Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Social Network, the best film of 2010

The Social Network, A+

I’m going to try and stick to ideas and comments that haven’t been made 300 times (or if they have, I’m actually going to justify them, which is often not the case). On the note of reality vs. fiction, I will say right now that I will not address the question about what is or isn’t real. Frankly, I don’t care; it gets at deeper human truths that are tremendously important in this day and age.

This film succeeds on every level for me; it’s extremely entertaining and intellectually invigorating. I really can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it, at least 6. On my 2010 in film note, it won Best Picture and Best Actor (Eisenberg), and was nominated for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Art Direction and Best Trailer. Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher and Jesse Eisenberg created one of the most fascinating characters in recent cinema history. Zuckerberg is an absolutely tremendous character. Every tiny detail down to his costume is unbelievably powerful. My personal favorite is his (as Eduardo refers to them) “fuck you flip flops.”

The genius of The Social Network is that as Peter Travers claims, it defines The Facebook Generation. It discusses this in a very subtle way, which is simply juxtaposing The Facebook Generation characters and the older characters. No point in the movie shows this more clearly than the sequence in which Fincher cuts between Zuckerberg programming FaceMash drinking with his friends and the sexy energetic Harvard Final Club party. It establishes two different worlds at that time; there's the old world in which people spend time with one another (with a concentration in the scene on sexuality) and a new world in which we sit in front of a computer and "pretend" to be together. The reason this film defines our generation is that it exposes the manner in which social networking drives our isolation. We call it efficiency, thus leading to a better life. The Social Network, and myself, would argue that through social networking we’re losing our connection to one another. We are able to maintain more relationships, however those relationships are much more shallow, and in turn, significantly less valuable. 

I think there’s something to be said about writing a letter. Back in the day, people would take 30-40 minutes to write and mail a letter. Nowadays we just post on their Facebook wall or Tweet @ them in a matter of a few minutes. We don’t quite realize how much is actually lost in that action. First and more clearly, think about the way it feels to read every word and see much meaning outside of what it actually says in the way it’s written and the size of letters and every little tiny detail that informs you on the feelings of the author. Second, think about how the lengthy process affects the friendship. Once you’ve dedicated so much time to someone, you care more about them. How much less warming is it when instead of being wished happy birthday by 20-30 people in person or on the phone (or via letter), you’re wished by 10 people in real time and 90 people on Facebook. Maybe I’m just the oddball, but I love old school personalized human contact.

Another important issue the film discusses is the way American society affects students. We’re so obsessed with unconditional winning, as perpetuated mainly through sports, that we can’t appreciate modest success. He first brings up the matter with FaceMash, a website devoted to comparing women. This quite ferociously begins the discussion, as we see many women’s emotions torn down by their ratings inflicted by competition. Now more importantly, consider the Winklevoss’ reaction to their rowing race in England. They are incredibly angry about coming in second by a hair, and having many people congratulate them on this fact. Why can’t they be happy that they’ve made it this far? They need to win, and that’s all that matters in their minds. The sad truth is that while this attitude may produce a stronger person, it also produces an unquenchable thirst. If they won that race, they’d be relieved not satisfied or happy. Once that race is won, the next harder race is all that matters. This competitive sensibility makes us incapable of being content. The saddest realization this film provides on this matter, is that even being the best doesn’t seem to feel that great. If the Winklevoss’ unquenchable thirst were miraculously filled, they’d be sitting atop of the world, like their counterpart Mark Zuckerberg. Need I go on? I think the film clearly shows the flaws in being at the top. Say this is fiction or non-fiction, it’s certainly a very possible scenario in which being at the top is quite lonely and not all too satisfying.

On this point, the film really exposes one of the most intriguing contradictions of American culture. We’re so obsessed with getting to the top (high value on being rich and famous), yet the people at the top quite constantly reveal that this isn’t such a great place to be (in addition to this film, see Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak or the many celebrity meltdowns). What strangely connects us all is this struggle for success. The only thing we seem to have in common, which brings everyone out to the bars every weekend, is to strive for something that doesn’t sound to be all that great.

And of course finally I must discuss the genius ending; Sean disappoints Mark. It’s funny, most people, including myself the first time, found this a very depressing ending. In retrospect I found it profoundly positive and poignant. At the end, Mark learns that while everyone is disappointing, so is he. He realizes the humanity in everyone including himself. He finally decides to stop moving forward, and take a step back. He reaches out his olive branch to Erica, the first step in accepting everyone’s flaws and really learning to appreciate them. Who knows, maybe some day he’ll even write her a letter. 

Some side notes that I’d like to just say were important to me as well (some are the overstated points of the film, others are things I had to cut out because I’m not going to write a 300 page review):

1. The use of music is extraordinary. The scratchy score feels lonely, isolated, and most importantly cryptic. Its fragmented electronic nature reflects the themes of this film with more depth than I can remember in another film.

2. Amazing dialogue. Enough said. (Although I must admit it could be a little obvious for my taste at times, which the Slash Filmcast points out is often through Rashida Jones’ character Marylin.

3. This movie is HILARIOUS. The Jewish boys / Asian girls bit is great, "DON’T FISH EAT OTHER FISH? THE MARLINS AND THE TROUT!” Again, enough said.

4. This film also tremendously explores the frustration innovators have with the system. The whole film is a battle between Mark and the courts, and realistically it’s just a waste of his time. Why is it that he does in fact point out gaping holes in the Harvard security system and all he receives is academic probation? Why didn’t they hire him to help with security? A lot of people are defensive and not ready to move on. (Seriously, gay marriage is still an issue? We live in a time of backwards thinking.) Sorkin conveys this quite clearly in a bit of dialogue between one of the lawyers and Mark:
Lawyer: She was under oath.
Mark: Well then I guess that would be the first time somebody’s lied under oath”

The quote really does get to the heart of this situation. People are using these old broken systems and clinging to them quite strongly. It’s time to move on.

To continue with this point a bit I’m going to point out Mark quite sharply yells in the deposition, “you have part of my attention, you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room including and especially your clients are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. ” This moment ends and then Fincher cuts to Mark and Eduardo’s “sex scene” in the bathroom, thus suggesting this is how these teenagers deal with all the bullshit that’s being discussed. Of course, this is another sad contradiction because the empty sex is exactly what people are chasing via Facebook. Of course this moment is followed up by Mark spotting Erica, and his moment of escapism is ruined by reality. This feeds into a point David O. Russell makes on his film I Heart Huckabees, a great exploration of existentialism (and why it’s not all so cynical).

5. Another point at the heart of this film is that we are driven by this simple nagging question that pulls at our inadequacies, “why not me?” This question is at the heart of most decisions we make. I think it’s unfair to claim Sorkin and the filmmakers behind TSN attribute Facebook to this single event/situation, they’re just putting it at the focal point.

6. Absolutely BRILLIANT move by Sorkin is to mention quite correctly that the center of Facebook, its number one purpose, is the relationship status. This one point could be a whole new post (and may be one day).

7. I just want to point out that the way this world is set up, the Winklevoss’ are actually in a much better position than Mark. While they aren’t on top, they have each other. Consider after the race they have in England when they walk around annoyed by their loss. At this moment of failure, when they’ve lost a race and are losing the battle over Facebook, they experience the most beautiful genuine act of friendship in the film; Divya, their good friend, flew all the way out to England to watch their race, presumably without this action being expected of him.

Note to self: Don’t let these moments feel commonplace, they’re actually quite extraordinary. I will definitely take this sentiment deeply to heart on my birthday.

I’d like to end all this rambling on a sentiment from the film in this very scene in London. It’s not one of the 51 memorable quotes listed on IMDB, but it is quite possibly the most important one of the film:

Howard Winklevoss: “Don’t ever apologize to anyone for losing a race like that”

Don’t let your “small” accomplishments be overshadowed by what could’ve or could been, appreciate where you’ve come already. If you just sit and think about where you were years ago, you’d be astounded by who you’ve become.

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