Film fails to find its relevance in zeitgeist

Both audiences and critics alike are in love with The Social Network, as evidenced by the film’s $22.4 million box office revenue (so far), and it’s 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (again, so far). Critics are raving about how it’s this generation’s Citizen Kane — a sweeping epic of greed and betrayal. My friends are giving extended soliloquies about the film’s brilliance as well. Note to all of you, lest there be any confusion:

I don’t get it.

No, I most certainly do not. I went to see The Social Network last weekend and left the theater decidedly unimpressed and underwhelmed, not that I was burdened by overlarge expectations. I expected a solid piece of filmmaking, and I got a solid piece of filmmaking, nothing more — certainly not a cinematic masterpiece.

Let’s start with director David Fincher, whom I unabashedly love (except for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — I loathe that film). After such successes as Fight Club, Se7en and Zodiac, I’ll go see anything he makes.

One of the things that makes Fincher, well, Fincher is the fact that he has this very unique and distinctive style. His films are intentionally ugly, filled with elongated shadows, sickening greens and various malevolent textures. It is a style the evokes sickness, insanity and death. He lives in the underbelly of society. It’s not the most romantic style, to be sure, but it is unique, and I respect that.

The Social Network possesses none of his usual style. It’s clean. It’s sterile. Cinematically, it’s uncharacteristically dull, and it feels like it could have been made by any Hollywood director. Indeed, the only scenes that feel Fincher-esque are the first scene between Mark Zuckerberg and his girlfriend Erica and the overly stylized rowing sequence.

In between, Fincher’s direction merely seems to provide a capable platform for which to display Aaron Sorkin’s glib dialogue. Otherwise, the film is as cold and competent as its lead. I have heard it postulated that this is intentional, that the filmmaking style is supposed to follow Zuckerberg’s lead, but I disagree. Even if that is true, why? What’s the point then? Why hire anyone to direct, much less Fincher? Maybe it’s going over my head, but I just don’t see it.

What I also don’t see is how anyone can relate to these characters. I understand why Zuckerberg is so flat (Jesse Eisenberg does a good job at portraying Zuckerberg’s monotone presence). No one can claim to understand that loon. But the other players?

Eduardo Saverin is portrayed as a whiny little brat who’s too stupid to read a contract. If I were him, I’d be embarrassed at my onscreen persona. The litigious triumvirate formed by the Winklevoss twins and their business partner is simply an Ivy League cutout. And, perhaps most unforgivably, Erica is — who?

I’m sorry, but by the end of the film, these people still don’t mean anything to me. At the end, when Zuckerberg is cold and alone, pining for his ex-girlfriend, all I can wonder is: Why? What is so special about her — beside the fact she seems to be cute and smart-mouthed? She had two scenes. I know nothing of their relationship.

I’m not rooting for them to get together, and I’m also not rooting for them to stay apart. The final sequence is only moving in an abstract way. In reality, I don’t care which way it goes. If you’re going to insert a fictional love interest in order to round out a character (only the most cliché move in the book) at least make it unique, identifiable or special. Make them real. Make me care.

My biggest quibble with the film lies with its portrayal of Zuckerberg. Make note, I’m not criticizing the performance here, I’m talking about the film’s attitude. Zuckerberg, as critics have noted, is portrayed as a Charles Foster Kane-esque character, a talented entrepreneur ultimately undone by his selfishness and greed.

But here is the big difference: Zuckerberg is 25 years old. Here is a guy who is talented and ambitious enough to become the world’s youngest billionaire, yet he’s a cautionary tale. Really? Am I getting this right? You see, Kane died cold and alone after a lifetime of greed. Zuckerberg is a young man who stepped on a few people on his way to the top.

Such is life, my friends. I wouldn’t have such a problem with this if the entire relationship angle weren’t entirely fictional. Sorkin and Fincher were presented with this story about the creation of this entirely unique and influential website, something only a genius could create, and they decide to revile him?

I’m not saying that Zuckerberg should be praised. In interviews, he comes off as a pretty weird, twisted dude. But should his genius be praised? Of course. And who are we to speculate about his life? Who are we to say that it’s cold and empty, that in the end he is unhappy?

I can’t help but think that we are trying to fit him into a little box so that we can understand him while he defiantly dances outside. The biggest problem with this film is that it was made three decades too soon.

Zuckerberg might just be the Kane of our generation, but until the snow globe rolls down the steps of Xanadu, we shall never know.

Sam Colen is a junior majoring in economics/mathematics. His column, “O’ Lucky Critic,” runs Fridays.

1 reply
  1. young alum
    young alum says:

    I don’t want to be rude, but this review is really amateur, and the adjectival use is a bit too “try-hard” and comes off as unnecessary in an article such as this. Let’s start off with factual errors:

    As of when this article was posted, the film had made about $31M at the box office, not $22M, which was simply its opening weekend total, and honestly, offers no evidence of success given that it’s current total is pretty lukewarm, despite the glowing reviews.

    As much as I love Zodiac, it wasn’t a big box office success. Maybe you mean a success in film-making achievement, in which case I would agree.

    His style “evokes sickness, insanity, and death”. Please tell me how a style can “evoke death”. And honestly, given your word choice, the only Fincher film which subscribes to that is “SE7EN”

    In terms of your review, I think you really missed the purpose of the film and the characters themselves. Not once did I see the Eduardo Saverin character as whiny–he only raised legitimate concerns given the financial obligations he had. He seemed like a pretty good friend the entire time, and given that he was the moral compass of the film, he was the most likable person on-screen.

    Erica, while only in two scenes, is extremely important as she is presented as the catalyst for the whole chain of events. Without her, Mark may have never had his epiphany about college, and life, fundamentally being about “exclusivity” and “sex”. And later, when he sees her again, or consistently refreshes the page after he has sent her a friend request, it reestablishes the idea that there is no value in a social network, real value comes from the personal RELATIONSHIPS one has with other people, face to face, in real life. The only way life has any meaning is if the good and the bad are all experienced and appreciated, something you cannot possibly get in an online social world that you create to be the ideal version of you.

    Finally, Fincher explained that the reason the film was made now (as opposed to 20 years from now as you suggested) is because the themes are universal but the framework in which it is presented is current, and since there is no way of knowing how social networking is to evolve in the future, the message must be delivered now or eventually lose its meaning. It’s like watching movies about young soldiers being enlisted in the draft–you might emotionally connect, but you cannot relate to something that has no basis in your current time.

    Am I saying the film was absolutely perfect? No, but I think it is an important story that hopefully people our age will learn from GIVEN the fact that the subject matter is so immediate. There were films made about World War II and Vietnam while they were going on, so why not this? Why not now?

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