Monday, October 18, 2010

The Social Network

Saw The Social Network the other day with someone I know. It was enjoyable and unsettling at the same time.

A friend from film school said the film is the Faust story version 2.0. Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake, is the Devil, tempting Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, to betray his friends and partners in exchange for wealth, women, and power. He added that it was also about exclusion, and that Zuckerberg is motivated to betray the socially prominent twins who keep him in the bike room of the Porcellian Club and hand him a plastic-wrapped sandwich. Unable to enter the exclusive precincts of the elite, Zuckberger determines to set up his own business with his equally outsider friend, a Brazilian business student named Eduardo Savarin.

It also seems rather like What Makes Sammy Run? version 2.0 (or 1.0 for a movie, since Schulberg's book and play version never made it onto the big screen). That tale of a Jewish screenwriter who backstabbed his way to the top was among the iconic works of 40s and 50s angst and alienation literature. Zuckerberg's sociopathic interpersonal behavior recalls Sammy Glick's.

Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of Aaron Sorkin's screenplay is the title: THE SOCIAL NETWORK. What does it mean, excactly? Is the network, Facebook--or, as I suspect, the network of exclusive social clubs at Harvard, to which Zuckerberg aspires to be admitted? Interestingly, the only traditional social networking event Zuckerberg attends in the film is at the Jewish fraternity. Despite founding Facebook, he remains unclubbed at the end--even his former friend and partner Eduardo Savarin is hazed by the Phoenix club. Money can't buy you love, and apparently, can't buy you social acceptance, either (as the first scene with his Boston University girlfriend, Ms. Albright, foreshadows, and in a "completion and return" underscores with a final screen shot).

My favorite scene is where the Winklevoss twins go to Harvard president Larry Summers for help, pointing out that Zuckerberg has broken "Harvard law." Summers remains unmoved and unhelpful--merely suggesting that they invent something me, this scene is revelatory of what went wrong with Summers at Harvard--and reminded this viewer of his White House failures in the Obama administration. Not only is Summers depicted as not smart; he's not sensitive, not responsible, and not admirable.

I personally enjoyed how many scenes took place in noisy nightclubs and loud restaurants. Somehow, it captured the emptiness and vulgarity of life before the financial collapse. Looking backwards, hindsight is 20/20.

And then there's the Wizard of Oz angle, perhaps it is all smoke and mirrors, with Ms. Albrecht as Dorothy and Mr. Parker as the Wicked Witch of the West. Of course, it could be noted the film uses the Rashomon-like structure of Citizen Kane to portray Zuckerberg in flashback from a variety of viewpoints. Fun for film students to see the various homages to earlier classics, no doubt.

In any case, I enjoyed the picture. It is a period piece, a depiction of life before bail-outs, only yesterday. Five stars.