Punk, traitor, billionaire, genius - all of the above, and more ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Friday, December 17, 2010

Punk, traitor, billionaire, genius - all of the above, and more

The Social Network
My rating:

I don't even remember when I first signed up on Facebook. My first experience with social networking sites was Friendster, and back then its only novelty was comparing the number of friends you had with other people. That was only about 6 years ago - and now, I am a quite frequent Facebook user. (I haven't touched my Friendster account in ages.) I rarely update my status, but I enjoy reading my friends'; I frequent this group, as I have mentioned before; and I am admittedly, and quite embarrassingly, addicted to Mafia Wars, butI'msureyoudon'twannahearaboutthat. So yeah, The Social Network is as relevant to me as, well, any of its other 500 million users worldwide.

Thing is, it's not actually about Facebook. But it's still a terrific movie, and definitely one of the year's best.

After a bad breakup with his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara), Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) channels his resentment into creating a nasty website called Facemash that hacks into the databases of Harvard dorms - and which creates enough traffic to crash the network. It earns him 6 months academic probation, but also the attention of wealthy twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and their friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who recruit him to build their own website called HarvardConnection. Instead, Zuckerberg builds on their idea to start his own project - called TheFacebook - with his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), whom he appoints as Chief Financial Officer. TheFacebook becomes wildly popular - Andrew starts dating a groupie named Christy (Brenda Song) - and in their efforts to grow the business, they meet Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), co-founder of Napster, who drives a rift in between Zuckerberg and Saverin. It all ends in lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg by the Winklevosses and Narendra, who believe Zuckerberg stole their idea - and by Saverin, who believes he betrayed their friendship.

This is an incredibly timely movie, perhaps as timely as a film could possibly be, and for that reason many people will want it to be many things - but it isn't most of those things. It is not a business parable of how Facebook came to be a billion-dollar corporation and the world's most influential social network site, overtaking Myspace and Friendster, who were in existence before it. It is not about how it changed the way we interact socially, how it made us "live on the internet", as one character puts it. And it is not really an accurate dramatization of the legal squabbles involving the real-life Zuckerberg, the real-life Winklevosses and Narendra, and the real-life Saverin; it is based on the nonfiction book The Accidental Billionaires that was written in consultation with Saverin, but not Zuckerberg. What it is, is a character portrait of an incredibly complex, wildly successful, and ultimately tragic figure - who in this story just happens to be named Mark Zuckerberg.

I like Aaron Sorkin. A Few Good Men, which he wrote and adapted from his own play, was one of the first films I saw that opened my eyes to the pleasures of terrifically quotable dialogue. I also used to really like David Fincher, and count Se7en and Fight Club among my all-time favourites; it's just that I liked him for his visual style, which he has since toned down for movies like Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. These two have never worked together before, but the prospect of Fincher directing a Sorkin screenplay was much more enticing to me than a movie about Facebook. Sorkin is brilliant at characterization and unmatched at dialogue, and that's evident from the very first scene - a dizzyingly rapid-fire exchange between Zuckerberg and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend that's a joy to listen to, even if it takes an effort to follow. That's Sorkin's trademark, and the movie is full of scenes like this.

It is also in this scene that establishes Zuckerberg's defining trait: that he is an asshole. But he is, as mentioned, an incredibly complex and multi-faceted asshole. He may have become the world's youngest billionaire in just a couple of years, but the trappings of money and fame mean little to him; he never throws his wealth around or indulges in sex with groupies. Yes, it was a petty and mean-spirited act that started him on the path that led to Facebook, and he pretty much stays that self-centered and insecure throughout. But the film leaves ambiguous whether or not he deliberately knifed Saverin and the Winklevosses - and one other person, at the end - in the back; it's possible that his only real sin was to get too caught up in his work to think of his friends. Even if he was guilty of malice aforethought, Jesse Eisenberg's flawless performance makes him someone who knows what it cost him and genuinely regrets it. Also, he is supremely arrogant - which is not a positive character trait, but it does mean he gets some hilarious Sorkin-penned insults that almost make you root for him.

But it is Saverin who's the most sympathetic character here. The film establishes upfront that he's the best friend a guy like Zuckerberg could possibly have, a friend whom Zuckerberg often takes for granted. He is also the guy who had the absolute wrong vision for Facebook, which makes you feel even more for him that history has pretty much left him behind. On the other hand, the charismatic Sean Parker strikes Zuckerberg as a kindred spirit almost immediately; in a later scene, we realize why, when Parker reveals that he started Napster to get back at a girl who dumped him too. The storyline also frequently returns to the Winklevosses (or "Winklevii", as Zuckerberg derogatively calls them), and even makes them look sympathetic - as sympathetic as two born-rich, entitled, blonde-and-blue-eyed Aryan hunks could be. Unlike with Saverin, it's much more clear-cut that Zuckerberg deliberately screwed them over, which they didn't really deserve. And it's pretty impressive that they emerge as two distinct individuals despite being played by the same actor.

I've hardly mentioned Fincher's direction, which plays a big part in making this film a compelling and never boring watch. There's little opportunity for him to employ his former visual trickery, but he nevertheless gives it a propulsive pace. And there's two scenes that are pretty dazzling - Zuckerberg's late-night coding binge that created Facemash, intercut with a wild Harvard final club party that he wanted so much to get into; and a rowing race that the Winklevosses take part in, the outcome of which is a stunning contrast to an earlier practice scene. But it's the plot, the storyline, and Sorkin's writing that really make this movie shine for me. A script like this can make any actor look good, and while Eisenberg's performance is the most conspicuous, there's not a single bad performance here. Andrew Garfield is a paragon of decency; Justin Timberlake is magnetic, although his greatest achievement may be to make you believe Garfield can beat him up; and Armie Hammer, as mentioned, does a pretty damn impressive job at his dual role.

It's a story of great human achievement as well as the most fundamental human weaknesses (and not just Zuckerberg's; one key factor in how things worked out the way they did is Saverin's dislike of Parker, and it's clearly hinted that this was motivated by jealousy), and how intertwined both are. And it ends with a question, an unanswered one that's a little reminiscent of Inception's thing with the top - except that here, there can be only one dramatically satisfying answer. No, it's not really about Facebook, but just as well if people think it is. If the average undiscerning moviegoer, who'd rather watch sparkly vampires or explosions, goes to watch this thinking it's about their favourite website, what they'll get instead is a Sorkin-written, Fincher-directed, complex character study. In other words, they'll get a superbly written, acted, and directed film.

NEXT REVIEW: Aku Tak Bodoh
Expectations: any movie with Adibah Noor in it can't be too bad, can it?


Unknown said...

facemash did not hack into harvard's dorm facebook
mark did

esah ezral said...

Most people dont agree with us. One even went as far to say "Kau memang ah suka movie camni untuk orang psycho macam kau" hahahaha xD

McGarmott said...

Here's one of the unfortunate things about Malaysians watching this out of many, many other unfortunate things – and feel free to call me a snob for saying this – but how many Malaysians laughed out loud at the derogatory utterance "Winklevii"?

Well, a more potent symptom, would be the fact that the woman next to me in the second of three screenings was snoring loudly.

TMBF said...

@ezral Sya: I think you need to find smarter friends. ;)

@McGarmott: Their loss. But as I mentioned, I think being known as "the Facebook movie" might draw a bigger audience than this kind of film normally gets.

ray said...

your description of the film is spot on. loved every minute of it & didnt feel bored at all.

a colleague didnt finish watching the film bcos it was "boring". i was dumbfounded.

clearly part of the crowd who didnt 'get it'. oh well, too bad for them haha.

Ken Wooi said...

despite the lack of actions, i enjoyed the dialogues!

fadz said...

def a must see, though i felt cold in the end, but still, it is the one of the best this year

av女優 said...