November 13, 2010

The Social Network

When the airwaves and interwebs were clogged with commercials for The Social Network, I told anyone who would listen that I would rather stab myself in the face than see this movie. I suspected that a movie about a smug teenage billionaire, lording his genius over the rest of us, would be unwatchable. Mark Zuckerberg was born in 1984 for crying out loud!

However, the reviews made me less suspicious, so the wife and I saw it this weekend, and we both liked it very much.

The structure is a Citizen Kane-esque postmortem for the rise of an empire. Told via two depositions, the lengthy (voiceover-free) flashbacks show us how vindictive wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg invented the online social network- taking the whole social experience of college and putting it online. Zuckerberg is touched with the Aspberger's so he doesn't know how to connect emotionally. His only emotional outlet is in front of a computer, so it's a natural evolution for him to create a new social world online, in his own element. Force people to interact online instead of in person.

My fears about the smug factor were resolved in the first scene. The Thirsty Scholar, Cambridge, 2003. Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard sophomore, is on a date with his girlfriend. When he lets slip that he considers her intellectually inferior (she goes to BU!) she dumps him. He doesn't understand that it's not enough to regret calling your girlfriend inferior, you have to not honestly feel that way too. By the time this scene was over, I pitied him already. As the story progressed, it was hard to keep feeling bad for a young man who screws over everyone he knows, but it's also hard to hate someone so lonely and lost.

Director David Fincher has  bounced back after the boring and obvious Benjamin Button. The Social Network is Fincher's most conventional movie. I found his gloomy, schellacked lighting distracting. Many scenes were filtered through an amber patina. Is this 2004 or 1904? Some of the most ordinary scenes seemed...sinister, somehow. Maybe I still have the heebie-jeebies leftover from Zodiac? The only special effect I noticed was the Winklevoss Twins. One actor, Armie Hammer, plays twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, just two of the associates Zuckerberg climbs over on the way to the top. I honestly have not seen this actor in anything before, but, while watching him onscreen playing both roles, I thought something was odd. I thought to myself: leave it to David Fincher to use a computer to turn one actor into twins! Are there really no twin actors out there who could have played these roles? It must be nice for Fincher to have that kind of clout.

Aaron Sorkin's adapted screenplay is excellent. He takes the story of a introverted, friendless nerd genius, and turns it into The Movie of the Millenials. When the spurned Zuckerberg drunkenly blogs about the "bitch" who just broke up with him, it felt like the first chapter in the history of The Blogging Generation.

The movie is also full of technical details, both computer details and big business details, and Sorkin's screenplay makes all of it simple to grasp. The only clunky parts include Rashida Jones's unfortunate role as a "script device"; she's just a cog in the storytelling machine.

Our only gripe, and it's a big one, is the appalling depiction of women. All of the female students and girlfriends in the movie are mindless, silly, drunk sex objects, and/or crazy and paranoid. Sorkin and Fincher's loathing for the female species is transparent. I'm not asking them to invent a equally intelligent female nerd, like Demi Moore as the female lawyer in A Few Good Men, but do we need the bimbos playing video games on the sofa? When a character asks them which weapons they're using, they giggle "We don't know how it works. We're just pressing all the buttons!" Moments later, the girls are falling over each other to smoke a five-foot-long bong.

It wasn't only the structure which reminded me of Citizen Kane: we try to understand the solitary billionaire entrepreneur, who he threw under the bus along the way: was reaching the top of the pile worth the cost? At the end of Citizen Kane, we learn that Kane would have given it all up to return to his youthful innocence; at the end of The Social Network, Citizen Zuckerberg has it all to himself, literally.

We saw The Social Network at the Church Street Harvard Square theater, which seemed appropriate considering the setting of the film. I was pleasantly surprised to find the film still showing on the big Screen #1, six weeks after its debut. I suppose a movie set at Harvard, starring the latest billionaire Harvard dropout, gets preferential treatment.

NOTE: At one point, a character points out that Zuckerberg in 2003 was the most talked-about person on the Harvard campus, a campus which includes Nobel laureates, Olympic athletes, and a movie star. That movie star was Natalie Portman, who got her bachelor's degree in 2003. This is the same movie star I spotted in Davis Square in 2001!