Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Social Network

The most striking part of the film is undeniably the Facemash sequence. With Reznor and Rose's music gently goosing the moment well timed edits flash between Zuckerberg's drunken invention and the culture it interacts with (which handily, and more importantly, doubles as the reason he's doing it). It's a masterful piece of film making in every way and, aside from its technical virtuosity, the reason it is is because it's one of the few moments when the scripted dialogue isn't telling us exactly, with little subtlety, what to think about the characters.

Unfortunately this is exactly what the rest of the film is doing. The opening scene at the bar doesn't lay out the film's thesis in microcosm: it lays out the film's thesis in its entirety. Zuckerberg is presented as a man driven by exactly two concerns: (1) The desire to be loved by Erica Albrecht and (2) the desire to compensate for his insecurity by standing out from the rest. That's it. As far as scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin is concerned these two desires are the sum total of Zuckerberg's character and his chutzpah in summing up a human being with these two elements and then judging him on that basis (and this is a very judgmental film) is the element the makes The Social Network every bit as arrogant a film as it thinks the Winkelwii are people.

However this reductionist approach to characterization (which no one in the film can escape) is not the only reason why The Social Network is such a deeply flawed work. As alluded to above Sorkin can't keep his judgements to himself. Characters get little moments when they are able to make pronouncements about what drives other characters and, in the context of the film, they're always exactly right. Sorkin isn't content to let us make up our own minds about the people he's presenting - thus Zuckerberg gets to proclaim of the Winkelwii (I do love this pluralisation) that the reason they're suing him is that "for the first time in their lives things didn't turn out as planned", Saverin is able to explain to us exactly who Sean Parker is and why Zuckerberg falls for him and the helpful legal officer at the end sums up Zuckerberg by telling him he isn't an asshole - he's just trying to be one (the need to stand out to cover up his insecurity).

In making such pronouncements and aligning them so carefully with the character's behavior in the film Sorkin marginalises his audience. They do not get to interpret his work, rather they are reduced to admirers of his careful architecture. We can observe how clever his repetition of the "You'd do that for me?" line is, how marvelous its function, but we don't get to wonder at what it means. It's all there on the surface.

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