever written. He particularly is adept at writing the lines for Mark’s character, who suffers from what I like to call “motor mouth”, which is about self explanatory.

The interesting thing about Eisenberg’s character and portrayal is how changed Eisenberg has become. Eisenberg usually plays the gawky and wallflowery nice guy we’ve come to love in Adventureland and Zombieland. But here, his cute face and adorable curls give way to a sulking, egomaniacal character, whose sullen facial expressions as lawyers go over the evidence in his case completely sway us in how we perceive him as a person. It’s very fascinating: Eisenberg is usually very charming looking, but he descends into a pale and gaunt ghost of a man. Zuckerberg is a not someone I would like to meet. He is so narcissistic that whenever someone asks him a question he doesn’t feel like answering, he circumnavigates trying to confuse and condescend the questioner. He speaks at nearly 100 miles per minute, and uses his hyper intelligence to belittle everyone around him.

The film then becomes the central idea and fable of obsession and how it eats us. After being approached by the Winklevosses, Zuckerberg becomes completely obsessed with the idea of “The Facebook”, spending every waking hour writing thousands and thousands of lines of code. He becomes consumed by this idea, and once Facebook gets off the ground, he becomes consumed with making it as viral as possible. Another interesting thing is that he doesn’t really care about money. Rarely do we see a “wonder kind” that isn’t obsessed with greed. He seems to be more obsessed with the idea of viral identity; making known to everyone who he is and what he has done.

Zuckerberg is so conniving and so egotistical; he doesn’t even realize how conniving and egotistical he actually is. That’s his weakness. That’s why he only has one friend. The tagline of the film is very revealing: You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies. But they aren’t friends. Just as we can hardly say that the 500 or more people we “know” on Facebook are actually friends. Zuckerberg redefined the word, and not in a particularly good way. He wants to expand it so everyone can be part of this huge hurricane of technology. And I haven’t even begun to talk about Sean Parker.

Sean Parker was the founder of the music file sharing website Napster, a predecessor to iTunes and even LimeWire. He approaches Mark with a business deal, and he wins him over the moment he struts into the restaurant. Parker, played with perfect pizazz and malevolent  charm by Justin Timberlake, seems less of a serious entrepreneur and much more of a player, juvenile party boy. If Zuckerberg were a jerk Adam, then Parker was the snake in the Garden of Eden.

The incorporation of the evolution of how many of the features and terms that we use today are done fantastically and often very humorously. Eduardo breaks up with his girlfriend (Brenda Song, yes, from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) only after she noticed his relationship status as “single”. “Writing on the wall” takes on a new meaning and Parker comes up with the idea for the Facebook Wall.

After Parker nabs Zuckerberg and allows him to betray Eduardo, their life becomes…less than exemplary. Never has the life of being a “wonder kind”, an unusually young and unusually successful person, been so unappealing. People getting stoned and drunk at their house in California, going to annoyingly loud night clubs, etc. It seems incredibly bad.

Fun part of the film: during the end credits, the Beatles’ song “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” plays, noting that, as McCartney and Lennon intended, it’s obvious that you’re rich. Here’s no need to point it out further. Zuckerberg flaunts his IQ and his Facebook around like a new sports car.

Entertainment Weekly called Mark Zuckerberg the new anti-hero. But is he really? Don’t we have to root for an anti-hero, like, say, Roxie Hart in Chicago, John Dillinger in Public Enemies, or the titular characters in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Even though they did bad things, we still want them to win in the end. But Zuckerberg is so unlikable; he makes it almost impossible to like him. Garfield’s Eduardo on the other hand is much more sympathetic, as we see him get screwed over time after time. The film is sure to get Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Sorkin’s great writing, and Fincher’s masterful direction. But with the social commentary on obsession, trends, and society’s egomaniacal tendencies, Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher present one of the most landmark films to ever make a statement about tech obsessed, egomaniacal, narcissistic, lack-of-attention-span, multitasking society, while Eisenberg gives a portrayal worthy of a Best Actor nomination and the title of one of the most interesting, complex, layered villains in recent cinematic memory.

Grade: A