"I just think it's a shame that, having composed something that's so readable and well-considered, you have to end by giving people something negative to focus on." —Claire Kenny, this morning.
You're going to be reading/hearing a lot of things about this picture; hell, you've most likely already read and heard a lot of things about this picture; I'm actually going to be writing about it at some length for an online venue to be introduced/discussed here at a slightly later date; and you can imagine my existential agonies as I try to conceive some sort of vaguely new "angle" from which I may examine it that will actually pertinent and maybe even interesting when the time, which is short, comes. In the meanwhile, it seems perhaps unfair to this blog and its readers that I should let my first viewing of the film go unnoted here. So, a couple of things.
First off, it really is a fantastically entertaining film that places a good deal of trust in its audience and then pays it off in enjoyment. It is not, of course, difficult in the way that other New York Film Festival pictures I've discussed here, such as Certified Copy and Film Socialisme, are difficult. But it does throw you into the insular but seminal Ivy League world of its characters pretty much head-first and then zooms along, and if you don't get into the swim of it right away, you may get lost. I went to a state school in Passaic County in the late '70s/early '80s. I didn't know what a "final club" was then and I really don't much know now. You may think that the film is asking you to know what a "final club" is. It isn't. It's just asking you on for the ride. Once you're in and you stop worrying, it doesn't matter. And then, once you understand what screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher are doing with the structure—it's not as straightforward as it initially seems, chronology-wise—you're ready for it, and it's a pleasure to get it. And to switch metaphors, and worse yet, to resort to a really hoary one, it's like being in a supercharged Lamborghini on a clear road with an expert driver who just opens the thing up, and the shift to the high gear is the smoothest rush ever. Nice.
I said it on Twitter and I'll say it here: proclaiming "I'm not interested in this movie because I couldn't care less about Facebook" is like announcing "I'm not interested in All About Eve because self-absorbed theater people really turn me off." I mean, we're all grown-ups here, we've been around, we've seen a bunch of films, we all kind of know...what I'm trying to say here is, isn't it pretty elemental...that a film isn't really necessarily "about" what it's about; no? This being the sort of observation that allows the very gifted Mr. Sorkin to invoke Aeschylus at press conferences, because of the whole grand-human-themes bit. It may be pompous on his part, but it's not entirely wrong. (For all that, there are some who believe that the film's themes aren't Sufficiently Something to make it a Really Significant something; see, David Poland's rather, by my lights, silly "Doesn't say Big Theme to me" review.) Anyway, you might be wondering what my larger point is, e.g., do I actually think this film is as good asAll About Eve, and, yeah, I do, maybe. Most likely, even. And it's got snazzier visuals that are going to wear better than 95% of the other Snazzy Visuals of Our Time, too. (Godard, writing on Joseph Mankiewicz in 1958, provides a presage of why a Sorkin/Fincher teamup is close to ideal, and why Sorkin is probably smart not to try his hand at directing: "[T]he complaint one might make about Mankiewicz: [...] he is too perfect a writer to be a perfect director as well. Basically, what is missing from The Quiet American is cinema. It has everything—brilliant actors, sparkling dialogue—but no cinema." Fincher brings cinema to The Social Network in a way that Rob Reiner absolutely could not for A Few Good Men.)
Let me move the bar on this question, just for the hell of it: why wouldn't you be interested in Facebook, anyway, except for the opportunity to place yourself above it. There's a commenter over at Wells' place who's yammering on about how Social Network is about "an essentially trivial social phenomenon," and in order for it to be really important is should really be about "about Britain's war for survival" (everybody genuflect!) or something else that's really elevating. Not only is this bleat classic dumb faux-middlebrow breast-beating, it could also be wrong. Yes, Facebook is a "social phenomenon," but we don't know that it's necessarily trivial. The internet has, in its various permutations, been redefining the concept of privacy, which concept I suspect—I'm not entirely sure, mind you, I only suspect—is a central one in certain corners of Western culture. That, in itself, is potentially a very big deal for Civilization Itself, and Facebook is an interesting and apt cynosure from/at which to consider this cultural shift, I think."And now I’m going to tell you about a scorpion. This scorpion wanted to cross the river, so he asked a frog to carry him. 'No,' said the frog, 'no thank you. If I let you on my back you may sting me, and the sting of a scorpion is death.' 'Now where,' asked the scorpion, 'is the logic of that...? If I sting you, you will die and I will drown.' So the frog was convinced and allowed the scorpion on his back. But just in the middle of the river he felt a terrible pain and realized that after all the scorpion had stung him. 'Logic,' cried the dying frog as he started under, bearing the scorpion down with him, 'there is no logic in this!' 'I know,' said the scorpion, 'but I can’t help it. It’s my character.' Let’s drink to character!" —Orson Welles as Gregory Arkadin in Mr. Arkadin a.k.a. Confidential Report, 1957