November 1, 2010

Destroyed by Meh: A Review of THE SOCIAL NETWORK

It would be easy to view The Social Network - an adaptation of Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires as a striking condemnation of Mark Zuckerberg, the current CEO of Facebook. However, what David Fincher and (especially) screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have done is craft not only a devastating, Citizen Kane-esque portrait of one of our major media figures, but also possibly one of the more insightful examinations of the trials of young adulthood...and possibly, the sharpest criticisms of a generation coming of age in the new millennium.

In short, this film suggests that the best minds of the current generation are not being destroyed by madness....but by "meh", to use a nerd cliche.

One of the great things about the film is Jesse Eisenberg's almost non-judgmental performance as Mark Zuckerberg - there's no attempt to make him overtly likable or despicable. In fact, although the script plays with the idea that Zuckerberg may be engaging in some manipulation, Eisenberg plays it totally clueless - we're never quite privy to what's going on inside Zuckerberg's head. (Although the movie begins and ends with a possible motivation, as events unfold, it seems relatively less likely).

But the support cast does wonders as well - this is probably the only time I will openly admit that I enjoyed Justin Timberlake's performance in a film....and he plays a slightly paranoid, over the top Sean Parker. And of course, the improbably named "Armie Hammer" plays a set of twins who claim to have "invented" Facebook, to which Eisenberg replies, "If you guys had invented Facebook, you would have invented Facebook"...which is one of many sharp, quotable lines in the movie.

Yet the film seems to suggest that many of the people involved - even the relatively "heroic" ones - are more focused on looking good than doing good. Granted, the title of the movie has a sharp double meaning which emphasizes one of the key conflicts and drives of many involved....yet there's also a sharp lack of connectedness between characters. At one point, one of the characters tells Zuckerberg "I was your only friend"...and yet, we never get the sense of any warmth or support amongst the cast.

No, I'm not saying that is a problem with the movie, but I think the subtext is there, and serves as almost a metaphor for the current social media scene: online, it's easy to have a ton of friends. Offline, relationships are harder and more difficult.

Ironically, after seeing the movie I attended a Halloween party for one of my casual friends. As we were talking, fueled by gin and snickerdoodles, he made the point of saying (and I am paraphrasing), "Gordon is cool - he's humble, and he doesn't say much...". Yet, in that moment, there was a glimpse of something wonderfully human, despite the fact that this person and I see each other on an almost monthly basis. It's that flash of true appreciation, with little - if any - prompting. Throughout The Social Network, there's a lack of connection between characters - even though they are at school and (later) working together, the characters act almost isolated from each other. (Mezrich's book contains a similar feel).

The Social Network is being cited as not only one of the year's best movies, but is also a possible Oscar contender. This film is, quite simply, a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

See it. Now.

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