17 February 2011

The Social Network

Zadie Smith* wrote a review of this movie that, I think, nailed one of its central problems, namely, that the filmmakers don't really seem to understand their main character - what is his motivation? As she says, the movie ultimately makes it about a girl, which is not only cliche and annoying, but also seems completely untrue, given what we know of the real Zuckerberg (who has been in a relationship with the same girl since 2003). The money is also clearly not the point, fun as it is. I think you can broaden Smith's musings on how to make programming cinematic and comprehensible into an overall question of how a character like Zuckerberg (or any other "2.0 Person") can be captured in film/narrative. To my mind, this is kind of exciting and fascinating - it's undeniably true that things like facebook have changed the way a lot of people conceptualize themselves and their relationship with the world, and I look forward to seeing how new forms of narrative emerge to capture that. But this movie isn't it.

Honestly, for the most part, I just thought the movie was boring. It's two hours long, and 80 minutes into it, you're kind of groaning and wanting it to be over. The Henley Regatta scene that Smith found so ravishing actually made me yell "Oh my god why is this movie so LONG" to my boyfriend (who was in the kitchen making oxtail soup). The characters are for the most part flat and uninteresting, pretty faces experiencing various degrees of outrage and self-righteousness. Yawn. The highlight is definitely Justin Timberlake, who is kind of always fun to watch, I think, and who is definitely the most interesting character in this movie. The soundtrack is unmistakably Trent Reznor's, which I found kind of touching, because no offense, to my mind Trent Reznor is kind of a dinosaur, and there's something vaguely pathetic about the fact that he's courting younger viewers with what is largely the same schtick now that most of his target audience has outgrown him.

No, the real problem with the movie is the hollowness at its center. Zuckerberg, as portrayed in this movie, is an asshole. Not even an interesting villain, just a vaguely obnoxious jerk. Sure, he's misunderstood and he wants friends and bla bla bla, but who cares? The fact that there's no clear reason for why he does what he does robs him of any chance at redemption - lacking motive, he's being a jerk just because. Likewise, facebook's development doesn't seem all that compelling - the aha! moment where Zuckerberg decides to add relationship status, pontificating about the epiphany that ultimately people are always searching for "a girl" seems both bland and obvious. There's no real reflection on how facebook both tapped into and ultimately changed various social energies and forms of identification (Sorkin apparently had never been on facebook before writing the script, which may account for some of this).

I suspect that it's getting all this buzz and acclaim purely because people are trying to find a way to express the fact that the world IS different that it was in 2003, and a large part of that is because of facebook, and they think this movie somehow expresses it for them. But that's not actually what the movie is about. It's about a guy who screwed some people over. But it's not a heist film, or a corporate thriller. I'm wracking my brains to think of what genre it really falls under. But anyways, point being - meh. You can certainly give this one a miss.

*I have really mixed feelings about Zadie Smith. I think her prose is generally elegant and appealing, and she has some really fascinating ideas and observations, but I also find her vaguely smug and melodramatic and just kind of annoying a lot of the time. This piece is a case in point - as mentioned above, I think she identifies some really fascinating aspects of the movie, but there are also a lot of annoyingly self-indulgent moment (like the squirrels in the first paragraph, come on) and a kind of passive-aggressive smugness ("I often worry that my idea of personhood is nostalgic, irrational, inaccurate." - really? Because for most of this piece, it seems like you feel superior to what you call the so-called 2.0 People) that irks me.

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