No Concessions: “Social” and Antisocial
I’m in a relationship with The Social Network. I like The Social Network. No, more than like—I know an instant classic when I see one, and The Social Network is an instant classic, right up there with Brokeback Mountain and Pan’s Labyrinth and a handful of other movies that carry you away from their opening scenes.
With two weeks at No. 1 and a stack of reviews David Fincher’s mom could have written I feel I’m off the hook for the dreaded plot summary, so I’ll just riff. Let’s put it in Facebook form, call it “10 Observations About The Social Network.” Tag your friends and we’ll collect dozens more! (Send them to me at my Farmville address, sorry, uh, no one’s bought me a mailbox yet.)
1. The Social Network is “faction” at its best. Not altogether fact or entirely fiction, rather a loose combination of both, the film succeeds because from moment to moment it feels true. Does it matter that the unobtainable Erica (Rooney Mara), the reason why we have faces to book, is fictitious? No—through her the movie explores matters of the heart (and issues of privacy) that would otherwise be difficult to dramatize. Is Larry Summers as big a jerk in real life as he is in the movie? Probably, but I say that only because he comes off poorly in Charles Ferguson’s muckraking documentary Inside Job, too, so I figure these folks know something I only suspect. How true are the Harvard scenes to a student’s actual experience there? To Mark Zuckerberg’s? Beats me, though I’ve paged through articles that are shocked, shocked, that anyone could buy its portrayal of Harvard as an elitist pod of clubs and cliques wary of Jews and other outsiders. Wow, color me chagrined—and here I thought it was like a typical community college!
2. The Social Network is Aaron Sorkin on his best behavior. I don’t like Aaron Sorkin. He overwrites, bloviates, grandstands. That includes his 2007 Broadway flop The Farnsworth Invention—from an unproduced screenplay that’s like an analog version of this movie. In the show, 22-year-old Philo Farnsworth invents television, only to find that he can’t change the channel from endless lawsuits filed by the tenacious mogul David Sarnoff. In a typical Sorkin touch, the play ended with Sarnoff (played so abrasively by Hank Azaria you wanted to sandpaper him) worming his way into our hearts with a poor, poor pitiful me monologue. The Social Network condenses the two characters into Zuckerberg, a genius sociopath in a hoodie, and gives someone else the last word on how we should view him, another bad Sorkinism. But it’s just one line, and a pretty good one considering, that links up nicely with the beautifully escalated opening sequence, giving the film a structure that the play, paced and directed for maximum flash and emptiness, lacked.
3. David Fincher, we’re not worthy! He gives the script a rhythm. Marshalling an expert production team he also gives it a look—the movie buzzes with energy, more than anyone might have imagined given one of those way-we-live-now scenarios where everyone looks into computer screens and languishes in conference rooms, the way we live now. He’s also a master—he may be the master—of unobtrusive CGI. Where do Armie Hammer and body double Josh Pence begin and end as the Winklevoss twins…or is that Armie Hammer, Armie Hammer, and Josh Pence, so clearly are the two delineated? What is up with that evocatively designed crew competition scene—is it digital effects? Models? Every frame is exquisitely controlled, as it is in the arresting Zodiac, as it is in most of his films, which for lack of better scripts don’t always fully benefit from his attention.
4. Jesse Eisenberg is brilliant as Mark Zuckerberg. A great performance from an actor I wasn’t sure would hatch from an incubator of interchangeably slouchy roles—this is the one. (Michael Cera, there’s hope.) Those tiny, uncomfortable smiles from pursed lips—killer. We all go through phases where we want nothing more to be cool, we’d all rather forget them as we settle for room temperature, but Eisenberg-as-Zuckerberg thrusts the mirror of ambition and embarrassment into our faces. Do we feel bigger than his Zuckerberg that we didn’t jockey for position, that we settled? Or foolish for not having tried harder, for not having found or pursued a dream that would have made us the coolest, richest guy in the room?
5. The movie is smart to sideline him as well. Like I said, uneasy—you don’t want to spend a whole two hours with this guy. While most movies are content to give us one or two colorful supporting characters Fincher and Sorkin have given us a whole gallery of other compelling people to hang out with, none of them stereotypically virtuous or villainous (except maybe Summers, who is at least well-spoken through his forked tongue): Mara, Hammer, Andrew Garfield (the put-upon Saverin), Max Minghella (the put-upon Narendra), and Rashida Jones (with each performance the millennial Suzanne Pleshette, I think, as the lawyer with the kiss-off line) all stand out.
6. Oliver Stone missed out*. His own way-we-live-now movie, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, is a crushing letdown on every level. I mean, bubble imagery? Senile and depressing. A better idea would have been to remake the original, with Justin Timberlake playing Gekko as a Machiavellian web entrepreneur. Good in a number of expectation-defying supporting parts, he’s dazzling here as the embodiment of every shallow dream you ever had about money, sex, and power.
(*But so did Charles Ferguson. As Zuckerberg fiddled with “the Facebook” the rest of us got burned. Ferguson, who made the clear-eyed Iraq documentary No End in Sight (2007), gives into righteous indignation with Inside Job, playing “gotcha!” with the architects of our financial meltdown, who in a twist of changing administrations are now our would-be saviors. I should say, the architects who sat before his torturing cameras—the skewered include academics who seemed to collude with corporations on their dubious see-no-evil forecasts, whose “not me” replies to an off-camera Ferguson’s interrogations were greeted with cries of “slimebags!” at the show I attended. The film is at its best when narrator Matt Damon calmly walks us through the nuts and bolts of the disaster, and questionable when Ferguson works the lowest common denominator of the audience with tales of coke-and-hooker excesses among the Wall Street elite. This puzzles even one of the few white hats on view, the rehabbing Eliot Spitzer, who sensibly declines to comment. Inside Job is strongest when its indictments are soberly handed down.)
7. Back to The Social Network: Bill Gates. Or “Bill Gates.” Giving him a cameo in a Facebook movie is wickedly funny.
8. Music to my ears. Let Trent Reznor take you through his and Atticus Ross’ tremendous score.
9. The Social Network will make a good double feature with National Lampoon’s Animal House. For all its “adult” qualities it never forgets it’s about overgrown kids, complete with slapstick humiliation. Whether Zuckerberg invents a way for us to beam messages into each other’s brains, or the Tea Party attains power and confiscates our computers as tools of Satan, The Social Network will endure as an encapsulation of our era.
10. Oh, and I’m glad I went to college in the pre-digital era, where snooping took effort. On the other hand, I have 462 Facebook friends, not bad for a 45-year-old of no importance, so suck it, bitches.
It’s October, so for better and for worse horror movies are upon us. Let Me In is very much for the better, but it’s gotten shut out of a boxoffice more attuned to chillers with a Saw or a Roman numeral in their titles. The competition to shock us is intense, so much so that the notorious I Spit on Your Grave has been remade. In 1978 the appearance of this ferociously sleazy shocker, which bafflingly has attained the status of a misunderstood “feminist classic” over the years, was a harbinger of the apocalypse; a remake can only mean that the rapture begins on Thursday.
In the meantime we have Red White & Blue, another revenge saga centered on an avenging angel. Simon Rumley’s film begins as a kind of triangle, with the perennially down-and-out Erica (Amanda Fuller) gang-banged by the members of an Austin-based rock band, among them Franki (Marc Senter). This is hardly a first for Erica, and for a while the movie follows her lurid, largely wordless sexual exploits, one guy after another, and I felt like I was at Inside Job again. The one person Erica refuses to sleep with is Nate (Noah Taylor), another lost soul on the farthest margins of society. An Iraq War veteran, Nate isn’t all that put out that Erica won’t put out; he fancies himself her protector, and warily she opens herself up to him, emotionally.
A good thing, too, as Franki, not a bad guy we come to learn, discovers that by dallying with Erica he’s joined her viral network. Frightening news, the sort that one should deal with rationally and responsibly. But the British-born Rumley doesn’t see us as rational or responsible, and a shaken and desperate Franki, aided by his bandmates, handles the situation badly. Armed with duct tape, a baseball bat, and a long and sharp knife Nate searches for his missing friend. It isn’t pretty, and Rumley makes us experience what he finds and how he reacts it head-on. Red White & Blue is a movie in pain, a movie that hurts, and as such it leaves scars.
If that doesn’t sound entertaining best to leave it be. This isn’t a morally frivolous, Death Wish-type picture, or “torture porn.” If, however, movies that jolt you out of complacency appeal, by all means seek it out, either in its small theatrical run or on IFC Midnight, where it’s now airing. Rumley is a pitiless filmmaker, bad to the bone, and that goes for Milton Kam’s dead-eyed widescreen cinematography of hipster heaven’s bleaker streets and Richard Chester’s elegantly relentless score. As for Taylor, the young Hitler of Max (2002) and the unsettling protégé of Shine (1996), vengeance is his, and he could put the fear of God into Robert De Niro in Cape Fear (1991). Friend at your peril.