Friday, October 1, 2010

Friend the World, Make it a Better Place?

I should warn you right now, this "review" won't be a normal review.  I find I'm not that great at normal reviews.  Normal reviews contain references to camera angles and lighting and color schemes and I pick up on these things, most of the time, but I'm not as well versed as most reviewers.  What I excel at, according to the tagline of my blog,( and since I made the tagline I must admit it's pretty accurate) is opinions, and hopefully, sometimes, on really good days, those opinions turn into insights. With a movie like The Social Network, it's easy to have insights, there's a lot going on.  But what I'm trying to warn you about is that there may be spoilers in this "overview" and for that, I hope you're either prepared, or at least, not disappointed with what I may or may not give away.  Also, a warning, this will not be one of my short and to the point postings either.  So, grab a warm or cool beverage, find that dent in your couch cushion, settle in and let's begin.

If you haven't heard of The Social Network, you're either collecting Social Security, or more likely, you're operating under the principle that this movie is actually called The Facebook Movie.  And yes, that's what all of the actions, and consequential reactions, are about:  the founding of Facebook.  (Again, hopefully that's not a spoiler for you)  The film opens in a dimly, Fincher-lit pub with 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg drinking beer with his girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara).  Everything you need to know about the character Mark (one of my personal heartthrobs, Jesse Eisenberg) is there in this scene.

Mark Zuckerberg is smart.  Phenomenally smart.  Perfect SAT, computer programming smart.  But he's also mighty insecure and surprisingly vulnerable.  In the words of the great John Hughes, who seemed to understand character more than people give him credit for, via John Bender, Zuckerberg might qualify as a "neo maxi zoom dweebie".  I consider myself a nerd, so that's a quote from one to another.  Zuckerberg is in the middle of debating how to get into a Harvard "final club" with his girlfriend as if his (social) life depended on it.  He believes it does.  Erica doesn't buy in so much.  Erica is level-headed and intelligent, but, according to Zuckerberg, not overly intelligent.  She's a girl who doesn't need to be a member of any club for validation, a point that Zuckerberg can't seem to fathom.  The scene is filled with brilliantly delivered, fast-paced Aaron Sorkin dialogue and it sets the tone for the movie beautifully.

As Mark, seemingly uncomfortable in social situations, continues to drone on about needing to belong to the elite, Erica throws a wrench in his plans by breaking up with him.  Right then, right there.  His reaction is that of most any 19-year-old boy.  Use something you're really good at to get back at her for the hurt you're feeling and this is where the Facebook wheels are set in motion.  The breakup spurs the development of a website "Facemash".  From there, the phenomenon that is Facebook starts rolling and doesn't stop until it leaves debris like hurt, betrayal, friendship and questionable decisions in its wake.
But I ask you this question:  you, on the Internet, right now reading my blog, what would you do without Facebook?

Immediate post-break-up Mark is a man almost possessed.  His trek through the Harvard campus, which although seemingly busy, we see Mark walk through almost undetected, is accompanied by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' haunting, industrial, almost buzzing score, and with that music we're squarely grounded in what almost sounds like Mark's constantly overworking mind. We're quickly introduced to his dormmates, including Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph "sorry you'll always be Timmy to me" Mazzello) and his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield...swoon).  The scene where they actually create Facemash is almost mesmerizing.  Sorkin's tech savvy dialogue and Eisenberg and Garfield's speedy delivery of the lines, code speak rolling off their tongues as fast as the thought can (seemingly) occur to them almost had my head spinning, which is, I'm certain the exact intention.  Sorkin can TELL the audience that Zuckerberg scored a 1600 on his SAT's but that's just a number.  Allowing the audience to WATCH as he creates software out of nothing is a different beast entirely.  He's the smartest guy in the room, he knows it, and he kind of loves it.  But then again, how many of us don't bask in our own successes?

Just for funsies, here's the online version of The Crimson's (the Harvard paper) article about Facemash and its fallout

Facemash debacle aside, the remainder of the film's time is split  focusing on the growth of Facebook and 2 simultaneous court depositions which followed its worldwide success, all out of chronological order.  Don't worry, you won't be lost.  The basic gist being that the further inspriation for Facebook was provided by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and their friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) who asked Zuckerberg to become their programmer for a Harvard social networking site called HarvardConnection.  When Zuckerberg didn't follow through on his agreement to work on HarvardConnection and popped up with TheFacebook 2 months later, the Winklevosses (brilliantly called the Winklevi by Zuckerberg later in the movie) and Narendra sued for theft of intellectual property.  The other deposition comes when Zuckerberg and then business partner Sean Parker aka the founder of Napster (Justin Timberlake) maneuver to get Saverin, the initial financial backer and CFO, and did I mention Zuckerberg's best friend, kicked out of the company.  Yeah, the dealings don't sound pretty, but I have to say, I'm not sure if it's my heart's soft spot for Jesse Eisenberg, my love of nerds in general, or just fantastic, emotional storytelling, but I didn't walk away hating Mark Zuckerberg.  In fact, no one should walk away from this movie with a dislike for Zuckerberg and here's why.

This is not a biography, this is not a movie intending to be a biography.  This is a movie that happens to use the names of real people, and a website that tons and tons of people interface with on a daily basis to create a familiar setting for a cautionary tale.  Based on the book, Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, I'm sure that there has been more than a little dramatization and artistic licensing of The Social Network, but the truly surprising thing is just how universal and human the themes in the film are.  This isn't just the story of Facebook.  This is the story of every person who has ever wanted to be seen as being more than they currently are.  This is the story of a phenomenally gifted and intelligent group of people who are young and who are attempting to make the decisions of adults.  Sometimes those situations don't make for the best combination.

Ironically enough, as is stated several times in the film, Mark Zuckerberg doesn't really care about the money.  The only reason he even joins forces with Sean Parker isn't because of the promise of a billion dollars, it's because Sean Parker is the ultimate cool guy to Zuckerberg.  He's the hacking rebel who did it all and is almost getting away with it.  He's the ladies man, the smooth operator, the Edward Cullen of the geek patrol, and he wants to be friends with Zuckerberg.  If someone you admired came up to you and said "hey let's hang out" how many of us would not fall under their spell?  Ok, now how many wouldn't have fallen for it if they were 20 or 21?

The beauty of the film is it shows all of these people who are legally adult age, privileged people who have money to burn, completely unaware of how to act like adults.  Subtly, the entire movie deals with the question of age and what are we really supposed to handle at that young of an age?  Saverin is worried about getting carded, Parker has to make sure he keeps his pants on around girls under the age of consent, Cameron Winklevoss claims they can't sue because they're MEN of Harvard as his brother pitches a childish fit.  It's all to point out that money can't buy maturity.  Money can't make you smarter, it can only force you to make bigger decisions and have much much more to lose.

Zuckerberg, for all of his poor choices, is essentially just a guy.  At 19 he wants, probably more than anything in the world, two things.  He wants to be one of the BMOCs (Big Men on Campus) and he wants a girlfriend who won't break his heart.  At 19, I wanted pretty much the same things, just flip the genders in the previous sentence.  Sometimes I think the only thing that all humans have in common is that at some point during the day they wish they were someone else, or they wish they were with someone else.   The only reason the world is taking notice of Mark Zuckerberg is because his decision-making led to billionaire status with a capital "B" at a young age.  And the only reason he was able to achieve that is because of one essential tool unavailable to previous generations:  The Internet.

That terrible/wonderful/toxic Internet.  It's a world unto itself.  A world filled with as many lies as truths and that's another crux of this story.  As much as people want to have friends and feel like they belong, the Internet can provide them with that.  But the question then becomes how REAL is that.  At one point, Sean Parker states
"we've lived in the city, we've lived in the suburbs and now we're going to live on the Internet!"
It's so frighteningly true.  Right now, I'm writing to readers (hopefully) who may or may not know who I am, who may or may not understand when my writing is tinged with sarcasm, who will probably never send me a birthday card but who can Google (again, a verb invented in the last 10 years) my name (if they know it) and find other writings of mine online.  Right now, I'm writing during a week when the Internet was the tool used by two Rutgers students to play a "prank" on a roommate which resulted in him jumping off the George Washington bridge.  Right now, I'm writing, hoping the Internet will be the very vehicle that might help get my writing noticed.  As difficult as friendships and relationships can be, what The Social Network proves is that the Internet can make them even more difficult.  We now know what millions of people are doing at a moments notice, but do we know what their favorite song is?  If we do it's only because of Facebook or Myspace.

I'll just quickly say that two of my favorite scenes in the movie occur towards the end, and this will definitely be a spoiler warning.  The audience has been introduced to Sean Parker, the resident cool guy of the film.  I mean what teen didn't think Napster was awesome and hate Lars Ulrich for ripping it away from us?  Sean has taken his cool guy persona and run with it.  Run all the way to a 7% stake in Facebook with it.  When Eduardo Saverin comes back to find out that his 34.4% share of the company has been sold off, leaving him with nothing, and he's badgered by Parker, he looks like he's going to attack.  Parker backs meekly away.  And when the uber slick Parker gets busted at a party, what does he pull out of his pocket?  An Epi pen and an inhaler.  These are the moments of quiet brilliance of the film.  The moments that tell us that no matter how badly we want something, no matter how badly we want to believe in someone, we should probably have taken The Wizard of Oz more seriously when Dorothy said,
"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with".

And that's essentially where we leave Mark.  After everything he's gone through, every cent he's made, he's just the guy who still wants two things, except now they've changed a bit:  He wants to keep Facebook a success, because it's his creation, and he wants things to be as simple as they once were.  So he goes back to Facebook to find his ex-girlfriend, the girl who started it all, and he still can't bring himself to let go of those insecurities that, once formed will probably always plague us, every one of us.  Because The Social Network isn't just the story of Facebook, it's the story of our own social networks.  Our friends, our jealousies of our friends, our desire to know what the ones we love are doing, and our desire to let the ones we used to love know how much they hurt us.  That's what Facebook can do.  But with all that being said, once you see the film, I'm sure you'll update your Facebook status with what you thought about it. I know I did.  What a conundrum of a world we live in.




5 out of 5

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