Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"The Social Network" is not very sociable

The Social Network” was not on my list of must-sees. I enjoy the addictive Facebook, but I don’t really care enough to see a movie about its creation/creator(s). Nevertheless, a script by Aaron Sorkin lured me in. Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac, Benjamin Button), has taken some good actors who, for the most part, I didn’t recognize, directed them briskly, and told a story that held my attention. It’s about people, not Facebook. Difficult people, privileged people, smart people, ordinary people.

"The Social Network" is well crafted, tells a story we didn’t know we wanted to hear, and I for one have no idea what parts of it – if any – are true. Does it matter? At least half the people in the audience will assume that the movie wouldn’t be allowed to use real people and numbers if the story was totally fictitious. “Does it matter” may be a subject for a different blog.

Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, while it may be right on the mark for all I know, makes the character quite unlikeable. I find this unfortunate because I admire Mr. Zuckerberg’s achievement and sympathize with his unpleasant position at However, Mr. Eisenberg’s characterization makes it almost impossible to empathize with Zuckerberg’s ultimate actions. I expect someone will posit that Mr. Zuckerberg had some psychological defect that made him helpless against his inability to be decent, civil, polite, kind, or loyal. It’s probably defined in DSM, and I won’t care. It is only in the last ten minutes of the film that Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg appeared to have any social or moral compass. Was that due to Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Eisenberg, Mr. Fincher, or Mr. Sorkin?

This, to me, pivotal flaw in the film led to an interesting article in the New York Times about audience reaction to the film: Members of the “older” generation (apparently that’s me) consider Zuckerberg’s actions to be betrayals of trust, of his friends, and show him morally bankrupt despite his probable genius. The “younger” generation (I used to be one of those) apparently think his enterprise and brilliance are more important than any social niceties. At least according to the Times.

Just about everything that happened at Harvard was offensive to me – really, did you see those initiation rites -- but Eisenberg’s portrayal of Zuckerberg still couldn’t make me sympathetic to his behavior. One would wish a film’s protagonist to be a smidgen likeable, and he wasn’t.

Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake is sleazy as entrepreneur Sean Parker. He is relaxed and real before the camera. I don’t know how much depth Mr. Timberlake has, but it’s not needed here. As Zuckerberg’s original partner Eduardo Saverin, Andrew Garfield, the new Spiderman, is fine, but not extraordinary – not as mesmerizing as the unpleasant Mr. Eisenberg. Nothing about Mr. Garfield makes me believe he can carry the lead in a comic book franchise.

There’s a lot of sleaze in this film, some of which comes from the lawyers, but really most of it’s at Harvard. With the exception of Mara Rooney’s Erica Albright, the young women in this film make me despair of feminism. From the Harvard -- or perhaps B.U., who knows which -- girls to the ditzbrains in California, the females are by and large idiots trading on their good looks (easy at their age) for – what? Drugs, disrespect, future rich-and-powerful husbands? Did Harvard kill feminism? I fear these young women have not been misrepresented by Mr. Sorkin or Mr. Fincher.

Visually the film is striking in certain scenes (rowing scenes look gorgeous, and not just because of the nicely muscled young men) and obdurately realistic in others. Sorkin’s intelligent and tense script and Fincher’s tight direction give us a fascinating log of the social network and the early 21st century, and the actors are all more than capable of handling Mr. Sorkin’s complex and rhythmic language. “The Social Network” is a much better movie than the sequel to “Wall Street” – which, by the way, should absolutely not be a contender for best picture.

This film tells us that Mark Zuckerberg is a complex creature who created Facebook for the beauty of it, for the sheer joy of doing what no one else had done. This is a good trait. However, as portrayed in the film by Jesse Eisenberg, Mr. Zuckerberg is incapable of human interaction so all the cleverness in the world won’t make up for his isolation. Which makes a social network an odd choice for his enterprise.

You may be wondering after this rant if I recommend this film for your viewing pleasure. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but no. Despite its fine writing and direction, it provides little pleasure, it is unfulfilling. I understand Sorkin’s interest in the “Rashomon” aspect he sees in Mr. Zuckerberg’s story – were we to read every deposition in every suit involving Mr. Zuckerberg, I’m certain there’d be plenty of different stories and no real way of knowing which, if any, is wholly true. Aaron Sorkin’s writing is often political and controversial. But these people did not anger me so much as they annoyed me. The passion in the film is all Mark Zuckerberg’s, and since he’s not particularly likeable, the film misses its point.

~ Molly Matera, signing off. Must check Facebook.....

1 comment:

  1. I think that the supposed 'social' network founded by such a non social person should be with no personal contact through a machine. It is up to the individual to really socialize with the use of the network. That is why I attended the CK reunion and this weekend I am going to a party with 'FB Friends' that I haven't seen in 35 years. There was a scene in the movie that juxtaposed students partying and students on myspace at 2 AM. It spoke volumes. I don't think Sorkin and Fichner were trying to portray the principals in a flattering light. It is what I expected. For me the movie worked. But then I am now also of the older generation.