I wanted to wait with this review because in 2008 I was really pleased with David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button when the credits started rolling.
But after a few days I was thinking again about Benjamin Button and everything fell apart – to me this movie was one of the most forgettable films of this year devoid of any interesting conflicts and worst of all, the lingering question would not go away: “What was the point of this movie?” To me Benjamin Button is a 3 hour compilation of beautiful sets and extraordinary special effects/make up work but without any artistic merit from a script point of view.
So with The Social Network my biggest fear was praising the movie and then having to take everything back once I had pondered about it for a while, but now I am pretty sure right that this is not another Benjamin Button.
A movie about facebook, really?
I am sure I was not the only person who frowned when reading that a facebook movie was being made it sounded as ridiculous of an idea as Ridley Scott directing a Monopoly movie, but the fact that this was a David Fincher movie got me interested.
Maybe this movie was not just a quick cash in on a popular thing. Then the reviews came in and this looked very promising. Finally without the usual Austrian/German delay of a few months the facebook movie was out a mere week after the US-start. And of course I went there opening day.
So is it worth it?
Definitely. The Social Network is a smartly written movie and probably the most interesting movie about people sitting and programming to date. The story about the founders of facebook is superbly acted, especially Jesse Eisenberg, who I previously knew as the friendly nerdy guy from Adventureland and Zombieland, does a tremendous job of portraying Mark Zuckerberg as the neurotic, social inept programmer.
Another surprise is Justin Timberlake. He is playing Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster and not once was I thinking of Timberlake, he really nails the role of the advisor who seems to know “how the business works”. I am very curious where the artistic license came into play, since I’m not really sure that this is an accurate portrayal of Zuckerberg’s life.
But regardless of that it is an interesting drama and even if it were completely made up, it would still have a very interesting central conflict about the nature of networks and friendships.
This movie could drop the facebook angle completely and just be about an idea and still be engaging. Fincher wisely avoids showing too much of how facebook affects our world and this is where The Social Network succeeds.
If he would have done a commentary on our current life and how it was impacted by facebook the movie would have probably been contradicted within a few years (since internet time goes faster than real time) and the movie would have been just a short celebration of a fad. But by focusing on the origins and motivations as well as the conflicts that arise this movie merely uses facebook as a plotdevice to portray human stories that have been there since the beginning of storytelling.
Why is it not another Benjamin Button?
Benjamin Button was a movie about a guy aging backwards.
The Social Network is a movie about how facebook was founded.
Benjamin Button told us that if you age backwards you live like a human being and your “backwardness” has next to no impact on your life. By pasting the backwards-aging gimmick onto the story the movie disguised the fact that the characters were neither engaging nor having interesting stories to tell – it’s like putting owls into a movie to mask the fact that you are re-telling Star Wars… ohhh…
The Social Network is all about the social network and how it affects the people around it. It might drag sometimes when it feels too much like a law and order episode but Fincher never loses his focus and always utilizes the internet to reflect on human emotions and how they manifest in the worldwide web.
In the internet age overrated is a horrible word, it mainly describes the backlash to something that has received a lot of positive response and with a rottentomatoes rating of 97% there is bound to be a backlash.
The reason for the high rating is simple: there is not much wrong with this movie and even if you don’t think it’s the best movie since Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah you can appreciate many aspects of the movie. Much like Ben Affleck’s the Town or Paranormal Activity this movie might actually suffer more than usual for being so beloved (only exception I can think of would be Toy Story 3, that movie is backlash-immune) and people going into the movie with hopes of having a life-changing experience or cry like an infant will probably be disappointed.
I found myself “standing next to the movie” a lot of times, meaning that I was enjoying the film, marvelling at its execution but for some reason it felt like watching it from the outside instead of being fully emotionally invested.
However over the course of the movie I found an approach that made me really like it which also affirmed me that this was not Benjamin Button:
Social Network as a companion piece to Fight Club
Eleven years after commenting on a generation brought under the illusion of becoming famous and “being someone who matters” Social Network is a very contrary approach to many of these mentalities.
In Fight Club it is a group of nobodies finding a new reason for life by devoting themselves to anarchy and self-destruction. They have a shared anger that they were promised impossible things but in the end nothing came true.
The Social Network deals with the reason of striving for fame and success and even though it is set in Harvard, the protagonists are not the elite since they are not in a fraternity and again Fincher focuses on the group that gets denied the fame – in Social Network’s language this would translate into insane partying.
Zuckerberg wants to get into a fraternity, he makes this very clear in the opening monolog, but the movie doesn’t just focus on fraternities, it focuses on many possible networks that people want to get into and become the things they were promised, become somebody important.
Both movies feature a worldly wise absolute who comes to the main character and has a monolog in a bar about “what matters in society”.
In Fight Club this is Tyler Durden and his approach is a destructive approach, only through destruction and loss do we realize our inner self.
In The Social Network Sean Parker (Timberlake) is there to tell Zuckerberg that the only thing that matters is turning yourself into a brand, making the most money from what you are and establishing yourself at the best.
While Parker’s view of the world is the total opposite of Tyler Durden both are of the opinion that the biggest impacts one can have on society are when you stir people up, be it by founding a fight club or by upsetting people by hacking into the Harvard network and creating a site that enables you to compare and judge women.
Both movies are heavily sexualized, so much one could mock The Social Network by saying that if Zuckerberg had gotten laid at the beginning we wouldn’t have facebook. And while Fight Club is the “darker” one of the two we could argue that the main character in Fight Club at least tries to oppose the destructive forces whereas in the end we don’t know if Zuckerberg approves of the worldview presented in Social Network.
I am pretty sure there is more about the Fight Club Facebook connection, but I will have to watch it again to judge, bottom-line: Social Network is a movie worthy of watching it on the big screen.
Social Network and the Oscars?
Nominations are a no brainer for Social Network.
This is a movie by David Fincher and the fact that he was neither nominated for Fight Club nor Zodiac nor Se7en. His first nomination was for a by-the-numbers Forest Gump crowd pleaser, so the academy has a lot to make up.
It’s common knowledge that the Oscars are often an apology for not giving the Oscar to another movie way back (probably the best example is Martin Scorsese winning for The Departed after not winning for Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Aviator, Casino etc.).
So with all this in mind even if Social Network was only received lukewarm (see Benjamin Button) it would still get nominated for the past efforts. The fact that it is critically acclaimed AND a biography AND a social commentary makes this movie ideal Oscar frontrunner, especially in a year where there’s not that much competition yet.
The only problem this movie now has is that it has to hold the momentum. Oscar decisions are sometimes very short sighted which is the reason many Oscar movies are released in winter to be fresh in the memory of the voters because it’s a tough job to appeal to the academy but an even tougher one to hold their attention over half a year.
Last year’s The Hurt Locker was one of the few movies to do this, over a year it generated so much positive buzz that it beat out all the movies that were released in winter. As I said in the paragraph addressing the backlash, there will be one with social network and it will only need a moderately good movie to come out in December to beat Network because it is new and people might have grown tired of Network.