Film Review – The Social Network (spoilers)

Weaving through the center of the plot are legal depositions for lawsuits from both his best friend, Eduardo and the group of the Winklevoss’ and Narendra. While this is used as a convention to forward the plot, it also serves to accentuate the underlying problem with the movie. These people are assholes, and all these flashbacks and forwards do is to show us how they’re assholes to each other. The film almost comes off self aware in this instance and does two things in an attempt to compensate, the first is by filling the moments between the character’s perfidious actions with, as described above, superbly crafted scenes, some of which are of humorously devious behavior. Such as a moment early in Mark and Eduardo’s rise to power when at a club, two girls take both men into stalls side by side in the men’s restroom and proceed to pleasure them. The camera cuts to a shot outside the stall doors, as the music from the club pulsates, so do the doors, making the moment feel more in place in a National Lampoon film than one attempting to take its self and its message so seriously.

Over and over again the film continuously feels like it is going to great visually performed lengths in order keep the audience interested in more than just what kind of people are we watching. Most amazingly of all the movie’s technical qualities is a trick that is provided with the Winklevoss twins. Digital manipulation was used to take two actors, Armie Hammer and Josh Pence and turn Pence’s face into Armie’s. The result of the effect is seamless, I sincerely had no idea what I was witnessing was a manipulation. Then again later in the film, the twins, who are rowing athletes are competing in crew at the 2008 Olympics, the HD digital photography in this sequence is so crisp and precise that the image looks three dimensional without the use of glasses.

As the depositions proceed and we are given the points of views of all the parties involved, in an attempt to create a non-biased portrait of the people in a situation, and not necessarily the situation itself, we are slowly introduced to a sideline character, one of the lawyers on Mark’s team, Marilyn, played by Rashida Jones. The depositions begin to reveal more of the characters and their behavior towards each other. Given the nature of the situation everyone is against Mark. He’s alienated everyone around him due to his actions, so the shots that intermittently cut to Marilyn indicate, she’s starting to feel some sort of empathy for Mark. Her character is there to provide a connection for the audience to hopefully do the same. Unfortunately for me she was simply not enough. Beyond the inspiring craftsmanship, I found myself never connecting to any of the characters, never caring about what they did to each other, no matter how heinous or otherwise. I then think to what Fincher said in an interview at the New York Film Festival, that the reason he was attracted to this project was, he found himself empathetic with all the characters involved. This left me with that nagging question, “why?” Why did all these talented people put so much work and effort into a story about assholes being assholes to each other? Why did the filmmakers find empathy where I did not?

I think the answer, at least to the first question, I hope, comes in the film’s final moments, at the end of a deposition, Mark sits alone in the room at the law firm, providing the perfect mise en scene for his character, alienated by his actions in a place where balance is supposed to help be restored. Marilyn enters the room and they have a conversation over the possible outcomes of the suits against him. As she goes to leave the room she decides to break etiquette and talk to Mark straight about his personality.
“You’re not an asshole, Mark. You just want to be.”

This remark bookends the beginning of the movie and his ex-girlfriend’s dooming accusation. This, to me, partially changed my view of what I had seen previously in the film and brought to light a summary of those events. The movie is the story of a young person’s rise to being the youngest billionaire in the world. It’s not about what he created or his relation to it per say. To me the film ultimately asks the question, “what is an asshole, and are you one for doing what it takes to reach the top?” Which, in a Capitalist economic system is the prevailing question of our current times, especially in light of comments made recently in which the rich feel vilified and people who make $250,000 don’t feel as rich as people who make a million. I immediately recall a line by the character Sean Parker, the inventor of Napster who goes on to be a partner at Facebook, played by Justin Timberlake. As he sits in a club across from Mark and Eduardo, he’s trying to sell them on his plan for their being in business together, and says to them,

“A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”

If this is the case and the film is a character study as a zeitgeist for our times, then the ending of the film serves to offer the aspect that, even people who are cutthroat to exist at the top, are human too. For is that not the mandate of a Capitalist system? After Marilyn leaves Mark sits at his laptop, open to Facebook, he pulls up Erica’s page and sends her a friend request, he then waits, refreshing the page every second, hoping that maybe she’ll accept his friend request, thus signifying some forgiveness, and that what Marilyn said was correct and not Erica. In summary all these aspects and revelations then leaving me asking, do we need a film so the middle and lower classes can then see how the upper class has it rough? Or did I just take away from the film an unintended message and I need to see Wall Street – Money Never Sleeps to gain the appropriate perspective?

Final Grade: B

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Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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