Oct 1, 2010

The Social Network

At the center of this entertaining meta-creepy movie is a character who remains an enigma from the moment he appears on screen. I don't think Mark Zuckerberg needs to worry so much about how the movie makes him look, because Aaron Sorkin, the writer, has taken his founding of facebook to explore much more than his personality. This is not a biopic. This is an exploration of our new adventures in the virtual arena of "social media", of the new era in which our personal connections and relationships with others need not take place in concrete space and time, but rather on virtual forums that can actually be "monetized". 
Sorkin takes Mark Zuckerberg and turns him into a dramatic figure. Thus, the MZ in the movie is a guy who is obsessed with belonging. He is a computer nerd, he feels like an outsider because he is Jewish and a nerd, and quite an unsocialized being (zero tact, zero charm) and he is at Harvard, a place that is predicated upon making most people feel like outsiders to begin with. I think Harvard should worry more than Zuckerberg. The film portrays it as a preposterous wannabe version of Brideshead Revisited, with a manufactured, absurd snobbery that does not belong neither in this day and age, nor in this country. I bet Sorkin, and possibly Fincher, had a field day making it look like an entitled den of inequity (and iniquity). Animal House with Etonian pretensions.
The film chronicles the disputed beginnings of The Facebook, as it used to be called back in prehistory in 2003, and it is basically a gripping legal procedural of who said what and who did what, once it became clear that this thing had enormous potential to unleash huge amounts of greed from all involved. Mercifully, the legal wrangling does not take place in a courtroom, but at depositions in antiseptic conference rooms with extremely capable lawyers. I loved the actors who played the lawyers. I want to hire them. As lawyers. I'm gonna sue Zuckerberg for my incurable addiction to facebook.
The lack of stuffy courtroom drama clichés is a breath of fresh air and keeps the proceedings snappy. The setting makes for a much more intimate fight. Former friends now face each other across a table surrounded by cutthroat lawyers, that are prepared to be even more ruthless than them. These scenes are intertwined with the events as the feuding parties recollect them. The back and forth between before and after is an excellent structural choice. It keeps the audience on its feet but it also deepens the emotional content. The past weighs in the minds of the characters now suing each other to pieces.
Mark Zuckerberg is played by Jesse Eisenberg as flinty, awkward, cerebral, cold and aloof, but way too sensitive to criticism and rejection (this may actually be true in reality, since he is devoting considerable PR resources to counteract this movie). Eisenberg is excellent; I contend that he is the only young actor who can deliver lines at such high speed, you can see his brain churning). He is also fearless: he plumbs the depths of assholeness but understands the deep vein of vulnerability (for belonging, for succeeding, for status and respect) in his character, which to his enormous credit, he doesn't milk for sympathy, but keeps very close to the vest. It's a great and daring performance. The rest of the cast is good, too. I loved the guy who played Larry Summers. This, so far, is the David Fincher movie that I like best. The script by Aaron Sorkin is smart and crisp, and Fincher keeps the rhythm snappy and the movie barreling forward with great skill.
So is Mark Zuckerberg an überasshole, a guy intent on worldwide interweb domination, or is he a pathetic, yet arrogant nerd genius with an unfortunate lack of social graces? Is he painfully awkward or is he uncaring? Does his penchant for wearing nothing else but hoodies reflect a semi autistic genius nerd or is it coldly calculated? The movie insists that it's not the money that drives him. He seems oblivious to all the enticements of fortune. What he really wants is acknowledgment. He is the uncool who desperately wants to be cool.
I think the central paradox of the movie can be encapsulated in one line told by a lawyer to Zuckerberg: "your best friend/is suing you for 600 million dollars". The very title of the film as well: The Social Network. Since when did human beings become cables? Real human relationships are flesh and bone, they take actual "face time". If you prick them, do they not bleed? Networks are connections, all wire and plastic. I think that what vexes Aaron Sorkin is that it is getting harder to make the distinction.

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