some thoughts on The Social Network

The Social Network is as good as everyone says it is.

When the first reviews appeared, I was baffled and a little concerned.  I’m a big fan of David Fincher’s work, but the first three reviews I read compared the movie, favorably, to, in this order, Rashomon, The Godfather, and Citizen Kane.

Which, you will admit, is a pretty high set of bars to clear.

Now then, as it happens, The Social Network does, indeed, compare favorably to Rashomon, The Godfather and Citizen Kane, but probably not in the ways you think.

Like Rashomon, it succeeds in telling, and telling well, a story from three different points of view.  And those three points of view are presented fairly, evenly and without rancor or bias.  As in any well-presented drama, no one is wrong and no one is right — there are only characters whose desires conflict.

Like The Godfather and Citizen Kane, it is a drama about power and wealth in America, and the effect it has on people caught up in it.  Like The Godfather, its style is restrained, classic and understated — there is very little of Fincher’s bravura technique on display.  Like the Coen Brothers, Fincher is developing into a handsomely understated director who no longer feels the need to draw attention to his camera placement and editing tricks.  Which is another way of saying that, stylistically, it’s not very much like Citizen Kane, so if you’re expecting a mind-blowing visual experience full of startling perspectives, jarring juxtapositions and fancy photographic effects, you may be disappointed.

(That said, there are some stunning visual effects that do absolutely nothing to call attention to themselves.)

Like The Godfather, it is a penetrating drama that reveals something of a secret history, a force that affects everyone but no one really knows anything about.  The lives of geeks and the lives of gangsters couldn’t be more different, but The Social Network finds the common ground between both.  The key line in The Godfather Part II is “We’re bigger than US Steel,” and part of the drama of The Social Network is revealing the lives of the people who are having such an impact on our present society.

Which brings me to the complaints that I’ve read online about the movie.  (Ha!  I said “I’ve read online” as though I receive information from any other source.)  The people who don’t like the movie seem to fall into two related camps: there are people who feel that the movie “gets it wrong,” that that’s simply not what happened, and people who feel that the movie is invalid because it’s “old media” criticizing “new media,” presenting America’s online society as a bunch of shallow, idiotic twerps (and, by extension, the audiences of an intelligently-made movie as sophisticated, discerning and mature).  To the first, I say “Who cares?” but to the second I say “What the hell are you talking about?”  Because the movie simply doesn’t do any of those things.  Rather, it presents, like The Godfather, and like Mad Men for that matter, a handful of individuals caught at a moment in history, reacting to and trying to keep up with a society that is going to either make them or destroy them as they try, in vain, to control the change they begin.


5 Responses to “some thoughts on The Social Network
  1. vinic says:

    “(That said, there are some stunning visual effects that do absolutely nothing to call attention to themselves.)”

    The most astounding being the twins, played by the same actor. Seeing Fincher’s name attached to this film, I knew the depiction of betrayal would be very juicy. I also knew the directing would be flashy. I just did not realize it would be the type of flash you had to know to look for.

  2. Jack says:

    I was a bit giddy when I noticed my RSS feed had updated with your post on The Social Network. Considering you hadn’t posted many reviews as of late (I know, I know, you’ve got kids and a cat to feed), I was eager to hear your take on this film. I’ve been impressed with your insights on story structure which reach a level that far surpasses typical movie critic fodder. Alright, enough with fanboy mode.

    Given you’re a screenwriter, I was somewhat surprised about your glowing review of The Social Network! Yes, the performances were amazing. Sorkin’s dialog was superb. Fincher should be lock for Best Director. And I was completely blown away when I learned afterward how CGI had been used.

    But for me, the movie has one fatal flaw: it doesn’t have a point. Ok, so there are perfunctory messages of how sudden wealth and fame can forever ruin relationships. That theme isn’t new. The opening scene introduces the audience to Zuckerberg and his inability to sustain relationships in real life. This propels him to destroy relationships in his virtual world. Ok, cool premise – I’m hooked. But that premise never has a payoff. By the second act, the narrative has devolved into a series of vignettes centered around Zuckerberg’s legal troubles. The multiple points of view, I argue, took away from the drama and diluted the audience’s emotional investment into Zuckerberg. Too many protagonists in the pot. Not quite to the extreme of say, 1941, but detrimental regardless.

    It’s difficult to make a movie around a protagonist that is so utterly unlikeable. Maybe that forced Fincher to play the multiple POV card. And this may also be why ultimately, the movie left me dissatisfied: Zuckerberg doesn’t change. There’s no character arc. No profound character self-revelation. Unless you count the film’s final two minutes, where Zuckerberg has graduated from asshole to semi-pathetic dweeb.

    Had the film been less preoccupied in capturing a moment in history, it might have succeeded in actually creating one. Just like Citizen Kane.

  3. Beth says:

    I had the same reaction. I didn’t even know what Aaron Sorkin looked like before a few weeks ago, despite being well-aware of his name and even a fan of some of his work. And then came his several irritating talk show appearances and the gushing reviews. I’m always suspicious of what looks like a hard-sell. I wasn’t very eager to see the movie, but I did anyway and was pleasantly surprised. While the gratuitous party scenes and “indicating” music were a bit heavy-handed, the movie as a whole was totally engaging and fascinating. I found myself thinking about and analyzing it the rest of the day and even several days later. So, despite Sorkin’s off-putting TV appearances, his work as a screenwriter is still very impressive.

  4. matt says:

    So can we look forward to a detailed analysis once it’s on DVD?

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