Friday, October 22, 2010

The Social Network (2010)

The Social Network is a unique film for two reasons: first, it demonstrates great ambition by taking a subject that is contemporary, factual and in fact, incomplete. The Facebook story (and that of its “co”-founder, Mark Zuckerberg) is far from over. Yet, the film dares to take the story so far, without the benefit of hindsight or retrospect and weaves it into a narrative. Moreover, it takes the complexities of the story and the enigma surrounding many of its characters and presents them in an intelligent, coherent manner and hold the audience's attention throughout. To do so, the makers, of their own admission, fictionalize certain aspects of the film but that isn't necessary a fault per se.

Secondly, it chooses to tell a story about a genius, an entrepreneur and an arrogant ass. How many movies do that? Most movies are about the underdog; they represent corporations and its creators as evil and greedy. Nobody likes the genius. One of the reasons films like Amadeus worked so well is because people identify with Salieri from whose perspective it is shown. He may be evil but he is mediocre. We relate to his mediocrity, not Mozart’s genius. However, Fincher and Sorkin dare to stray away from this practice and manage to give us one of the finest films of this year.

Pride, arrogance, insecurity and ego: these are the recurring themes in the Facebook story. We start with Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) at Harvard University in 2003. The film shows us the genesis of Facebook, the motivations behind it, the little anecdotes that shaped it and the personal casualties and legal controversies it faced on its meteoric journey from conception to a worldwide phenomenon.

The subject matter of The Social Network is explosive to put it mildly. It is edgy, powerful and let’s face it, Facebook is the single biggest phenomenon that has influenced the lives of 500 million people around the world, many of them between the age groups of 17-25. Why? Because, as Time Magazine put it, Google allows you to search, Twitter allows you to tweet but Facebook taps into the entire range of human emotions and puts it online. For this. culturally, it is bigger than the Iraq War or even the credit crisis. In a small way, we are all characters in the Facebook story; the people who have made it possible. Further, it is about a man that people would love to hate and one who seeming has it all. He is intelligent and ingenious but at the same time arrogant, difficult and basically, an asshole. Or so he seems.

Aaron Sorkin is one of the best writers in the business and his writing style serves the subject matter well. The crisp dialogue, the sharp wit, humour and sarcasm, the long scenes help set the tone of the film. Wisely, he overcomes the difficulties in portraying Zuckerberg by adopting a narrative style that is every bit as confident, arrogant, incisive and furiously paced as its protagonist. Impeccably scripted, Sorkin is definitely a strong contender for an Oscar win for his screenplay.

Fincher brings the script to life on celluloid, and how! Contractually bound to keep the runtime around 2 hours, he made the actors talk faster to cover the entire script which actually serves the film’s fiery narrative well. He keeps things straightforward and brings out the intensity in the proceedings which is only comparable to the meteoric rise of Facebook itself. Another notable thing about the film is the editing, which is impeccable and handles the narrative jumps and time transitions effortlessly. In fact, technically, this is a flawless film.

The performances are uniformly strong throughout, even from Justin Timberlake. However, the one Oscar-worthy performance that really stands out is that of Jesse Eisenberg. I have been watching films starring Eisenberg (Zombieland, The Hunting Party, Adventureland etc.) for a while now and it is remarkable how well he is evolving. He reminds me of a young Dustin Hoffman, particularly, though not exclusively in The Graduate; dorky, awkward, social outcast and yet, capable of bringing depth, passion and intensity to his performance. This is one actor to watch out for.

At the end of it all, a friend (yes that means you, Blumstein) complained that the film is premature and will age swiftly and be forgotten like Pirates of Silicon Valley which was based on the story of Bill Gates. Haven’t heard of it? That’s precisely his point. However, I think he is wrong and here’s the reason: There is a strong subtext to the film. In its portrayal of Zuckerberg, the film shows how lonely it is to be a genius, a pioneer; to be under the spotlight; how irrelevant intentions are; how one’s identity and actions are so greatly determined by who he wants to be or how he wants the world to see him; and how these insecurities dog you, whether you are a Facebook user or its creator, the youngest billionaire in the world. In doing so, it goes beyond a factual drama and taps into something universal and, with Eisenberg’s powerhouse performance, achieves something rather amazing; it humanises the son of a bitch. Because of this, it is not going to be aging anytime soon, or so I think. As one character opines, Zuckerberg is not an asshole, he is just trying really hard to be. Understanding why is perhaps key to appreciating the film. You are free to disagree with that assessment; the film gives you enough reason to. I don’t. But that is irrelevant; because either way, this is riveting cinema.

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