Friday, October 22, 2010

The Social Network (2010)

The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

David Fincher’s The Social Network opens inside a bar where Mark Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenburg), future billionaire and inventor of Facebook, and Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), Zuckerberg’s very-near-future ex-girlfriend and inspiration for a chauvinistic blog post and website Facemash, are in the middle of a rather lopsided conversation with Zuckerberg leading in amount of words and ideas blabbered in a minute and Albright obviously trailing behind. The setting, although not very long ago, harkens to an era when face-to-face relations have not been threatened with obsolescence. The bar is packed. Talk is lively. That is pre-Facebook, pre-the era of living both real and cyber lives with equal importance, pre-breakups via change in the relationship status in profile pages.

If the internet has made the world smaller, Facebook has turned the inhabitants of that shrunk world into codes and scripts that are all interconnected and worse, predictable. Facebook is not addictive because it was made to be addictive. It is addictive because it simulates the social aspect of modern human living. What Facebook members do in the website resembles, with hardly any artificial intervention, how we act and speak in real life. The fact that the inspirations for Facebook are ignited from the social systems of a university campus reflects the probable lapse in the so-called human free will that the success of the social networking website feeds from.

All this is of course touched upon by Fincher tangentially. What The Social Network is more concerned with is Zuckerberg’s story, how a seemingly unlikable Harvard student turned billionaire in a span of a few years and changed the world. It is a story that plays very much like a corporate thriller, except that the characters, instead of being motivated primarily by the greed that consumes adults, are all twenty-something dreamers whose wealth and greatness are mere byproducts of wrestling with their own immaturities and lack of world-readiness. Thus, sprinkled in between plot-forwarding scenes and dialogue are the portraits that are not always patronizing of Zuckerberg’s character but enunciates his humanity, such as when his new-found fame got him a first stab at sex, or what results right after, when he sees his ex-girlfriend and attempts to utilize his fame to undo the insults resulting from his foolish brashness and insensitivity in the film’s opening scene.

At the same time though, The Social Network does not attempt accuracy. In fact, the characters that Fincher and Sorkin created for the film are only stereotypes of who these personalities could be in real life. It is as if these characters are seen not through a biographer’s precise inquisitiveness or a journalist’s adherence to codes of ethics, but through their very own Facebook profiles, where tagged photos, albums, hobbies, interests, likes and relationship statuses are enough to create an idea of who the person behind the profile could be. In a way, the film relishes in the idea of seeing the characters, which are essentially film-friendly sketches of more complex personalities the audience might never have the privilege of knowing, interact as such, extended sketches of what these people were in Harvard: competitive jocks, unsociable nerds, negligible sidekicks, and objects of desire. Fantastically too, this is primarily how Facebook works, by encapsulating people in a few web pages consisting of pictures, basic information and relations, and allowing the casual onlooker a pre-conceived notion of the person via his profile, and thus, giving him the opportunity to judge via his response to the random Add Friend request.

Despite its liberal interpretation of the Facebook founding story, turning what in my mind is a monotonous and maybe sometimes exciting amalgamation of boring lawsuits, endless nights in computer gibberish and mental masturbation, and utter lack of sexy sex, Fincher and Sorkin succeeds in romanticizing the unromantic, cinematizing the un-cinematic, and humanizing the potentially dehumanizing website that has turned Zuckerberg into an icon of this generation of millionaires and billionaires who’ve reached their economic peaks at the same time they’re discovering their own maturities. It’s a generation, as exemplified in one of the scenes where Zuckerberg is asked a question by an elderly lawyer but his mind is elsewhere and when scolded by the elderly lawyer delivers a witty retort that is impossible to deflect without sounding foolish, that cannot by manhandled by dinosaurs of a disappearing era. The speed of change is indisputable in the film which details the pre-Facebook and post-Facebook eras with satisfying details, although blanketed with the familiar dramas of Zuckerberg and company.

The ending, where Zuckerberg ends up alone after a full day of depositions and argumentations in the conference room, toying with his Facebook page, adding Erica Albright as one of his friends in the networking site, and refreshing his internet browser every few seconds to see if his ex-girlfriend responds to his request, is a very potent portrait of creator succumbing to his creation. It details the very mechanism of human interaction that Facebook or any other high technology simulator of human behavior can never replicate, and that is the ability to feel and the free will to act on that feeling. A billionaire in his early twenties, the founder of the most popular website in the planet, a ruthless and conniving businessman, Zuckerberg, at that moment, is without what he wants and needs the most. It is the fact that it is the mechanical and a little bit humorous redundancy that his creation inevitably lured him into mindlessly committing that exposes his biggest failure amidst his famous successes that makes the scene, and the entire film, a worthwhile, if not enlightening journey into what kind of social creatures our human race is transforming into.


rex baylon said...

Been a fan of your writing for several years now and I just wanna say great review, i should say essay, of a brilliant film. It's old hat to say this now but The Social Network is definitely one of the best films of the year.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks for the kind words, Rex. I love your writing too. Yeah, The Social Network is up there with Shutter Island and The Ghost Writer, from the old reliables. I'm really happy with how Fincher has matured as a filmmaker.

mann said...

Thanks for the amazing insights, Oggs!

I'm a big fan..... Hope to be able to invite you to UA&P for a get-together with my students.

Mann Rentoy
University of Asia and the Pacific

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks, Mann.

Thanks for the invite in advance. Just email me.

Anonymous said...

Stumbled upon your blog today and I really enjoy reading all your reviews.

Just wanted to share that the real Mark Zuckerberg jokingly mentioned that if that was really him, he would have programmed a way for it to keep auto-refreshing :p