Notes on The Social Network

November 20th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

“I have never heard a story as horrible as this…This time, I may finally lose my faith in the human soul.  It’s worse than bandits, the plague, famine, fire or war.” ~ the priest in Rashomon

It was date night, our first time out since Boston was born four months ago and we left her in the capable hands of Zalman, a Facebook friend of ours.  I’m 29, leaving my one bedroom LA apartment with my wife days before she turns 30 as we say good-bye to our four-month-old daughter so we can see a movie about a 26 year-old billionaire.

I do my best to ignore the barrage of AMC’s pre-movie distractions, but they seep in and The Social Network is served an unfair blow because these ads and behind-the-scenes look at Grown-Ups put a sour taste in my mouth.  Luckily I bought Hot Tamales.

Without us knowing we had appropriately bought tickets to a love story.  Apparently, according the movie, at the very center of Zuckerberg’s ambition to build Facebook was for the love for a girl.  So right out of the gate I started to feel this film holds all the veracity of a Michael Moore picture. And maybe that is the point.

Truffaut believes that what you say in a film is not nearly as important as how you say it. Sorkin and Fincher decided to tell The Social Network in a Rashomon-style where we are piecing together the events as they are being retold during two coinciding depositions.  Rashomon was the film that famously got us to start questioning the truth of what we were being shown. Kurosawa gave us unreliable narrators to tell a story and here, with the story of Facebook, the style is eerily appropriate. We are watching a story interpreted by a director from a script adapted from book written by an author who gathered information from potentially unreliable sources several degrees removed from the actual events. We’ve all played Telephone and the lesson of that game tells us the more people in between the event and report the greater the inaccuracies.

So we can disregard this film as an honest depiction of historical events and evaluate it for what it really is; a story about unbridled ambition, revenge and greed. It may not be accurate, but damn it! It makes for great movies.

The opening scene of the movie displays Sorkin’s version of Zuckerberg; this intelligent, arrogant kid who loves to belittle his girlfriend while offering her a chance to met people “she’d never get to met.”  He might find himself gracious or charitable without realizing that he is condescending.  He moves so quickly through conversation, almost hoping to surpass his counterpart, only to ridicule her when she doesn’t keep up with the conversation. We even get that first taste of Zuckerberg’s lack of perception when it comes to social interaction. She breaks up with him, but he needs to ask for a clarification, “is this real?” Receiving the affirmative he apologizes, insincerely and devoid of emotion, and is then left at a crowded bar, friendless.  It is a foreshadowing of Zuckerberg’s ability to distance himself from the emotional bond that can form between two people.

Suddenly, we’re at Harvard, but movie Harvard.  It’s the magical land where your closest friends come from wealthy legacy families, are 6 foot 5, love to row boats and come in duplicate.  It is the elite environment of the world’s future leaders where every student is a verbal acrobat capable of using their caustic wit and mental prowess to best even the most skilled and prepared litigators. It’s necessary to paint the student body this way because inarticulate, snarky, over-privileged 20 year-olds wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as they become litigious and vindictive.

A brilliant sequence cut by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall juxtaposes frat boys and Final Clubs drinking, snorting drugs and coaxing sluts to strip for them while Zuckerberg is getting drunk in his dorm creating “Facemash,” a website in response to his recent break-up that quickly crashes the Harvard server.  The sequence immediately transports me back to undergrad where I was drinking with friends and laughing as we rated people on  It was juvenile, as was Facemash.  But Facemash was prologue to a collaboration, an Internet sensation and multi-million dollar lawsuits while for the rest of us it was simply a prologue to joining their future site.

As The Facebook starts to evolve Zuckerberg throws ownership percentages around as freely as beers and bottle caps.  He grabs 65%, giving 30% to Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and 5% to Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph Mazzello).  But as the popularity of the site starts to stretch across the continent it attracts the attention of Sean Parker, played by pop-star Justin Timberlake. The decision to cast Timberlake must have been as much about him being a pop-star with that ostentatious aura as it was about his similar appearance to Parker.  It’s something the actor and the subject share.  It’s magnetism, it’s a command of the room when he enters.

The “rock-star” Internet rebel from Napster brings the flashy west-coast swagger to the team, creating a beautiful dichotomy of the coasts.  The east-coast is the pragmatism and the dedication to a code of ethics as one of the Winklevosses (Winklevi?) refuses to sue Zuckerberg because “we don’t sue other students.”  The west-coast is the celebrity.  It is the fast-paced mirage of a better life, with woman and drugs and venture capitalists that are ready to throw millions of dollars at college dropouts in their early twenties. It is the coast where ethics and rules get in the way of business and loyalty is as valuable as diluted shares of the soon-to-be ubiquitous dot com.

Zuckerberg is of course seduced by this tempter from the West and moves to Palo Alto. Facebook moves with such a momentum he can feel that Eduardo will soon “be left behind,” but even acknowledging this momentum he does little to control it. Sorkin wrote Zuckerberg as this conniving, egomaniacal kid easily seduced by the promise of gaining influence and information.  He uses the seed planted by the Winklevosses to expand without them, he betrays his founding partner and yet Fincher directs this script in a way that he shows sympathy toward Zuckerberg. There is a battle of perception. Fincher’s direction leads me to believe that he might admire Zuckerberg.

Fincher seems to enjoy exploring those heroes on the fringes of society, the one not fitting in, but then bring people together.  In Fight Club the outcast searches for a connection in support groups but finds it engaging in fights with others.  In Fight Club they throw fists, in The Social Network they hurl verbal assaults during litigation.  Fincher seems to favor those eccentric characters that rage against the establishment.  It was again very appropriate that the screenwriter and the director seem to have opposing feelings toward the hero of this film.  No two audience members walk away from The Social Network sharing the same feelings toward Zuckerberg and I think that is how it should be.  In the end our hero is isolated, alone with his creation, refreshing his screen in hopes that the past is somehow reconciled.  And you almost feel sorry for him.  But then again, it’s difficult to feel sorry for the world’s youngest billionaire.

We left the theater and walked to dinner at a place call Rock Sugar in Century City where a man wearing an ascot, that’s right a freakin’ ascot, showed us to our table.  It was an opulent restaurant with flashy patrons and $14 martinis.  A woman with artificial curves and dressed like a slutty cheetah sat behind me and behind Lindsey sat what I can only guess was a Viet-Cong soldier with two Hanoi hookers. Halloween always brings out the best costumes: a slutty cheetah, a slutty ninja turtle or even a slutty pumpkin. And with the look-at-me west-coast of Sean Parker sharing a meal with us Lindsey and I felt between two coasts. We ordered beer, some cheap-ish chicken and went back to our one-bedroom apartment to find two friends (real friends, not just virtual) watching over our sleeping daughter.

(i post this fully aware you may have found by way of a link i posted on facebook.  how magnificent)

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