Monday, October 4, 2010

The Social Network (dir. David Fincher)

Yeah, I'm not pleased about the huge Yahoo! Movies tag in the corner of the screencaps, either. But being as I'm a nerd for representing the movie, and not the advertising materials surrounding them, trailer screencaps remain the way to go.

In the months - nay, years - leading up to its release, The Social Network was repeatedly met with skepticism, sarcasm, and the spawn of the two - snark. Those of us confident in the storytelling powers of Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher repeatedly went to back to the standard line - "It's not really about Facebook, it's about friendship, betrayal, greed." As though we needed an excuse.

The truth is, aside from the obvious notion that a film isn't really about what it's about (who remembers that Chinatown is about a man taking control of public utilities?), it is fascinating material. As Glenn Kenny perfectly put it, why wouldn't you be interested in Facebook, except for the opportunity to place yourself above it? Whether you approve of the brave new world or not (and I say this as someone who would just as soon see the entire Internet implode), Facebook has changed the way people communicate, probably for good. You may not use it, and in a generation it may be gone, but the elaborate network of communication it has established is permanent. And we're right at the beginning of a revolution. There may be more socio-politically relevant stories out there about current issues, but in terms of things that are happening right now that have a lasting impact on who were are as people...why wouldn't you want to see a movie about Facebook?

That the film is also the story of, yes, friendship, betrayal, and greed makes for good, classic drama. Then you have Aaron Sorkin writing it, and whatever his faults, I can't think of any screenwriter who, at the top of his game, can make a movie centered around dorm rooms and depositions more electric. And then there's David Fincher, a director second only to Paul Thomas Anderson among his peers and one of the best working filmmakers, period, deciding to tackle something completely outside of what he's known for. And, as it turns out, succeeding.

And you ask why you'd want to see a movie about Facebook.

Sorkin's script is what keeps this thing dancing, no doubt, and although I shy away from such predictions in the public forum, if there's one award that's locked up this holiday season, it has to be Sorkin's for The Social Network. I've never found any cases against him terribly compelling. Conversations on film are rarely, if ever, interesting when they sound the way people speak in real life, so it is necessary for dialogue to do two things - sound like an outward expression of who this person is (this is totally apart from what they actually say, but is involved solely with how they say it), and communicate what this person wants the world to believe about him or her. And yes, Sorkin has a tendency to have all of his characters speak the same way, but at his worst, he's still ten times more exciting a writer than many with more diversity.

So when, as here, Sorkin gives his characters that needed diversity - of speaking style, of background (social, financial, educational), of goals (immediate or lifelong) - nobody is better able to entertain us solely through the written (or spoken, I suppose) word. And in addition to everything that could be said about the structural and thematic attributes of the screenplay, which are considerable, it is just damned entertaining.

A lot has been said about the film's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, and it should come as no surprise that I don't really care how closely it hews to the real guy, specifically how the character plays across generational lines. In an article published yesterday at The New York Times, David Carr wrote that for older generations, Zuckerberg was seen as "a cautionary tale about a callous young man who betrays friends, partners, and principles as he hacks his way to lucre and fame. But many of the generation who grew in a world that Mr. Zuckerberg helped invent will applaud someone who saw his chance and seized it with both hands." While I think placing both readings along generational divides is a little convenient, I do think both readings exist - for me, simultaneously.

There is little doubt that Mark (played masterfully by Jesse Eisenberg) is right both morally and strategically when he is cautious moving into the moneymaking aspect of Facebook, or continuing to create groundbreaking websites without profit in mind at all, and while his actions betray him, he does show genuine concern for how Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) will fit into the ultimate scheme. I haven't found a single reading of their relationship completely satisfying, in fact. Mark isn't out to screw Eduardo, and he says "I'm afraid you're going to get left behind," not "I think you will" or "if you keep this up, you're going to." Mark wants Eduardo aboard, but he's just not willing to let friendship get in the way of what he thinks he can achieve. There simply comes a point at which Eduardo has nothing to add. I personally don't find this attitude terribly noble, but I also recognize that most of the great revolutions wouldn't have taken place without similar mindsets. It's not for me, but it is the way things happen.

Also, refreshingly, Mark is not a greedy character, insofar as he embarks on his quest not for money, or even ultimately for the popularity he sought at the start (and the title cleverly refers both to the system he ultimately struggled in and one he eventually built), but simply because it became something he must do. And coming out of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps earlier that day, a film that bolstered my beliefs that the only innovation taking place these days is the continuing innovation for how to make more money, I was thrilled to see some old-fashioned American ingenuity at play. Though Mark is not doing something for the greater good, he is at least doing something he feels is important, and everything he does - right or wrong - is at the service of this thing. It's that mindset that I find admirable, apart from the actions he takes for it.

I couldn't write this without in some way mentioning David Fincher, a director who has evolved considerably from a pretty stunning starting place into a very mature, thoughtful filmmaker. Even if it does turn out that he peaked with Zodiac (but what a peak!), his work continues to show unprecedented talent. This is probably his most outwardly comedic film to date (though Fight Club is more of a comedy in its soul than The Social Network, the latter has by far the more traditional laughs), and Fincher displays a remarkable ability at making us laugh while maintaining an altogether different mood (much, I suppose, as Fight Club kept us squirming while maintaining a humorous undercurrent). This is actually a weird marriage of the old Fincher and the new, between the pace and energy of Fight Club and the more soulful outlook Fincher's displayed in Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

His work here is almost invisible, the deft, confident, consummately professional touch one would be more accustomed to from a studio era director (a Preminger or a Losey perhaps) than one who made his name with such visual flourish. There was no escaping the Fincher of Fight Club or Panic Room, for instance, while one can take in the Fincher of new unobstructed. His framing may be more modest, his cutting less aggressive, but his filmmaking is as powerful as ever. In spite of the many change-ups each scene requires, Fincher never misses a beat in creating something tonally and rhythmically cohesive. He leaps right from the opening scene, a classic Sorkin set-up of two people talking over, around, and across each other, to perhaps his best title sequence to date, featuring Mark jogging home, isolated from the surrounding Harvard community. Going right from high-energy conversation to moody study of character-as-action is more than just putting the two side-by-side. Mark has to seem apart from his world in that first scene or the second won't feel right, and he can't simply walk home from such an exchange. Determination must play a factor, either for escape or revenge or whatever. It sounds easy, but if it were, more movies would be this good.

As you might have noticed, there's quite a bit going on in this film, in spite of its modest running time. I've barely touched on its considerable performances (Justin Timberlake for Best Supporting Actor!), and there are themes and ideas I probably never will. But I'd like to. A second viewing is most certainly in order, and if you've stuck with me this long, I'm sure you'll be back for more.

1 comment:

Matthew C. said...

A shame about the CGI breath in that one scene though. Especially considering the incredible work they did making the twins looks believable.