Anti-Socials and The Social Network

January 13, 2011 at 4:27 pm (Movies and TV)

I think I may have been the last person in America to see The Social Network, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I have been on FaceBook for three years and can’t live without it. This film chronicles the controversial startup of the internet behemoth.

My favorite scene of the film is the very first one, with quickfire, snappy dialogue that could only have been written by Aaron Sorkin. This is the kind of back-and-forth I’ve been missing since The West Wing left the air. As the story takes place mostly in dark rooms, online, in law offices and in e-mails between people, the challenge here is to build any sense of action. Several scenes could have been eliminated entirely, had Person A simply e-mailed Person B about what was going on, as my husband pointed out. “Yes,” I agreed. “But it would be a pretty short movie, and film is primarily a visual medium, so all we’d be doing is checking some computer geek’s e-mail for half an hour.”

The film will get many Oscar nominations, including one for Jesse Eisenberg, whose cocky, driven portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg seemed eerily familiar to me as the parent of a child with autism. Were I not that parent, I would have been more able to see the Zuckerberg character as the jerk the movie wants you to. Instead, I saw a possibly autistic kid with a good idea. The only character I was truly able to like and sympathize with was the unfortunate Eduardo, and even he distracted me, because he looked so much like a childhood friend of mine.

So much of this film takes place in dark little rooms, the kinds of rooms that imply shady deals, and breed anti-social computer addicts all over the world. The difference here is that Zuckerberg did something with it. For better and worse, he has changed the world. Whether that can be said for thousands of young men trapped by their own social awkwardness, behind computers, I don’t know. The irony of a socially-inept person inventing the ultimate social tool is not lost here.

Many critics are calling this the best film of 2010. While I understand that this can be viewed as “a film for our time,” I thought it failed on a couple of levels, and that the failings were writing decisions rather than directing or acting decisions. Will an old lady who isn’t very familiar with computers see this film and come out with a better understanding of FaceBook, or computers, or the internet? Not likely, because the film assumes a certain level of knowledge from the outset.

There are two aspects of FaceBook which should have been better explained, which affected my ability to sympathize with characters. One is, if Zuckerberg would not allow advertising, how was FaceBook worth money and not just a big expanding electronic rolodex? The other is, how is FaceBook different from MySpace and Friendster? At one point, the film even asks this question, but never adequately answers it. Answering these two key points more obviously and more in-depth might have built more urgency for Eduardo’s concerns, and might have created more excitement in the audience about the idea.

The multi-talented Justin Timberlake did a swell job of playing the counterpoint to Zuckerberg’s rising star. It was unfair both to Timberlake and to his character that they went so far to establish him as part of the story, only to leave his character unresolved at the end. I am not savvy enough to already know what happened to that man, and the film implies that viewers ought to.

Maybe I’ve been taking too many cultural classes at film school, but I was also bothered by the notion of white privilege and how this story, and so many stories like this, came out of Harvard, and ONLY Harvard. There were no people of color anywhere. The only contributions women make are to dump the men in the story. Maybe, the story happened exactly like this, and maybe in its telling, this film perpetuates the notion that to get anywhere in this country, you have to be a white guy from Harvard: film simultaneously portraying, and perpetuating, reality. I like to think that because Zuckerberg had such animosity toward the “closed club” issue, that FaceBook, the corporation has gone on to create opportunities for people outside that circle.

I say this every year: I go to the movies during Oscar season to discover that one film that makes me go…WOW…now THAT was best picture. I didn’t get that feeling here, like I did when I saw Slumdog Millionaire or the Hurt Locker. Black Swan and True Grit are both better films than The Social Network. But as I said…that may not be important. The more important thing here may just be that you have more FaceBook users than moviegoers, period.

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1 Comment

  1. The Bearded Iris said,

    Wait wait, don’t tell me! I actually haven’t seen it yet. And, I have officially been FB-free for over a year. I’ll share the name of my sponsor if you’re interested. šŸ˜‰ I’ll come back once I’ve seen the film and we can discuss over cwofee. No big whoop.

    Missed you girl. Thanks for keeping me on your blogroll! I’m hoping to get back into full swing ASAP. Hope you’re doing well. Don’t be a stranger!

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