' ' Cinema Romantico: The Social Network

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Social Network

Mark Zuckerman and Sean Parker are chilling, shooting the hardcore breeze at a pulse-pounding, bass-thumping Silicon Valley night club and Mark suggests he has seen Sean's date somewhere before at which point Sean launches into a two minute soliloquy at the end of which Mark asks, baffled, "Was that a parable?" "She's a Victoria's Secret model," Sean replies. "That's why you recognize her." The deeper meaning here is clear. Why use five words when five-hundred-and-forty-seven will do?

The credits will claim "The Social Network", based on the book "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich, is A David Fincher Film and while he, of course, directed it any film that David Mamet writes but does not direct is still a David Mamet movie. And though he did not direct "The Social Network" it is still very much an Aaron Sorkin (screenwriter) movie. It is storytelling at warp speed, piled high with 10,000-meters-a-minute dialogue in which nearly every single person speaks exactly the same as if to re-inforce they are all the same and all desperate for an identical lifestyle whatever the cost.

The opening scene, a needle of adrenaline to the heart, sets the tone, presenting Zuckerman (Jesse Eisenberg, whose natural speaking patterns make him a perfect casting choice), an elitist, egotistical, aloof student spurned by the popular clubs at Harvard, in nasty verbal combat with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) who breaks up with him. In a fit of rage he returns to his dorm, gets drunk, posts unflattering tomes about her to the internet, and, most importantly, hacks his way into Harvard's computer network and engineers a brutal game in which fellow students are asked to rank the beauty of various co-eds. It gets so gigantic it crashes the network. Upon gleaning this information a couple well-to-do Harvard Crimson rowers, twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer), approach Zuckerman with the idea of creating a web site called Harvard Connection. Zuckerman says he'll help and then does no such thing, instead creating "The Facebook" with the assistance of his only real friend, Eduardo Saverin (a charismatic Andrew Garfield), and ignoring or blowing off all requests from the Vinkelvoss twins.

"The Facebook", soon to become just "Facebook", explodes and before long Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the nefarious founder of Napster, has lured Zuckerman from New England to California to take the little web site that could even higher while Eduardo, the company's in-theory CFO, trying to maintain a microsm of respectability, remains on the east coast to find "advertisers" before finding himself on the outside looking in.

The film is structured around two simultaneous lawsuits brought against Zuckerman by Eduardo and by the Winkelvoss twins and flashes back to the events surrounding the site's invention. It is heavy on plot, heavy on detail, and it is a credit to Sorkin that rather than feeling like an avalanche of exposition most of it is dramatized fairly well. Consider the sequence introducing Parker. In a two hour film we have a couple minutes tops to get to know him before he too gets swept along with the current and so we find him having slept with a student at Stanford who has no idea who he is and so he has to explain in this awkward morning-after context. It's a neat little trick that the film consistently pulls off.

Perhaps the greatest danger was possessing a protagonist who - in the film, anyway - is so thoroughly unlikeable. It is difficult to root for someone whose motives appear decidedly unpure, even if gobs of money is seemingly of no consequence to him, and is willing to sell everyone right down the river. Then again who doesn't like seeing the little guy stick it to someone who actually refers to himself as a "gentleman of Harvard"? The audience surrogate is really the Eduardo character, decent, genuine, frightened to the extreme by his unstable girlfriend. He is the tragic hero, noble and flawed, doomed, and since the film never chooses to hide this he becomes sympathetic almost from the start.

But let's not kid ourselves. This is not a feel good story and no one is redeemed. No one comes of age in the usual sense. No one is let off the hook. Lessons are learned, sure, the sort of lessons Ra's al Ghul imparted on Bruce Wayne: "If someone stands in the way of true justice, you simply walk up behind them and stab them in the heart." It just depends on your definition of true justice.

"The Social Network" is a whole lot of things really. It is well made and well written and well acted, no doubt, but it is kind of grotesque and quite insistent in its acrimony. It is disturbingly compelling and tirelessly interesting. I have absolutely no idea what it's like to snort coke off a stripper's thigh but I get the distinct sense it would be an awful lot like watching "The Social Network."


Simon said...

I liked it, how there really were no outright villains, how it always seemed to be constantely moving. Etc...

Jordan said...

Great review. I'm hoping to go see it this weekend.

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, this was a film that definitely did not take sides with heroes & villains and I love those kinds of movies.