Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Myths about "The Social Network"

Reading this rant, worth its weight in turds, and some other more distinguished, but still mistaken, reviews, let me dispel some myths riding on the steeds of fad-ridden hysteria, which we have seen earlier in the avatars of Dark Knight, Inception and, to some extent, Avatar itself.
Myths 1 & 2 are presented straight from the ill-informed and half-thought article in hyperlink; the others from what I have heard ad nauseum almost from all quarters.

Myth #1: The Social Network is about “how social networking has changed our lives”

Nope. It is about the lives of people behind the scenes of social networking. The growth of the phenomenon is a score mentioned then and there; a tempo, ticking and building in the background, raising the stakes and the pitch of the ambition and ruthlessness of the actors, with each college conquered. The only instance an immediate social need is being shown translated into a feature is the “relationship status” feature.
If anything, the movie is about one guy behind the phenomenon, an asperger-ridden genius pitted against the glib and privileged lot (rich beautiful Harvard grads whose lives and ambitions can hardly be mistaken as a dipstick for the average “us”) whom he sees as incarnates of the all-pervading mediocrity that denies him his dues. More on this next.

Myth #2: Zuckerberg is the villain

To quote: “Eisenberg's character is also a conscienceless manipulator who is seduced by power and screws his friends in almost every way imaginable. He's not exactly touchy-feely.” 
Au contraire, asshole. Eisenberg's character (let’s agree to call him Zucker, sucker) is a very sensitive guy (that means touchy-feely). His pure genius, ruthless and impatient, is denied the credit due to it by the suave vocabulary of snobbery he does not possess –social gestures, stereotypes and pretentious rituals. Rejection stings hardest when the fraternity he was waiting an invitation from  goes for safer stereotypes of harmless well-meaning and half-talented blokes like his room-mate. It is a privilege flaunted to him by two other chappies, the “row crew” twin who come to recruit him and who, he knows, together equal half his IQ and a tenth of his vision.

Zucker is not seduced by power, but the need to make a statement (I'm CEO, bitch!), especially given that he cannot express his anger any other way. A statement of a scale he knows only he can imagine. This suppressed need is brilliantly seen in that super-duper scene when Zucker first meets Parker, and realizes that for the first time he is talking to someone who is thinking at the same  wavelength as him, throwing-up-his-hands relief as Parker glibly rolls his tongue around the thoughts, the grand vision, he had never been able to wrap his own inarticulate one around. The scene sizzles with the chemistry of two genius minds acknowledging each other across the table while the third (if you forget the mall), the CFO, remains blissfully unaware in his ignorance of the scale of what is being thought – is my favourite.
If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you'd have invented Facebook."

This is the answer the artless genius gives to his detractors. It is a statement of genius consummated, the sum of the protagonist’s life; it is the statement of the movie.

Zuckerberg is the hero, very much so, and deserves all the sympathy and admiration from us, but it takes a subtle mind to read the simmering anger and hurt beneath that brittle indifference.

Myth #3: The subject was “unfilmable”

I am hearing this a lot. Really. Granted it’s a tough subject, but can it get any tougher where the protagonist in a first-person narrative has a hand trapped in a boulder through the movie?

Myth #4: Nothing like this has been done before

Uh-huh. Put Van Gogh from “Lust for Life” instead of Gordon Grecko and you’ll realize a zeitgeist-ic context for genius and the price of its pursuit is a subject that has had few takers, yes, but not entirely untouched.

Myth #5:  The movie is purr-fect

There is no denying the fact that the movie is fantastic. Its dialogues come as close to perfect as anything can. Why I would still take one golden star from it is the fact that for a movie that deals with the working of a complex socially-gauche genius, it explanations of the motivations are too facile. Everything – everything – starts with the break-up at the very start. 
Zucker tries to vainly sell himself to his girlfriend as a passport to a fraternity she would otherwise never get to mingle in, cocksure of his own admission in it, and, when later passed by the fraternity, he turns on the half-wit happy-go-lucky “only friend” just because the guy he deemed his intellectual inferior made it through. Erica, the girlfriend, mentions “row crew” and his grouse against the twins is that they are just that. These underpinnings are reinforced in scenes when Zucker ends a funding pitch to the friend for his grand plans with a Freudian aside underscoring his envy; and the pause and the deliberate repetition of “row crew” when the twins introduce themselves.
The naive interpretation forces the only slackness in the tight-like-a-man's-anus script and dialogues in the end, when the lawyer-girl tells Zucker before departing that he’s not an asshole, it’s just that he tries so hard to be (Erica's departing taunt, you see.) 
That five-minutes exchange is the sum of everything Zucker goes on to do - the big-bang to the demons within him.The dialogues from the very first scene come thick, fast and relentless, a machine-gun salvo making no allowance for average intelligence – if only the director had done the same with the subconscious impellents of the protagonist. Our motivations and fears are too complexed, too deep rooted in our infancy (as opposed to a date), to be explained so glibly. If only the movie had chosen not to explain everything, only suggested - and a little beyond a date - this movie would have been perfect.

To repeat, this is  a very, very good movie but let’s not get overboard like we did when The Dark Knight came. Far better movies have been made. Cleverness and slickness can only be vehicles for an essence. The movie, in my opinion, takes on a very tough and complicated subject but falls just a little short in doing it full justice.


Pankaj said...

I don't see Facebook's success as the workings of genius. It was a fluke of the internet. Something clicked, and it caught on.

Bland Spice said...

Hey Pankaj, long time.

I agree. The movie would have us believe that it was and I have just taken that at face value. However, the fact of how he was single-handedly building the site so fast does suggest a genius at work.