Monday, 21 March 2011

The Social Network

Lowdown: The story behind the establishment of Facebook.
A few weeks ago, at a company gathering, the CEO of the organization I’m working for asked everyone whether they’ve seen The Social Network and whether, as a result, they adjusted their Facebook privacy settings. Personally, as a minor cyber civil libertarian, I have had a saying or two against Facebook (culminating in me deleting my account a few months ago). You can therefore say I was looking forward to watching The Social Network for reasons other than David Fincher being the director or the Oscar related hype. The build up worked its way to me, I watched the film, and now I have mixed feeling about it.
It seems The Social Network is trying to tell us the story of Facebook’s origins (we will discuss the “it seems” factor in a minute). Although it is not a stated documentary we are presented with characters bearing remarkable likeliness in name and looks to the Mark Zuckerberg, Time’s person of the year 2010, and Sean Parker of Napster fame. Zuckerberg is a genius yet frustrated Harvard student out to prove his worth to the world, and he starts by stealing the photos of fellow female university students and running a website called Facemesh where people can rate one over the other. That gets him punished but also alerts others of his talents; quickly enough he’s contacted by a three more senior students running with the idea of creating a Friendster like website exclusive to Harvard. Zuckerberg volunteers to serve as their programmer in return for a fair share, but instead goes on his own to develop the website we now know as Facebook. He starts Facebook with the financial aid of a friend; indeed, we start watching The Social Network through a hearing where several of Zuckerberg’s former friends sue him for his betrayals. The bulk of the film is in the form of flashbacks triggered by those hearings.
Zuckerberg is portrayed as a nasty piece of work: a guy for whom friendship doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to his self interest, which is rather an oxymoron when the same guy is creating, running and owning a website dedicated to friendship. The question is, then: how authentic is the film? Well, I don’t have an answer because I don’t know enough of the facts. What is clear is that Hollywood studios were bound to have their lawyers on high alert before coming out with a film that raises false accusations in association with the real life characters whose namesakes are portrayed in the film, yet the studios still came out with The Social Network; hence I suspect it is safe to assume there is more to The Social Network merely feeling like a documentary. It could well be one.
Let us assume the story told in The Social Network is true and Mark Zuckerberg is a nasty piece of work. The question I have is: does it matter? Do we care if the owner of any other company whose services we've been using is not a particularly nice person? I don't see people stopping to use Oracle databases just because Larry Ellison is rumored to be not the nicest person around, nor do I see people buying Microsoft just because Bill Gates is a philanthroper. The problems with Facebook which do affect us, namely its disregard for our privacy, are not directly addressed by the film; instead the focus is on Zuckerberg's personal relationships with the people immediately next to him.
Not that this disconnection between the film and Facebook matters much. Obviously, The Social Network is not a film about Facebook; it is a film about personal relationships in this day and age, an age where a lot of them are managed via the virtual world behind the veil of LCD monitors. It is a film about corporate culture where all's fair in hate and war, a culture that is not condemned but rather celebrated whenever we are told (directly or indirectly) to admire a certain head honcho for his money making abilities while failing to mention how often this money comes at the expense of others down the food chain. In exploring those aspects The Social Network is second to none; watch it and you'll see just how bad Time was with its choice and the glorification it bestowed on Zuckerberg.
The film's social discussions are all nice and everything, but does the film deliver in the more important department - does the film entertain? This, I believe, is The Social Network's biggest problem. Being what it is, a law/court drama, it is dry; personally I found it to be too boring too often. It simply failed to excite me. I suspect a part of the problem is directly related to a subject matter lacking any characters worth identifying with, which is understandable. Then again, I find it ridiculous that a film failing such basic criteria could have been the leader of the Academy Awards charts (to be toppled only by a film that grossly misquotes history).
Notable scene: The one suggesting Zuckerberg did it all in order to befriend the girl that dumps him in the film’s opening scene. That’s a bit of a bold statement to make, isn’t it? Lucky there aren't any references to the size of his dick.
Technical assessment: The Social Network’s Blu-ray works in strange ways. The picture is fine and with a few exceptions the sound is pretty mundane – as expected for a film that is essentially the telling of a court hearing. However, the music turns things around: the soundtrack by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame is something very special, truly stirring things around. Fincher did that before in films like Se7en: he really seems to know how to control a film through music.
Overall: Terribly relevant, ticks all the boxes, but ultimately fails to excite at the gut level. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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