The Social Network

The Social Network

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 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.

The Social Network

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.

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