Everybody loves The Social Network, and that is the first sign that there is something wrong going on with this film. Filmmaker David Fincher (Alien 3, Seven), with a script by Aaron Sorkin, fictionalized, packed and sold the story of how the social network site Facebook came into being and after a few months showing at the theatres, the movie has gained unanimous praise. However, this is not a flawless film. No sir. It is actually very simple-minded and insipid. In the next few paragraphs I’ll explain why. Just a quick note: I’ll avoid a synopsis of the story, as anyone who might come upon this text will have undoubtedly seen the movie, or at least heard about it enough to know the gist of it; I will only do some exposition when an argument requires it. So, as Morpheous says when he comes out of the elevator in Matrix 2: Here we go.
The first thing I’ll remark upon is the characters. Oh boy, where to begin? Well of course, Mark Zuckerberg. Billionaire Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg. He’s a good actor (anyone accepted into NYU’s Tisch school of arts is quite good, if not ask James Franco). However, the first thing I learned from his performance is that he can talk really fast, really fucking fast, perhaps rapper-fast, and that’s saying a lot. He can utter like five long complicated sentences in five seconds with perfect diction. That’s admirable. Right. So he’s not spectacular as some have pointed out, but he still manages to convey the little nuances of the character: we don’t see Jesse Eisenberg, we see Mark Suckerberg. Still, the reason he’s not spectacular is one which is not his fault; it’s the screenwriter’s, but I’ll come back to that later.
Now, Zuckerberg, as portrayed in this film, is a son of a bitch, or as they put it in the film, an asshole. Let me tell you why: he’s a fucker with his ex-girlfriend (he writes a messed up, though admittedly funny, blog entry about her); he constantly downplays his best friend’s achievements; he becomes the pet of Napster-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake); he steals and mocks the good-mannered Winklevoss brothers; and, in the end, betrays Eduardo so to leave him with only 0.03% of the company (at the start he had 30%). So, he’s truly a very poisonous human being. But the really scary thing about this character (So, I’m talking about Zuckerberg as in the film, not the actual Mark Zuckerberg who might actually be a decent human being) is that the people to whom he does all these mean things don’t really do much to deserve such punishment. For instance, let’s discuss the (ex) girlfriend, Erica Albright. She’s nice to him. All she does is try to communicate with obsessed-with-Final-Clubs Zuckerberg. She asks simple questions and all she gets in return is a pissed off Zuckerberg who then goes on to downgrade Erica’s university. In that scene, the first five minutes of the film, we get the whole Zuckerberg persona. We get that he’s obsessed with Final Clubs; we get that he’s a mean motherfucker with girls; we get that he gets really angry at innocent remarks; we get that he can talk really fucking fast; we get that he’s insecure beyond belief: and, of course, we get that he’s a nerd and an extremely skilled “computer person.”
The second character: Eduardo Savarin. He’s the most decent person in the whole story, and he also talks extremely fast. He’s considerate with Mark (right after Mark breaks up with Erica, at 2am, Eduardo goes to Mark’s dorm to comfort him) and gives him 19,000 to start up Facebook. The only mishap he ever makes is freezing the account he had set up for Facebook after being severely neglected by his partner. Well, and I guess it also counts that throughout the film we see him being really stupid and not getting the point of what Facebook is all about. What does he get in return? Zuckerberg decides then to bump his ass out of the company. My God, I wish I had such a good pal.
The third, and last of the major characters: Sean Parker. The Napster creator, college-girl humper, and drug addict gets to be played by former Britney Spears boyfriend and former ‘Nsync pop-idol Justin Timberlake. He’s also a son of a bitch who wants to take Eduardo’s place as Zuckerberg’s right hand. He also talks very fast.
Here’s the first problem I have with the film: these characters are all sons of bitches. Now, I don’t necessarily dislike films whose characters are all assholes; actually I prefer that kind of characters. But if you’re going to have assholes, your movie better have a point. Anything will do, even if it’s just that everybody is an asshole and that’s it. This movie has no point! It’s just a story, it’s not a tragedy, it’s not a comedy, it’s not a documentary, there’s no argument about it. It’s just a bunch of people doing really poisonous things to each other. Zuckerberg doesn’t commit suicide at the end; Eduardo only gets a relatively small compensation; Erica doesn’t forgive him and no one acts as a moral figure in the entire film (not that there must be one, I’m just saying…). There’s no sign of redemption (Zuckerberg, in the end, actually says “I’m not a bad guy” – I laughed so hard when he said that). So basically, if you asked me what The Social Network is about I would be obliged to tell you: about mean people who are just mean because that’s how they are. There are no themes, there are no messages – we just get a (incomplete) picture of a bunch of people. It isn’t even a depiction of reality. We can’t say that the point of the film is that everybody is deep down evil. No. Only these guys. And it’s not a depiction of, say, reality, because that’s not how these people are in reality, as they have themselves said in many interviews. Dammit movie, give me something! If you’re going to fictionalize the story, at least make it have some sense.
Now, the second problem I have with the movie is its script. Many critics have said that it’s a great screenplay because it allowed a story that seemed otherwise untellable, to be told. Yeah, I give it that, even though they fictionalized the story, but other than that, there isn’t much wit in its creation. There are several problems with it. Firstly, it’s too damn long; so long that Fincher had to tell his actors to speak as fast as they could so to reduce the length of the film. Now, being long isn’t too bad if it weren’t that it made the director take such an unfortunate decision. The fact that the actors talk as fast as they talk, even though it gives the scenes a very provocative pace, rather makes them more confusing and enervating. At times it seems that we’re looking at a Girlmore Girls’ episode (I would really like to slap those girls, bitch slap them into silence). Secondly, it seems Fincher, and movie critics for that matter, haven’t realized that lines that are spoken rapidly and that share at least the minimum amount of coherence with each other don’t mean that they are good. I don’t remember a single line that I could quote and say to myself: this is some good writing. The characters talk as intelligent, amazingly eloquent, emotionally-numb people would talk. But they don’t talk as characters in an intelligent, amazingly eloquent film would talk. Characters, remember, are just elements of a film; and a film is meant to be more than just a representation of reality (this is the task of documentaries).
In art, the signified always must transcend the field of signifiers. The dialogues of a good film must serve for two purposes, to move the narrative forwards and also provide a meaning. And this is where the screenplay of The Social Network falls down. Not one of their many, many, MANY, lines is quotable in this sense (see for yourself: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1285016/quotes). Yeah, they are alright, they make the film a comfortable experience and it makes it seem that we’re listening to very bright people. Yet not one of the dialogues gives one the semblance that the director is trying to say something with them. They are all very innocent and straightforward. (For an example of fertile dialogue see the Coen Brother’s films, every one of them.)
The third problem I have with the film is its sheer existence. Why on Earth do we need a film like this? Ok, we like to see smart people fighting each other apparently. But has it any significance? It’s just the story about three people, two of them being complete assholes and the other being quite retarded. You know what it would’ve been more interesting? To actually see the film exploring the impact Facebook has on society! You don’t show us anything of the sort, movie! You just sit around, with your nice photography, narrating to us the minutia of the creation of a product (the fake minutia), rather than the implications the product has on people and the nuances of society. Because, being honest, who gives a shit about Mark Zuckerberg really? Just a Harvard kid who had a good idea and then went on to become a billionaire – unless he ends up committing suicide in the next few years and we then see “The Social Network 2: Fucked in the brain” there’s really nothing interesting about it. What would be interesting is to see a story interweaving Facebook’s rise to power with a good ol-fashioned drama or comedy or whatever, and see how Facebook’s existence has changed the way people interact with each other – or even more, see how Facebook has changed and informed language.
The movie is all right. But that’s about it. The real problem with this film is that it’s dangerous because of what it means. The movie has been nominated to almost every award a film could be nominated, and has been praised by everyone. The danger with this movie is that it’s pure leisure. There’s no ambition in this film, none whatsoever beyond telling a mildly-interesting story. The director doesn’t try to create something new and transgressing with it. The photography is good but standard, there’s nothing interesting about it. What I’m trying to say is: this is entertainment, in the most strict and horrible sense of the word. It’s an activity that is diverting and that holds the attention. It’s more or less like drinking a lot of alcohol, without the possibility of waking up next to a girl in the morning. Or being stoned. It’s just something that holds out your consciousness so that you can be amused, the way babies are amused with a bunch of keys being rattled in front of their eyes. There are no sharp ends to The Social Network; there’s nothing in the story that has the power to affect you in any way. Yes, you could develop an interest in programming after watching it, but still you will go on thinking the same way and acting in the same way, and believing the same things you have believed all your life.
Think, on the other hand, of True Grit, or Toy Story 3. Think about the impossibly vast, starry nights of the western skies, or the unsettling image of watching toys about to be incinerated. There’s something in the scenes of those two films (to name a few) that catch our attention and point towards something else, towards a transcendent meaning behind it all. And even if we can’t find one, we have that feeling: the sense that the elements projected upon the screen aren’t just stuff – there’s something different, something completely out of place, something quite out there, that allow us to become active, rather than passive.
That’s the main problem with “The Social Network,” it’s such a passive film. You don’t have to do anything, ANYTHING. You just have to sit there, listen (closely), eat your popcorn, drink some soda, then walk away and repeat the same retarded comments that you think sound so clever: “wow, that movie really had some good dialogues”, “wow, that mark suckerberg eh, he really made it”, “wow, that photography is really cool!”, “wow, that Justin Timberlake is so fucking cute!” (the last one being by far the more interesting one).
Finally we arrive to why this movie is truly the reflection of today’s society. We live in a society that is scared of making an effort. We don’t want hard jigsaw puzzles that test our power of abstraction – we want the rattling keys. That’s the message behind this film, and that’s the message the people, and critics, by liking this movie so much, send everyone: that’s it’s alright to make a film that contributes nothing to the film industry besides fast talking.
But well, the good thing is that we just have to watch it, only two hours of our life spent on this movie are not wasted hours – but Fincher had to direct it, and Sorkin had to write it, and the producers had to produce it, the actors act it, they spent about a year of their lives doing this. Damn.