Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Social Network - 2010 Opening Film at the Tokyo Film Festival

Director - David Fincher


The inner machinations behind the origins of facebook, and the eventual, "lawyering up" make for an excellent film.

When most of us get dumped, we stare longingly out the window, try to sleep with someone else (anyone else), beg, desperately, for the dumper to realize what an enormous mistake they have made, or verbally attack them to anyone who will listen. Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, chooses the latter, doing so on his online blog, but doesn't not stop there. He makes, a comparison based attractiveness competition of his female fellows created by hacking into the university network. It crashes the Harvard server with its popularity he is summoned before the university admin board to be put in his place. Before proceedings have even begun, he argues that he should be thanked for illuminating potential security problems. It is clear from the off what kind of person Zuckerberg is.

The story is never about facebook itself, it is about the connections of the handful of people behind it, rather than five hundred million on it, and the deposition they wind up in. All flawed in their own ways, they interact fascinatingly. The story gravitates around the deposition, and we find out about the history that led them to this moment in flashback. This system, though nothing groundbreaking, Fincher even went so far as to say he had made his Rashomon, is dealt with marvellously. The flashbacks are poignantly linked to the revelations, developing and filling out our understanding, and indeed our judgement. Despite this device however, the control is resoundingly still with the audience, as we are implored to come up with our own deductions beyond the facts and figures we have of this mess. This is made all the more interesting that the events are all within historical throwing distance, and surely makes this something of a unique work, in that this bickering is still continuing.

Every character in the film fits perfectly. Eisenberg, as Zuckerberg, has a cupboard of similar characters in his back catalogue. He arrived with The Squid and the Whale 2005, the awkward, intellectual, misfit child under the strains of his parents divorce. He steadily added to that with films like Adventureland 2009, Zombieland 2010, in which he was far more at the helms. His persona, an edgy, fast-talking, nerdy Robert Downey Jr., is recognizable from the off, but the accusations of him trotting out the same old shtick are utterly misguided. He revels in this performance, a role that allows him to use all that nervous energy to perfection. He is brutally sharp and it works perfectly with Sorkin's snappy dialogue. In one scene a lawyer, attempting to emphasize a point, clarifies a sum, " so you put in twelve thousand dollars, and then an extra four thousand dollars, making sixteen thousand in all." Zuckerberg, intently stares at his calculator, looks up, " Yeah, I got the same." You sometimes sympathize with him, and sometimes loathe him, often in the same scene.

His hang ups and insecurities fundamentally effect all of the other characters, and are what draws them to this final conclusion. With Eduardo, co-founder (sort of), he holds a, sometimes barely concealed, jealousy at his greater social success that pushes their relationship towards breakdown. The two Winklevoss brothers, whose original idea is clearly the spark that ignites Zuckerberg's grand plan, are moneyed and successful and part of a world that he so desperately wants to be a part of. At the disposition Zuckerberg struggles to hide his contempt for them, incapable of creating something like this on their own, "If you guys were the inventors of facebook, you'd have invented facebook." He treats them like imbecilic parasites, despite the fact they might just have a point. They themselves are a strong presence in the film, the so-called inner circle, and it is enjoyable watching Zuckerberg infuriate them. At a regatta, after it has dawned on them that facebook has blown up big time, a well-to do Brit is introduced to them, who says his daughter at the LSE has her own facebook account. You can almost see the vanes popping in their skulls.

Most interestingly though, is Justin Timberlake's turn as Sean Parker, Napster creator. Broke and needing something to get him back in the game. He is smooth, egotistical and powerfully manipulative. It is a remarkable, convincing performance from Timberlake, which is something I wouldn't have predicted myself saying ten years ago. He is distrusted by Eduardo, but childishly entrancing to Zuckerberg. Eduardo is lost to why Zuckerberg listens to him so intently and it is a catalyst in the following turmoil. Eduardo claimed that all Parker ever brought to Facebook was removing the the from the title. This may be the only quantifiable evidence, but what Parker brings with his C-list celebrity and accompanying charm, is ambition. It is clear that as well intentioned as Eduardo is, he is essentially the weakest link. Eduardo frets over the initial, respectively small scale investment. He wants an immediate return, requiring facebook to become profitable immediately. Zuckerberg believes, and Parker agrees, that what facebook has now is more important than profitability, it is cool. When Eduardo's money isn't relevant anymore neither is he. Parker, unlikable and slippery, is looking at a picture far bigger than anything Eduardo can begin to conceive.

Sorkin argued that even for those who have never updated a status, or had a drunken photo splashed over the internet, the film is just as accessible and it is true. In no detrimental way, the comparisons to Citizen Kane are perhaps slightly off-base. It's scope was never meant to be that vast. The final moment jars a bit, but it is a small blot on an otherwise superb character study on a man who has had, and is having, a huge effect on the world. It exposes the crippling insecurities at the heart of his prodigious, epoch changing idea. The site changed the way people interact socially in a short few years, yet it was built by someone with a complete lack of social skills. Though, to paraphrase, Zuckerberg isn't an asshole but he is good at trying to be one.

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