Monday, October 25, 2010

The Social Network

Some thoughts on dream team Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher’s The Social Network coming up just as soon as I pass it off as a diversity thing …

A guy who makes a nice chair doesn't owe money to everyone who has ever built a chair” – Mark Zuckerberg (The Social Network)

There are two movements that have defined the past decade. The first is a military one, in which newfound conditions of ‘terrorism’ in the West resulted in a materialised invasion and occupation in Iraq. The second is the growing development of society’s intercommunication with social-networking websites, most notably Matt Zuckerberg’s Facebook. 

‘Thefacebook’ was founded by Zuckerberg and his college colleagues Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes while at Harvard in January 2004, and received twenty-two thousand hits within two hours of being operational. Three college seniors – Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra – accused Zuckerberg of stealing their idea for the website, and later filed a law suit against him. When Zuckerberg expanded the operation in the summer of 2004, Saverin’s influence as CFO (Chief Financial Officer) was diminished as financial decisions for the company were made by Zuckerberg’s advisor Sean Parker (co-founder of Napster). When Zuckerberg reduced Saverin’s 34% ownership share to 0.03%, Saverin took his friend to court for 600 million dollars. 

The above facts are all true, and The Social Network renovates all of them to a degree that is strangely compelling. Aaron Sorkin’s script draws on Ben Mezrich’s nonfiction The Accidental Billionaire as a source, however, the playwright-turned-screenwriter has no interest in a journalistic account of events as they occurred. The Social Network is not a documentary but a rich dramatisation, and don’t allow such a misconception to mislead your experience of it. It is not a question of ‘justice’ to history, but a ‘justice’ to a cultural phenomenon that is powerfully real.

Sorkin grounds the law suits, the ivy-league visitations, and the industrious advancements of Zuckerberg and company in the human relationships of these characters who are formidably realised in this terrific cast. Sorkin’s rendition of Zuckerberg is of an individual whose paradigm for ‘social life’ is compounded by notions of ‘exclusion’ and ‘reputation’, and more often than not evaluates individuals based on their education and status. It is a portrayal that could easily be completely unsympathetic, but Jesse Eisenberg delivers an impressive intrigue to the character that makes such faults conscious, and thus forgivable. Sorkin and Eisenberg continue to test our tolerance of Zuckerberg’s insensitivities throughout the movie, and this, the story’s real trial, concludes in the movie’s final scene with a question of regret that cuts to the heart of human empathy rather movingly. Andrew Garfield is endlessly charming as Eduardo Saverin, and his hurt account of his friend’s betrayal devastates with the actor’s wounding performance. 

As anticipated, Sorkin’s language is a master-class in human communication and error. Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg may be socially inhibited but he is still a world-class mind, and Sorkin gifts the character with a face-paced wit to coordinate his technical correctness. At times the dialogue transmits more than exposition, and it is in both the selections and slippages of words that a character’s true concerns can be glimpsed. Humour complements cleverness (“Because it’s exhausting. Going out with you is like dating a Stairmaster”). Sorkin’s merit as a playwright lies in a language that contains meanings beyond literal transference, and there are moments of poetry, such as when Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend reminds him of the irredeemable implications of his online creations: 

“The internet's not written in pencil, Mark. It's written in ink”

As Zuckerberg and Saverin’s enterprise advances we see the idiom of ‘facebook’ being born, with the realisations of elements such as ‘Relationship Status’ and ‘tagging’, as well as colloquialisms such as “Facebook me”. Sorkin is not alone in bringing this marvellous work to life. Director David Fincher’s portrayal of the privileged and intellectual world in which Facebook is conceived is both a beautiful and sinful one. Instances in which Zuckerberg is exercising his computer genius which ultimately leads him to create the social-networking site are contrasted with glimpses into the depraved rich and exclusive life he wants desperately to be part of. Trent Reznor’s score ranges from densely menacing to excitingly amusing, with a rare lightness that is pure delicate, all of which fits Fincher’s world perfectly. 

Great acting, language, and cinematography aside, the movie does make an interesting comment on society’s interaction with technology to achieve a social effect, and it is in Sorkin’s rendition of Sean Parker (a nice performance by Justin Timberlake) that this is achieved. Parker’s philosophy endorses a “true digitalization of real life”:

“We lived in farms, then we lived in cities, and now we're gonna live on the internet”

His creative ability as an entrepreneur is admirable but it has made him paranoid of those who, he believes, want to take away his successes. Sorkin delivers an irony here as Parker’s belief in a liberation from privacy and façade to an online experience in which an individual and their intentions are rendered completely visible results in a percolating paranoia that disrupts logical reasoning. Thus, is the movie suggesting that this is the outcome if the line between ‘public’ and ‘private’ is completely dissolved: an irrationality that defies a practical perspective on reality? 

Unfortunately, innovation doesn’t go unpunished in The Social Network. The social paradigms of the likes of Zuckerberg and Parker fuelled their creations, but they have treaded upon many along the way. Both were lead on their paths to greatness by resentment, towards girls in particular. Genius here is nurtured by hate and selfishness. Despite being born out of these self-obsessed conditions, these technologies have become one the most unifying forces of modern day human interaction. 

Unfortunately for Matt Zuckerberg, he only had one friend.

What did everybody else think?

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