I walked out of “The Social Network” in a state of speechlessness.
Actually, before I get into that, I should tell you I hadn’t planned to blog about “The Social Network”. If we lived in a comic-book world where our thoughts appeared in thought balloons, quite a few of my actions would have little pop-ups that read “Ooh. Might make an interesting post.” However, watching “The Social Network” was not one of them. I just wanted to see this movie that had a staggering 97% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, was shimmering with predictions of Oscar wins, and was described by a friend (who is not prone to exaggeration) as “the film that is like a testament to this generation”. I’ve no idea what that means but I wanted to see it and I was ready to love it, not blog about it.
But here I am, blogging anyway. Partly because I have assignments that I’m unable to write so this is supposed to distract me. (It’s working.) And partly because days after having watched “The Social Network”, I still can’t believe every critic thinks it’s a brilliant film. Not that it’s a bad film. It isn’t. It holds your attention, has some good performances and is enjoyable enough. But I’m amazed that the only criticisms that have been made of “The Social Network” are that Harvard is shown inaccurately, that the story is misogynist and that computer geeks aren’t necessarily quite as loser-ish as director David Fincher and scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin make them out to be. The acting is mostly very good (Justin Timberlake, in particular, is superb as is Jesse Eisenberg; Rooney Mara and Max Minghella are particularly wasted) but I thought the direction was strictly ok and the script had some gaping holes in logic.
I don’t believe I’m saying this, because honestly, EVERY movie critic whose opinion I respect and whose writing I admire has loved “The Social Network”. Not just loved but luuuuuuurved. This film has turned the most waspish critics into cheerleaders. And there I was, walking out of PVR, wondering how the hell they could have lavished such high praise on what was just about a good film.
By the way, there probably will be spoilers ahead.
“The Social Network” is Sorkin and Fincher’s telling of how Mark Zuckerberg came up with Facebook. They suggest he used his friend Eduardo Saverin, who had money to spare, and stole the idea of Facebook from Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra, who had hired Zuckerberg to do some coding for a social networking site they were coming up with for Harvard students. Saverin goes on to sue Zuckerberg for trying to sideline him. At the same time, the Winklevosses and Narendra sue Zuckerberg for intellectual theft. The film is cleverly structured so that the story shuttles between the two depositions that Zuckerberg is attending, and flashbacks to how Facebook came to be in Harvard and Palo Alto. Zuckerberg answers questions sharply, all the characters put on haunted expressions and go on nostalgia trips. All this is supposed to make me feel bad for the people Zuckerberg has screwed over. Except, halfway into the film, I wanted to take Sorkin and Fincher aside and ask them gently, “Which geek screwed you over and left you scarred?”
I’m not getting into whether the film is accurate in its facts and the depiction of Zuckerberg. Let’s judge the film on the story it tells us rather than what may or may not be true. Zuckerberg, as Sorkin and Fincher show him, is cold, calculating, ruthless, uncaring, brilliant, relentless and entirely incapable of regular, human conversation. The film begins with him behaving like an obnoxious ass on a date, as though he’s an intellectual Tarzan brought out of the jungle and into the civilised world of Harvard. With Saverin, Zuckerberg’s relentlessly mean and it’s obvious that all Zuckerberg wants from Saverin is cash. They don’t seem to be friends, let alone best friends, and so, I don’t really feel like there’s any huge betrayal later. Because Zuckerberg was always using Saverin, so it makes sense that when Saverin was no longer a useful asset, Zuckerberg wanted him out. Saverin’s an idiot for not seeing it coming. Betrayal would be to do this to a friend, to someone with whom you have a personal relationship. But if you show Zuckerberg to be so socially maladjusted that he can’t forge any emotional connections, then there’s no punch-in-the-gut betrayal.
Now, about the Winklevoss twins and Narendra, who accused Zuckerberg of stealing their idea. Zuckerberg asks twice whether anyone can prove any similarity between Facebook’s code and that of the Winklevoss-Narendra site. Silence on that one. Incidentally, I think Divya Narendra might be the one person in the world whose Hollywood version is less attractive than what he really looks like. Max Minghella’s very cute and quite good in a film that doesn’t actually have time or space for anyone other than Jesse Eisenberg but it must be said, Narendra was a better looking college kid in real life. Coming back to the case. The only thing that the lawyer’s questions proved was that Zuckerberg did not work on their website even though he took payment for this assignment. Yes, there is a similarity in the concept but Zuckerberg argues with that logic, all chairs are forgeries of the first chair.
Regardless of whether you’re convinced by the accusations or otherwise, the fact of the matter is that when one settles out of court and gets paid millions, it’s hard to play the victim. Ultimately, Saverin was paid an undisclosed amount and his name was restored as a co-founder of Facebook. The Winklevoss twins and Narendra were also paid some millions. Do I feel bad for Zuckerberg as he hangs about alone in a lawyer’s office, waiting for friend requests to be accepted? No. Because Fincher and Sorkin have been so obssessed with showing him to be in love with code and uncaring of humanity, that he never seemed to need companionship. All he wants, apparently, is approval. And with his company valued at $25 billion, that’s a whole lotta approval. Fincher and Sorkin are so focussed on ensuring almost nothing makes Zuckerberg look good or vulnerable that the film glosses over things like how Zuckerberg worked to make Facebook the international phenomenon that it is today. Surely, it wasn’t just Sean Parker’s bombast and Zuckerberg’s pyjamas and flip-flops. Which brings me to a less critical criticism I have of Fincher’s directorial vision. Harvard barely came to life for me although it did exude a sinister darkness and sense of privilege. Palo Alto could have been anywhere in America you can rent a house with a pool.
There’s also the problem of how characters undergo no evolution. People tend to change with just the experience of graduating from college and these chaps leave college to enter the world of billions and legal depositions, and yet there’s no difference in demeanour, attitudes, nothing. Saverin is as much of a pushover as he was in the initial scenes. The Winklevosses and Narendra were puffed up with privilege in the beginning; they are the pretty much the same in the end. The power dynamics in the relationships don’t change, which just doesn’t seem credible (especially in case of Saverin and Zuckerberg). Zuckerberg begins the movie seeming a little bit like he’s an autistic axe-murderer and he ends it with pretty much the same, eerily vacant expression. The attire is slightly different in that Zuckerberg gives up his hoodies, and that’s about it.
So yes, I walked out of “The Social Network” in a state of speechlessness. Because I’m either too stupid to get the film or too demanding of the film, and I’d gone in as a fan. I actually had more fun watching this version of the film.