21 October, 2010

Review: The Social Network: Fight Club for Nerds

I've just seen The Social Network, and I'm left with a dilemma, how do I report my experience on Facebook?

I could "Like" it, I did, but going to a fan page on Facebook presents further problems, which do I choose to like? Doing a search on Facebook for The Social Network, yields 213 results and the absurd straight faced question "Did you mean:joe socialnetwork ? Just looking at the top thirty returns, at least half of these reference the movie about the creation of the Facebook site, variously as Page, Film, Technology and Telecommunications Service, and Local Business, each using artwork from the movie, or the poster of the movie as the profile pic, each liked by between One person and 198,024. Strangely, as I page through the results the number jumps abruptly from 213 to 331, has my mere interest caused a tremor in the force, it's not like this is the first week that the film has been on release.

Even if I did choose which of the myriad Facebook pages allegedly fronting for the movie scripted by Aaron Sorkin (of corridor walkin', improbably clever banterin' West Wing and Studio 60... fame), all I'd be doing would be putting my name and Facebook ID on a list with thousands upon thousands of people I don't know, and depending on my privacy settings letting the author of said page access parts of my personal profile. It's not like the page is by director David Fincher, who might see my name appear on the list, causing him to wonder if I've forgiven him for every other film of his being crap (see below). Adding my name to a list of fanboys I don't know, I may as well be back on MySpace.

The real coup of this film is that it manages to make two inherently dry things, the development of a website, and litigation over credit and ownership of that intellectual property, into a compelling and watchable story. This is down to the triple threat of Sorkin's wordier than thou script, Fincher's unfussy direction, and Jesse Eisenberg (yeh, the NOT Michael Cera), Andrew Garfield, and Armie Hammer's spot on acting.

Geeks, don't get too excited that this will make programming any cooler (isn't money, if you hit on the right thing, enough?). There is one key scene where coding is brought to life, by illustrating a problem solving session, creating a routine that navigates their Uni's network for id pictures of female students. It's a humdinger for sure, but don't think you're getting any more to replace your hankering after the dubious, technically dodgy charms of Hackers (or Wargames, or, -shudder- The Net...). Apart from this scene, Fincher withholds flourishes, wisely leaving the densely written dialogue and the uniformly superb acting to do the heavy lifting.

I did feel that many of the reviews I'd heard or read had stretched the comparison to Rashomon to molecular carbon fibre thinness. This is nothing against the film. Are critics a) so impoverished in their vocabulary as to have no other way to describe multiple viewpoints, and/or b) so pretentious that the merest hint of the same causes them to name drop Kurosawa's classic (no one goes for the somewhat bizarre 1964 Western remake "The Outrage", starring Paul Newman, Claire Bloom, Edward G. Robinson, and... William Shatner)? What we do experience in The Social Network is a constantly shifting viewpoint. Very few scenes are replayed, and those only partially, the viewpoints shift mainly to those being deposed, and the self serving differences in the memory plays aren't pointedly (or ham-ily) exaggerated, as they might be in faux-Rashomon style (now who's pretentious, bitches!?). The "God" point of view which plays most of the time, looks condescendingly over the proceedings. However well people come off in their own versions, and even there some don't do themselves any favours, they are even more screwed, cynical and manipulative under the all seeing narrative eye.

There has been much comment that no one comes off as "likeable". Raging Bull and There Will Be Blood didn't inspire me to hang out with their main characters. Maybe, in a context where everyone polishes their persona, be it turd or diamond, we could fall into the trap of believing this is relevant to the architects of that virtual social club-house. If anyone comes off well here, it's Eduardo Saverin, who is probably the only character with a visible emotional arc as he suffers the highs and lows of success and betrayal in the face of Mark Zuckerberg's stubborn, blinkered and monolithic drive.

Of course, you could trust someone else's review of The Social Network. The better ones might share common ground with this one, but only mine is right. The Social Network is a fascinating, emotionally cold tale of ego driven genius. And who, after all, can resist a tell-all, even if it doesn't tell all.

Sidebar: The Alternating Fincher Theory

Finally it supports my theory that every other David Fincher film is Rubbish/Genius:

Alien 3 (1992) I hated this on first viewing, warmed to it over the years, and if it can be regarded as pants, not entirely DF's fault. Certainly the slightly more successful of the deeply flawed second half of the "Quadrology".

Se7en (1995) Great, even if Gwyneth gets boxed in. Its only downsides being that it led the way for future trends in intentionally poor lighting in thrillers and perversely moralistic torture porn.

The Game (1997) Pretentious rubbish. Paranoid fantasy as invigorating life journey. This is Eat Pray Love for yuppie men.

Fight Club (1999) Genius, Helena B-C does her best hair acting ever, can you even remember a movie Ed Norton has done since?

Panic Room (2002) Not complete rubbish, but nothing superlative. Never whelming, so no chance of under. Jodie in the box not nearly as good as Gwyneth.

Zodiac (2007) Genius. Creepy, gripping, and tragic. The one for which DF deserves subsequent plaudits.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) Not just rubbish, an unjustifiable waste of time, tedious, aimless, pointless. If Sam Mendes hadn't made Revolutionary Road, I'd be hard pressed to name a film I hated more in the last few years.

The Social Network (2010) Like.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo .... or The Girl in the Superfluous English Language Remake... I think we may be on target.

I do hope he breaks the pattern. Does anyone agree with the phenomenon, or is it merely manufactured by my fickle tastes? And even if my theory is right, surely it is worth living in a universe that contains The Game, Panic Room and even Ben Button, if we can also have Se7en, Fight Club, and Zodiac. Maybe we should hope he continues, at least we'll know which ones to see.

(Note: Sidebar partially recycled from comment I made on the Kermode Uncut blog. Further Note: Since originally written I've seen a fairly impressive looking trailer for ... Dragon Tattoo, so the spell may be broken....)



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