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The Social Network
October 11, 2010

KC and I went to see The Social Network last week. You can probably tell how much I enjoyed it by considering that it took me this long to get around to writing up my thoughts. I don’t regret seeing it, but it wasn’t as entertaining as I hoped.

The Social Network

The Social Network is a Citizen Kane for our time, looking at a media mogul — in this case, Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, played by Jesse Eisenberg — who is misunderstood, hugely wealthy, and freakish in the way he relates to others. I was hoping it would actually analyze why people have succumbed to social networking, even in the face of huge privacy violations, but the movie didn’t have much to do with the internet, really, except for the superficially ironic presentation of someone who had no friends inventing the world’s biggest social network.

KC wanted to see this film because it was written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), and it was very Sorkinesque, especially in the speeches. The wordplay is skilled, although artificial, but sometimes the lengthy rants stop the movie. The opening scene, in which Zuckerberg is dumped by a girl he doesn’t even realize he’s inadvertently insulted, leading him to accidentally realize the appeal of what would become Facebook, pretty much sums up the whole film. It ends with this takedown to Mark, as Erica leaves him:

… you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a geek.
And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true.
It’ll be because you’re an asshole.

That’s the last hint of a relationship in this movie. Everything else is all hookups or business partners — which will drive the events, as much of the film is based on legal transcripts, as those involved in the site’s formation eventually sue Zuckerberg for cutting them out.

I knew this going in, but The Social Network fails the Bechdel Test big-time. Not only are there no women who talk to each other about something other than men — there are an entire two conversations between women in this movie. One is when the former girlfriend is told by a roommate that Zuckerberg is reacting to their breakup by calling her a bitch on the internet. The other is when two pretty girls at a party, there just to be arm candy (one is identified as a Victoria’s Secret model), decide to go to the bathroom together. The female characters are, in order,

  • the girlfriend (the smartest person in the movie for dumping Zuckerberg, seeing his disfunction early)
  • the older lawyer for Savarin, who speaks pure exposition
  • Zuckerberg’s partner’s sexy girlfriend (who hooks up to him to get close to Zupperberg’s success and turns out to be fire-setting crazy in a scene with no basis or foreshadowing whatsoever)
  • various party girls
  • an intern lust-object
  • and the apprentice lawyer, who absolves Zuckerberg at the end.

Sorkin has never written a truly good, three-dimensional female character. The ones who come closest fall into his pattern of a woman who’s really good at her job and a nut otherwise. (Bless Alison Janney and Felicity Hoffman for making a valiant stab at moving beyond his writing with their acting.) I was impressed that, when Sorkin appeared on his show, Stephen Colbert even brought this up, it’s that obvious.

But it reflects its setting, a Harvard full of white boys who rule the world, being sucked up to by the movie’s creators. After seeing the film, KC wanted an explanation for the lead’s outrageous behavior, with no consideration for anyone but himself, but I think that demonstrates the generation gap. Older adults feel sorry for his perceived loneliness and wonder what made him so pathological. Younger people admire his focus and his success, with no concern over why he couldn’t cope with others, since they all likely know someone like that.

In short, the movie has good writing and great acting, but it’s not a particularly enjoyable movie to watch. I did appreciate the special effects, mostly how the physically impressive Winklevoss twins are played by one guy, Armie Hammer (who as the great-grandson of Armand Hammer, knows the milieu), with his face digitally placed onto his body double, Josh Pence. I kept watching for some sign of that technique, but it was seamless. I also haven’t mentioned the touching performance of Andrew Garfield (the future Spider-Man) as Eduardo Saverin, although the daddy issues were a bit overdone.

Mostly, I was left with the question, “Why was this story important?” Sure, there’s some irony to it, and plenty of people have discussed what it says about our culture, but little of that’s in the movie itself. Writers about it are just using it as a springboard to rant about Facebook. I’m actually left feeling a little sympathetic to Mark Zuckerberg, since people are going to take this portrayal as the truth about him, when that question is still open.

9 Responses  
Mike writes:  

Sorkin responded to criticism of the film’s female characters over at Ken Levine’s blog:

http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2010/10/aaron-sorkin-responds-to-commenter-in.html

I don’t know if anything he says will change your mind, or even it should, but I thought I’d point it out.

 
Johanna writes:  

I understand his point — “it wasn’t me that left out the women, it was the people I was writing about” — but I still think that he’s perpetuating the ideas he claims he’s just portraying. I do appreciate him making the statement, though. Thanks very much for sharing the link, Mike.

 
Andrew writes:  

I really liked Alison Janney’s character on West Wing and was surprised to hear you criticize Sorkin’s female characters generally. Could you expound a little on the failings you see in CJ’s character?

 
Johanna writes:  

Only with the huge caveat that I didn’t watch all of West Wing, only the first year or two, and don’t remember it all that well. As I recall, she didn’t have a distinctive voice, sounding the same as the rest of Sorkin’s characters, and because of that, she was The Girl. You could have subbed in a guy with no changes, and the only other woman I remember was the ditsy blonde. That’s the kind of Sorkin traits I object to. I liked CJ, but that was because of Janney’s performance.

 
Frenemy of the State #3 » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] the celebrity tie-in — co-writer Rashida Jones stars on Parks and Recreation and appeared in The Social Network — this series is getting plenty of press. See, for example, her appearance on Craig [...]

 
takingitoutside writes:  

Even the argument that it was the people he was writing about that left out/looked down on women is wrong though. I didn’t go to Harvard, but I had a fair number of loose ties to precisely the community he’s talking about around that time. Surprise, surprise, women’s participation at parties, in class, in clubs and in internships did not solely consist of giving out blow jobs, letting guys do drugs on their stomachs and dancing for men’s pleasure.

I hate to stand up for Zuckerberg on feminist grounds given the rather nasty side effects of his unannounced anti-privacy initiatives for people in the middle of abusive relationships, rape cases and custody disputes, but he actually does have women – including his own sister, if I remember correctly – in important positions at Facebook, and has since early on in the company’s history. The only real proof of misogyny in Facebook that Sorkin offers in that comment is the section of Zuckerberg’s blog dating to just after he was dumped and frankly, who hasn’t said something nasty about the opposite sex at least once after a particularly nasty breakup? So we’ve got Zuckerberg’s post-dump comments on file, so what?

Sorkin can’t even manage to choke out an entire apology without insulting women. He says:

“I didn’t invent the “F–k Truck”, it’s real… It’s only fair to note that the women–bussed in from other schools for the “hot” parties, wait on line to get on that bus without anyone pointing guns at their heads… These women–whether it’s the girls who are happy to take their clothes off and dance for the boys or Eduardo’s psycho-girlfriend are real. I mean REALLY real.”

Even if you give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that by “REALLY real” “girls who are happy to take their clothes off and dance for the boys” he’s referring to the perhaps a hundredth of a percent of actual female college students who push their boundaries by acting outrageously (as opposed to the merely stupid actions of most of the rest of us), that still leaves you wondering why he chose to populate his movie mainly with an extreme of that character type as a standard. And again, he is actively choosing only that information which makes women sound like he’s already decided he wants them to. For example, the bus that he mentioned, along with a couple of other variations on the same idea, all run from women’s colleges to co-ed schools, and they run on a regular basis – not just “for the ‘hot’ parties” The original idea behind them was to give women’s college students an opportunity for mixed socializing. The Fuck Truck label is just a student joke that arose when students started using the buses for more intimate socializing than had been intended. Instead of dealing with this rather boring explanation, Sorkin suggests that the buses exist for status- and money-grubbing women to “wait on line” for an opportunity to strip and prostitute themselves for the young studs of the future. And he’s surprised people think he’s insulting women? His attempt at an apology alone is enough to turn me off this film.

 
Johanna writes:  

Brilliant analysis! Thanks for sharing that; you said it better than I could.

 
Steve Reviews writes:  

Let’s start with the script. It’s great. Written by soon-to-be-best- adapted-screenplay-nominee/winner Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network’s writing is intelligent and demanding on multiple levels: most obviously, the story is cleverly structured across dual lawsuits, but there’s an equal amount of sophistication to Sorkin’s character work–Zuckerberg is never quite capable of maintaining a dialog, Eduardo always stops just short of explicating his emotions.

Those two characters are wonderfully played by inevitable acting award nominees Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield–Eisenberg owns the brisk pace of the film while Garfield brings most of the humanity–who anchor a terrific ensemble–SAG best ensemble, perhaps? The film’s score is a perfectly atmospheric concoction of electronica from edgy dark horse best original score nominees Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and it’s all united under the name and vision of David Fincher, who did not win an Oscar for Fight Club or Zodiac or Benjamin Button.

All of this is to say two things: this is a really great movie from a phenomenal creative team, and also there are times when the film feels somewhat calculated for accolades–never in the repugnantly safe, crowd- pleasing, middle-brow Benjamin Button sense, but in the sweetly transparent sense of a kid who did all his chores and is suggesting that he might deserve a cookie.

You know what? Give David Fincher a cookie. The Social Network is thoroughly intelligent and engaging as a modern biopic and as an examination of evolving cultural currency, and it’s also one of my favorite films this year

 
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Now Filming With Lots of Geek Connections » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] starring Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) as CIA agent Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, The Social Network) as KGB agent Illya Kuryakin. They have to team up to save the world, of course; Hugh Grant […]

 

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