MOVIE: The Social Network (2010)

There’s been an interesting split in reactions to this film in the media.  On the one side, there are the critics who are raving like mad about it, saying it’s a “joy to sit in a theater and be engaged, surprised, challenged, amused” by a film as sharp as this one (the brilliant Dana Stevens at Slate).

On the other side, and, oddly enough also from Slate, there are critics who are lambasting the film for “[painting] a picture of a cultural world that is as black-and-white as it is outdated” (Nathan Heller).

You can probably already tell where I fall on this spectrum — I’m over on the Dana Stevens side (and not just because I love her, though I do — she’s aces).   I thought this film was cleverly written, brilliantly acted, and absolutely riveting from start to finish.  But for those of you expecting it to be a film about Facebook, prepare to be disappointed.  Because The Social Network is NOT, in fact, a film about Facebook.   And it’s especially — especially! — not a documentary.  It’s really just a movie about a bunch of young guys at Harvard struggling to make a place for themselves in the world, and screwing a lot of stuff up in the process.  Some of them are cocky.  Some of them are shy.  Some of them are not quite as smart as they wish they could be.  Some of them are too smart for their own damn good.  But overall, this is really more of a movie about those guys — those characters — than it is a movie about Facebook, modern society, or the culture of social networking.  And I think this is where critics like Heller are getting it wrong.

For example, here’s a sentence from his review:  “We seem to be meant to think that Zuckerberg grew and administered a global communications network in order to prove his power to a couple of blazer-wearing kids who cold-shouldered him once during college (or else, maybe, to get with the hot babes who, in the movie, frequent Cambridge and the tech industry as if a Miller High Life ad might break out any moment).”

Heller seems to think this is an outrageous premise.  And yet, that IS the movie’s intended Zuckerberg, described perfectly.  I mean, the first scene in the film is of Zuckerberg getting dumped, going home, and hacking into the Harvard computer network to enact some revenge.  To go from there to believing at least part of his motive for developing “The Facebook” involved personal empowerment in the face of nerdy outcastedness or rejection does not seem like much of a stretch to me.  And frankly, there is, to my way of thinking, nothing more completely 20 year-old-guy than that.  That, to me, is absolutely believable.

I think the way to approach this movie is to think of it as being more along the lines of a legal thriller than an attempt at social commentary — you don’t have to know anything about Facebook or social networking to tumble into the world of this picture at all.  Certainly, there is a lot of social commenting one could do, but that wasn’t the aim of this film.  As for the portrayal of Zuckerberg, which many are decrying as completely unfair and inaccurate, I admit I don’t know much about him.  But I have to say, one of the news stories I remember reading about the real MZ was the one about him dumping his girlfriend in a Facebook post.  Sure, the man in real life is undoubtedly a lot more complex than the man in the film.  But the man in the film?  Does not seem terribly far-fetched to me, at least based on that one tidbit.  I believed Eisenberg’s character — I was 100% along for the ride.  And when it comes to watching a movie like this one, that seems like one of the important pieces of the experience.

In the simplest of terms, in the most convenient definitions (name that flick), this is a really entertaining movie.  And it’s got Aaron Sorkin written all over it, too.  The writing is clever and smart, and the story is so well-paced that even though the film is a bit on the long side, I was disappointed when the credits finally began to roll.  I would’ve sat in that theater for another two hours watching whatever else Sorkin and Fincher had to tell me.  I was riveted by Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg, and I was also fascinated by my own reaction to him.  I think most people will have left The Social Network believing he’s an asshole — but I left it feeling pained for him, feeling sad. He may be a gazillionaire, but he’s also isolated, lonely, friendless, and completely, authentically baffled as to why.

A friend of mine hypothesized that Zuckerberg might have Asperger’s Syndrome, and as I was watching the story unfold, I could definitely see signs of that disorder: his surprise at the way people reacted to him, for example.  His lack of understanding of “normal” social behavior, his inability to read people or pick up on cues, his dislike of being touched or hugged, etc. Even in the real world, his seeming lack of understanding about issues of personal privacy for his users begins to make more sense. You could theorize he is greedy, selfish, or egotistical, but I think the problem is more that he just doesn’t “get” it.  Not that he doesn’t care, but that he doesn’t SEE.  The Zuckerberg in this film acted in ways that seemed completely rational to him, without comprehension of the potential impact his choices might have on others.  And when he was introduced to a rich, charming, and super-duper cool dude (Justin Timberlake’s character Sean Parker) with a lot of big ideas, flattery, and disdain for the usual set of rules, he was pretty much a goner.

Facebook is a fascinating phenomenon, no doubt about it.  Two of my best friends (in the real world, not just online) are people I met on Facebook.  That still absolutely blows my mind.  There are an almost infinite number of stories one could tell with social networking at the root of the plot.  But this story — this one story — is great as it stands.  Maybe it’s not true, maybe Zuckerberg is nothing like this and the film gets everything wrong.  But if so, it got everything wrong in a way that was very, very right.  The first thing I wanted to do when this movie ended was see it again.  I can’t remember the last time I left a theater feeling like that.  That is a very good feeling.

Highly recommended!

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:  Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara, Rashida Jones

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6 Responses to “MOVIE: The Social Network (2010)”

  1. Liz Says:

    I think your idea about Asperger’s makes SO much sense. I saw one scene from this movie, and was completely hooked. It also made me more interested in Eisenberg, who really seems to be turning into a terrific actor. Did you know that his SISTER is that little girl who used to do those Pepsi commercials – Hallie Todd Eisenberg? (I admit it: I’ve been hitting IMDb again!)

    Also, I’d love to see Jesse Eisenberg show up on “Dexter,” as some long-lost relative (nephew? cousin? – hey, yeah – some offspring of the “Ice Truck Killer?”). Don’t you think he looks a lot like Michael C. Hall? They could go on a killing spree together (only of bad guys, though), and try to out – intense each other.

  2. marni Says:

    I loved reading your review of this, Meggie. Sounds like a good one that I will have to see someday. And I’ll look for the Asperger’s now that I have an Asperger’s kid in my life whom I see almost every single day!!

  3. megwood Says:

    I thought of Robbie too, Marni. I think you’ll really like the movie, though!

    Liz, Eisenberg as a serial killer! NO! I’d hate that! But have you seen Adventureland? Super sweet and funny. I think you’ll like it.

  4. Liz Says:

    Okay, okay! Jesse doesn’t have to be a killer. But don’t you think it would work well to cast him as some long-lost relative of Dexter? It could be the OPPOSITE of that old plot device, the Evil Twin!

    I probably should rent “Adventureland.” I’m trying to get my hubby to take me to see “The Social Network” in the theatre … we’ll see!

  5. drunkenbubba Says:

    I have to see this one now.
    I have Aspergers (believe it or not my college psych professor diagnosed me) and he fits me to a “T” (not much of a hugger or touch freak, and I tend to be a mute in social situations). I’m one those who literally bury the needle in tests but can still function fairly well, even though I get perceived as cold and aloof alot.

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