To Friend or Not to Friend (Mark Zuckerburg): David Fincher's The Social Network Part II
There's a famous notion in the financial world that's very simple to understand and exceptionally difficult to follow: when all are selling - buy; and when all are buying - sell. In much the same way, as Hollywood movies keep rushing faster, jumping higher, cutting faster, more often, with more showy kinds of camera tricks, Fincher goes right the hell the other way. He parks his ego at the station, takes the subway to work and allows the movie to be what it's meant to be, a movie about ideas, a movie about characters, a movie with dialogue at its core. Granted, it's all those things with Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails) doing the score and with visual touches and heightened Fincher moments that no other director I can think of today could match. Computer hacking has never looked so exciting.
But best of all, like Sting at his love-making tantric best, Fincher's film doesn't rush to its climaxes. A movie that takes its time to start (though plodding this film ain't, so don't you worry) and pays off this big is always an even greater thrill the second time round. Why, cause the second time you revel in the details you missed the first watch, and can only then (like with a twist Usual Suspects type ending, or a Fight Club for that matter) enjoy them and see the build for what it is, and how much precision there was in the raising you up before having you fall.Or vice versa.
The details here, though, aren't clues to tell us who Keyser Soze or Tyler Durden are. We know how it ends. We're friends on Facebook. The ending here is not the point. The puzzle isn't always about the ending. It's not the only thing worth wrapping the old noggin around. The details here are the quality of the dialogue, Fincher (and Reznor's) use of music, the acting, but most of all the ideas.
I'm not gonna tell you the story. I don't do want to bore you, or ruin it, and I think you know it anyway. At least you know it's about Facebook and that Facebook is a big deal and that this movie has something to do with the founding of something very big. I will say that the stat that 500 million people are on facebook doesn't sound nearly as astounding as when you translate it into a fraction and explain that 1 in 14 people on this planet have a facebook account. 1 in 14!
What It's About This is a movie about us. Now. I'm astounded to name Peter Travers, Mr. Rolling Stone magazine movie critic himself, as for once (meaning for one time in his lame at best, and downright fraudulent at worst, movie critiquing career), the guy got it right. The updated ads for The Social Network have his words all over them.
He's right. It is and it does.
Because this is about the me generation. As Fight Club laid clear, in the modern Western world we have no real cause to fight for but ourselves, or at least that's what we've been duped to think. And if so, all we're left with is our own ambition. Win at all costs; winner takes all. Kindness has no value in a world run by business. But ruthless ambition does. When all you're ever taught to do is win that championship, how can you expect morality to come into the picture? Think steroids in sports. Think Bernie Madoffs in New York. Think Tigers with cocktail waitresses.
But for every moral moment that we with spit in disgust in Tiger Woods' general direction think back to all those championships, how regal the guy looked in his red Nike shirts. How much we were willing to kill for the guy to win just one more PGA title, or whatever.
Because it's confusing, ambition is.
It almost sends chills, as early on in The Social Network you watch this skinny, nerdy guy* running awkwardly across Harvard campus in his grey Gap sweatshirt. No one notices him, no one cares and he certainly isn't getting invited to the cool kid parties. And there we get to sit, the audience, and experience a glorious bit of dramatic irony knowing as we do that this skinny nobody is about to become the most powerful twenty-something on earth.
This is a movie about a character named Mark Zuckerburg played by a harmless looking actor named Jesse Eisenberg. The brilliance of the performance could easily be missed since most award-winning performances are of the showiest, most charismatic variety. "Great acting" involves much crying (Meryl Streep circa 1980-something) or yelling (Al Pacino circa 1990-present) or playing of mentally disabled characters (see Sean Penn, Leonardo DiCaprio et al.). Eisenberg has the enormous challenge of carrying a movie as a remarkably uncharismatic, introverted, calculating, determined, hugely ambitious nerd. It is hard to describe how much he does with so little. But even amidst the enormous arrogance, the seemingly unending sarcasm and callousness, you get glimpses of humanity, glimpses of regret, glimpses of a guy who's really (at 19) still just a kid. Eisenberg may look like that other well known harmless looking actor, Michael Cera, but he's of a different order entirely. There's nothing goofy, nor harmless about him. He's also a lot more than just funny, though he's sardonically hilarious.
As Dirk Calloway says to Rushmore's Max Fischer, "Oh yeah, and with friends like you who needs friends? This movie is about friendship, loyalty and betrayal, but most of all it is a movie about ambition, about its great heights and its almost unbearable limitations. The Social Network is a movie about power. Shakespeare doesn't come to mind by accident. It's not for nothing that Justin Timberlake got cast as Sean Parker, inventor of Napster, to spin spells with his charisma round Mark and the audience. To up the ante a great deal and to tell a hauntingly powerful story about the founding of Victoria Secrets that is the movie's message in a nutshell.But I don't want to ruin anything.
You watch Mark and his young Harvard roommates succeed, you watch the numbers grow, the "friends" pile up, and you can't help but get caught up in it - it's thrilling, it's an adrenaline rush. Yet if the movie were just that it would be The Secret of My Success or whatever Michael J. Fox type 80s movie all over again. And that would be great pop. But that's all. That is if not for a truly complicated storyline revolving around not one but two law suits, and a moral side to an ambitious tale embodied in the character Sorkin based on Facebook's co-founder, Eduardo Saverin.
The character, played so heart-breakingly openly by a British actor named Andrew Garfield (new to me, but I just google- learned he's also currently on screen in Never Let Me Go and will be the next Spiderman), is the key to the whole film. Again I don't want to give anything away, but I have to say that if you didn't care about these characters so deeply - and his in particular - none of the film would resonate, nor would the audience feel nearly as conflicted.
The Hamlet Finale In my first draft of this I compared The Social Network to Hamlet. Then I had my wife read what I'd written for her critique. She said, no. I was wrong. The movie was not Hamlet. The Mark Zuckerburg character was no Hamlet. He wasn't conflicted enough to be Hamlet. She said: We ... we are Hamlet. (She probably said it less overly dramatically, though. She's Japanese.)
In which we learn why my wife is much smarter than I am. Because of course! Because, as she helped explain to me, it's the audience that is kept in constant conflict. Why is this not pop? How is this different from The Town or other well-made, fun movies? It's certainly riveting, certainly funny, certainly a thrill ride. So why don't you get that high feeling after? Because you are in conflict. Because you just don't know how to feel about this guy, this most successful young man in history. Because just try not to get caught up in the ambition, in the excitement of the founding of a company that you know is about to obliterate all records that came before it.
A friend suggested I run a poll, curious to know what percentage of people in some way related to Mark as they watched. Said friend of course did, I did, my wife did and I figure we're far from alone. Cause one minute you really are envying hell out of this guy and his enormous ambition, but the next you absolutely despise the twerp. Take a step back, then, and you realize this is the very nature of ambition. The drive the drive the drive - all that excitement - and then the terrible costs that come with winning ... at all costs. Like a childhood friend of mine, who has split his life between New York and Toronto these last ten years, said in a comment on this site about the Big Apple: It's the greatest city in the world, but the quality of life? Not so much.
Mark Zuckerburg is one of, if not, the richest twenty-something in the world, at the head of one of the biggest internet companies in the world. After the movie, you have to ask yourself: would you want to be him?
Then watch it again. And prepare to be more confused.