Saturday, 1 January 2011

THE SOCIAL NETWORK



This one didn’t work out as planned really. I intended some brief capsule reviews of the films of 2010 I hadn’t covered until now. In the world of my mind this post also covers ’A Prophet’, ‘Shutter Island’, ‘The Ghost’, ‘The Illusionist’, ‘Winter’s Bone’ and ‘Gods and Men’... good films all. But instead I seem to have expended my energy writing about ’The Social Network’...

This film’s tagline should really be “dotcom startups are the new rock’n’roll.” It’s the familiar tale of how a band of outsiders use their dysfunctional drive to score a hit and screw the suits. Groupies arrive, partying ensues, “pads” get “trashed” and all the rest of it. And of course the rub... the desired result, success, turns out to be the very thing which splits the band up. (An inevitability underlined by the flashback structure.)

The singer can’t tell the girl he likes that he likes her, so has to write a song instead – his social ineptitude a spur to his creativity. Except these aren’t the Sixties any more so instead he codes a social networking site, with nice clear-cut relationship status display and befriending button.

That code actually makes for the one big difference. Rock biopics never, ever use musical notation – any more than they have scenes of axe heroes sitting at home with chord books and diligent but throbbing fingers. But here, very early on the algorythm that underpins Facebook is scrawled across a window. It works more like Harry Potter’s magic, it can be paraded precisely because we don’t get it, it’s importance rising in proportion to its incomprehensibility. Rock ‘n’ roll is gutsy, instinctual. This is clever stuff!

The Seventies were the era of anti-heroes. But here we have an anti-villain. You’re semi-aware than Zuckerberg’s sardonic persona is a symptom of his Aspergerish inability to empathise, bearing the same relationship as puss does to a wound. But mostly you just thrill to his snarky putdowns.

Through the twin lawsuit structure, Zuckerberg is given his perfect double foil. The Winklevoss twins, strutting athleticism, Harvard personified, invite Zuckerberg to hear their business proposal. As they walk off together, they tower over him like Orcs. When Zuckerberg plays them, its revenge of the nerds and the death of old money rolled into one. It’s like if Black Adder could win over privilege for once. Now social networks are on-line and borderless, their old social connections are a devalued currency.

Yet the film also covers the lawsuit of Eduado Saverin, the schoolfriend who funds Facebook’s launch only to get ripped off, the wronged party out for retribution. Measured legally or morally, his case is the stronger. But there’s not even a token attempt to make this pallid good guy into the protagonist. The film belongs to Zuckerberg as much as Facebook itself. (In no small part due to Jesse Eisenberg’s compelling performance.) Saverin’s lawsuit is there to tell us something about Zuckerberg, it’s there to point at something else. Zuckerberg’s only contextualisation comes through having his own devil, Napster’s Sean Parker, who goads him into greater acts of smug egoism and juvenile pranks.

The underlying assumption is that being the smartest guy in the room and the most socially maladjusted are intrinsically connected. Like the market, Zuckerberg’s obsessive ruthlessness might not be defensible, but...don’t you know?.. progress is predicated upon it. You’re aware you should be repelled but are somehow fascinated by the achievements of a self-centered prick... this truly is the film of our age.

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