Monday, October 4, 2010

Another Facebook in the Crowd

A miraculous thing happened Saturday afternoon. I found myself with several hours of free time at my disposal and $10 in my pocket. Knowing such an occurrence will be uncommonly rare as I head into the meat of drama and speech seasons, I quickly hopped in the car with my sis and headed to the multiplex to see The Social Network, a movie both of us had been dying to see since catching the amazing trailer a couple months ago. (That haunting version of Radiohead's "Creep" sold me within seconds. The sis was hooked when Justin Timberlake popped on screen) As the critical buzz around the movie increased, my NEED to see the movie grew.

In case you've been hanging out in a cave, The Social Network is the story of the founding of Facebook. The film posits that the online addiction shared by millions of us worldwide was fraught with betrayal and chicanery and that the whole thing really boiled down to one socially awkward nerd wanting to get back at the girl who dumped him. In the process, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) becomes a superstar, billionaire, and pariah all at the same time. He seems to steal the kernel of an idea from Facebook from the wealthy, successful, studly Winklevoss twins (both played here, courtesy of some amazing technical wizardry, by Arnie Hammer). He gets his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), to put up an initial investment of $1000 to start his fledgling site and makes Saverin CFO of their company, then called "THE Facebook." Eventually, Saverin is pushed out of the company in a scheme seemingly orchestrated by programming superstud Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), better known as the man behind Napster, but which seems to be driven more by Zuckerberg's jealousy that Saverin was invited to join an exclusive club at Harvard. Lawsuits erupt as the Winklevosses and Saverin go after Zuckerberg and Facebook, and yet Zuckerberg remains a detached, passive aggressive loner at the center of it all. Zuckerberg seems desperate for friendship and companionship, and yet he continually betrays those who seem most likely to give him what he wants. As Saverin tells him during one of their confrontations, "I was your only friend!" Despite all of his success, we are left at the end with a Zuckerberg who is clearly lonely. The final image of him sitting at his laptop and hitting the refresh button over and over again manages to be both funny and sad -- a haunting end to an exceptional film.

What I find, perhaps, most exciting about The Social Network is that breaks so many rules of what seems to constitute a "successful" film nowadays and yet it dominated the box office and was critically lauded all weekend. Here is a movie that doesn't feature a tremendous amount of action (not a single explosion in two hours!) and no big stars (outside of Timberlake who isn't really known for being a movie star). It is a movie dominated by dialogue and a protagonist who is largely unlikable. (More than once, I found myself wishing someone would punch Zuckerberg in the face.) It is a movie about intellectual creation and betrayal. I can't help but wonder if the film were about, say, Google or ebay instead of Facebook, would people be so anxious to see it? Has our Facebook addiction compelled so many to see a movie that is so out of their wheelhouse? Maybe, maybe not.

The thing is, regardless of the actual subject matter, The Social Network is a pretty tremendous film. It helps that the script was written by Aaron Sorkin, a writer who is a master of intelligent dialogue. The opening conversation between Zuckerberg and the girl who inspires his quest for achievement (played by soon-to-be superstar Rooney Mara . . . aka the future Lisbeth Salander . . .aka the actual GIRL of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is a stunning achievement in dialogue -- quick, witty, intelligent. It's the kind of dialogue that made The West Wing one of the greatest television shows perhaps of all time. The only thing that was shocking for Sorkin lovers was that the whole conversation took place while sitting rather than roaming hallways. As the credits played after the opening scene, I turned to my sis and whispered, "I love Aaron Sorkin." His scripts never pander and always expect his audience to be literate, intelligent, and able to keep up with his often breakneck pace. I'm not sure there's another writer out there who could have given this story life with such intelligence and sincerity. I hope Sorkin has cleared off some space for the Oscar he's sure to win for Best Adapted Screenplay in February.

Sorkin's script benefits, too, from falling into the hands of the brilliant David Fincher, who, along with Christopher Nolan, is my favorite director out there. Fincher has this way of caressing a script, bringing out the grit and heart to any story. While this film may seem a departure for fans of Fincher's early work like Seven and Fight Club, it seems to be keeping in line with his more recent forays into quieter fare like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Fincher is a master of bringing complicated characters to the screen. He always seems keenly aware of the fact that both light and dark exist in each of us, with Fight Club being the most literal example of that thesis. Zuckerberg is both likable and loathable, sometimes all at the same time. You laugh and admire him for his disdainful attitude during depositions while still thinking to yourself, "What a dick!" Fincher is also a master of brilliant composition, and his technical wizardry is steeped in such realism that it seems completely organic and never a case of trick camera work. My sis was shocked when I told her that the Winklevoss twins were one actor -- a testament to Fincher's mastery at pulling those shots off without drawing attention to them.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who left the theater feeling at least a modicum of guilt over my Facebook addiction. Was I unwittingly feeding the beast of Zuckerberg's ego by spending so much time checking statuses and playing Farmville? Did my entertainment come at the expense of decent people like Saverin who were screwed over by Zuckerberg's quest for success? The unfortunate thing is that Facebook has become such a part of the fabric of our lives that walking away now seems nearly impossible. Where Zuckerberg succeeded (and someone like Sean Parker failed) is in tapping in to our most primal needs -- for friendship and connection to others -- and putting all of that just a mouse click away. Dick or not, the guy is a genius of the human psyche even if his own psyche seems so very damaged.

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