Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Social Network

Spoiler alert-o-meter: Mild to medium spoiler alerts ahead.

Week 2. There are a lot of ideas in David Fincher’s latest film, The Social Network, as least as many as there were in the head of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg when he was a sophomore at Harvard in 2003. The movie covers the year Mark took Harvard’s campus-only student connection network, the Face Book, into the invite-only world of juried friendship known today as Facebook. One year. It’s incredible how quickly the landscape, attitude, and texture of online communication exponentially changes.

The film breathlessly takes us from the early decisions Mark makes regarding how and why he does what he does, to the many repercussions of creating Facebook out of someone else’s idea, and turning it into a powerhouse of social networking, where friends yeah or nay your inclusion into their world. 

When we first meet Mark (a transformative performance by Jesse Eisenberg) he tries and fails to relate with his girlfriend (Mara Rooney). He appears to have no emotions, or at least all the wrong ones. He can’t read social situations, and is totally blindsided when she breaks ups with him. Jealousy, anger, and frustration get blended into a potent cocktail, and when you consider that all these generation-defining characters are college-age and just above, it’s no surprise these youthful emotions are central to the movie.

Mark has a best friend, Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), a fellow student and outcast who provides early seed money for Mark's venture. Mark's jealousy flares when Eduardo is chosen to join an exclusive Harvard club, one that won’t consider him. Other objects of his jealousy take the form of the blond, athletic Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler (both played by actor Armie Hammer), seniors at Harvard, and expert rowers who consider themselves specimens of Harvard ethics.

The twins hire Mark to expand their idea for a social network on Harvard’s campus. Mark listens to their ideas, then goes off and writes his own code for a similar site. When his site, The Facebook, goes live, the twins find out about it nearly two days later after hundreds of students have already joined. They have been beaten to the gate. In the lightning-fast world of hype and the Internet, getting there first means everything. And since Mark essentially wrote all his own code, he believes he did not steal anything.

The story is told as a flashback originating from the deposition sessions for lawsuits sparked by Mark's actions. The twins end up suing, after much ethical debate, and a useless, but humorous visit to then Harvard president Lawrence Summers. Mark, with steely countenance and an utter okayness in himself and what he has done, says to the twins during their deposition: “If you were the inventors of Facebook, then you would have invented Facebook.” Point taken. Ultimately the twins did not, and, according to this version of real-life events, Mark did.

Mark has lots of help. Including the guy who started Napster, Sean Parker. Played by Justin Timberlake, Parker is a cocky, overly self assured young man who has some good ideas, but more important he has contacts with money men. He also has the wide and deep vision which Eduardo does not. While Eduardo is dutifully and busily trying to find advertisers to monetize the burgeoning site (which Mark is totally against because it would make a cool site very uncool), Parker helps take The Facebook (which he rechristens Facebook) out of Harvard and into other schools. He subsequently moves Mark out to Palo Alto and helps him secure venture capital which is where the real money comes from. Friends (even Facebook friends) be damned.

The second lawsuit concerns Eduardo, who we find out later gets kicked out of the Facebook family, albeit legally since he signed papers he never read. Throughout the film Eduardo is Mark's only true friend. Sean Parker may get Mark laid but Eduardo was always a sounding board and a good guy. Since it's not all about money for Mark, we have to assume Eduardo's ouster is a reflection of Mark's deep-seated jealousy.

While the film is constructed within the framework of legal maneuvers and the legalese of who did what to whom when, it is mainly concerned with the brilliant young men who want to make a mark. There is a bemused detachment to the presentation, a feeling of marching just behind the action. We are not necessarily part of the action, but, like Eduardo and the Winklevoss twins, we are stragglers trying always to keep up.

When Mark spouts computer-language speak as fast as he can to keep up with his ever-shifting brain, the audience can only marvel. Maybe that’s the point—those who aren’t fast enough for the business of the Internet have no business attempting to tame it. And those who are blessed with fleet ideas and C++ get there first. The music by Trent Rezner keeps things atmospheric, always marching, and slightly ominous. Reminding viewers to stay on their toes, and that nothing is quite as it appears.

After the movie I mentioned to Liz that there were few female characters, and only one in a position of power and decision-making (Eduardo's lawyer). The girls in the movie are spurned girlfriends, partying college girls, or shrill club sluts. Is this a reflection on the writers (Aaron Sorkin did the screenplay, based on the book The Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich) or on the characters who fuel the story? Boys playing at men. Boys who have an arrested adolescent approach to feelings and love, and think girls are no deeper or meaningful than the latest issue of Maxim. (Sorkin talks about this subject here.) There are also no parents around--except for the twins' father, fleetingly. So where did these precocious rug rats learn their ethics? On the debate team? The Internet?

Toward the end of the film, Sean Parker is arrested at a house party where there are drugs and underage girls. He seems small now, scared, pimply. In his pockets, instead of a bag of cocaine and money, the police find his asthma inhaler. These accidental billionaires are all adolescent bravado, playing at being rich and popular. The Social Network brings this microcosm of a specific moment in the very short history of social networking and makes fun, engrossing, and thoroughly realistic. Even if we can never be sure how it all really went down.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Tuesday night bargain show. Price $6.00. Viewed with Liz.
Snacks—mixed nuts

Coming Attractions:

The Dilemma. Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connolly, Winona Ryder. Directed by Ron Howard. This could also be called, "Where Starlets Go After They Turn 35." All I can think is that Jennifer and Winona, who can be wonderful actresses, take these types of supporting roles because there are no other roles offered. Both actresses are relegated to wife roles. Winona plays a woman who cheats on her husband (James) but is discovered by his best friend (Vaughn). So, the movie’s dilemma is, should Vaughn tell his best friend his wife’s cheating. Regardless, it’s great to see Winona Ryder in a mainstream movie again.

The Tourist. Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie. “Revolves around Frank, an American tourist visiting Italy to mend a broken heart. Elise is an extraordinary woman who deliberately crosses his path.” Is she a spy? Is he? Nothing is as it seems…

I Am Number 4. Looks like a cheesy video game. More of a teaser for the movie than a preview. Maybe it’s an early version of the trailer. Or, there’s trouble in the editing room as the producers figure out what kind of movie they’ve been saddled with.

Love and Other Drugs. Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway. It’s a rom-com. Liz said, “It’s weird to see Jake Gyllenhaal smile.” He plays a slick salesman who falls for a beautiful free spirit. So, maybe we’re not supposed to trust his smile.

How do you know? Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson. Directed by James L. Brooks. All star cast, big director. What could go wrong? It looks entertaining enough, but Brooks has had a very spotty record in the last decade and what he thinks is funny hasn’t been since the late-80s. Still, great cast. Looks cute and honest. Promises to be a large-ish Christmas movie.


Robin said...

Dell -- I enjoyed your take on this terrific movie, but I agree that women are given short shrift here. Of course, it makes sense since this is a male world that is self-absorbed and adolescent in its focus. Can't wait to see what you review next week!

Dell Smith said...

Thanks Robin. Did you see the movie? Next week, my chosen movie is decidedly different. And scarier...

Liz's Mom said...

Great review. This is such an interesting subject,(something I know very little about,) and your take on it is, as always, delightful, surprising, and full of great insights.

Dell Smith said...

Thanks Liz's Mom! And welcome home.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

I enjoyed movie review #2 out of 52. You brought the movie to insightful life. :)


poker affiliate said...

Zuckerberg is portrayed as a kniving genius that betrayed his only friend. He seems a little more normal and well-adjusted in real life, but still seems very awkward. The movie was really intriguing, and is one of the best movies of the year so far.

Sean said...

Interesting post, I just saw the movie and Ben Mezrich seems to exaggerate a lot of things in his book and the movie. But I don't think them being billionaires was an accident.