David Fincher: The Social Network (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
20Jan/120

David Fincher: The Social Network (2010)

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Am I on again? Good.

Thank you Amanda for taking the reigns on Benjamin Button, a film I keep forgetting I’ve seen until I’m forced to remember the part where Benjamin’s lover is towel bathing him. I’m just glad we were spared the scene of her breast feeding the now-young Benjamin.

But let’s move on to a film that we have covered very thoroughly in this pod cast and touched on briefly by myself in this review blurb. The Social Network may not be the best film in David Fincher’s canon, but it’s a strong second-place contender. I’ll maintain that Zodiac is Fincher at his finest but TSN is streamlined to the core, moving at the kind of brisk pace that he would put to good effect in his remake of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

I’m most interested in, socially, what this movie is accomplishing. The more I think about the subtext of Fight Club the more it seems to be responding to the rising wave of spindly, less testosterone-driven action heroes which started to litter the landscape (a trend I, as well as others, blame Nicolas Cage for starting).  TSN is, itself, a similar response to the way technology has allowed the fringe outsiders to change an entire social structure with the brush of a few keystrokes.

Now, I’m simplifying a bit, because one thing TSN does very well is show how complicated it really is to own and maintain any kind of website that requires programming skills. That’s part of what makes the opening moments so fascinating as we see someone who is quickly dumped from his level of the social sphere (in those amazing five minutes with Rooney Mara) and then immediately goes home to restructure the way people connect and look at each other. In a way it’s playing off of the issues I’ve had with women in Fincher films of the past, they may be an enigma here but that fits because of how the main characters look at women and the way they were actually present in the lives of these people.

The traditional “manly” types are completely subverted by the gawky outsider. What I like is how, in this case, no one even makes the attempt to show how the gawky outsider is weak at all. Mark Zuckerberg is a polarizing personality, brilliantly distilled to a quick data-connecting socially intense genius by Jesse Eisenberg, but he’s not one to back down from any situation. The way tradition and honor shifts in the parallel story of the Winklevoss twins is amazing. Their old world of strength and honor through your word is changed completely by Zuckerberg, who completely underestimate their “nerdy” competition because, while they don’t lack intelligence, they definitely think that their traditional male strength is what gives them an advantage (note how they just want to abandon their plans and kick Zuckerberg’s ass more than a few times in the film).

Before I rant on about some of the technical aspects and a great double feature to pair TSN with, what would you like to throw in Ryan?

I see the film in mainly the same ways you do. I love how women are seen as something much harder to crack than writing code and how most of the women in the film are on the fringes and are never a big part of the narrative drive. Much more than Fight Club, TSN is a boys show. Something I would go further with is the labels we usually put on characters in films. The "hero" of the film is an asshole through and through and never really has that aha moment that changes his tune. By the end, he is still clueless about why many people hate him or at the very least, he doesn't give a shit. There would be no buying of a holiday turkey like A Christmas Carol for this story.

In the end Zuckerberg is who he is going to be, like him or loathe him and I think it is very ironic that the biggest contributor to the socialization of the internet has not a social bone in his body.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the "villains" of the piece who are really screwed over in the film constantly. I feel bad for them because they deserved a bit more of the credit than they got. Yes, at one point they do feel like beating him up, but that is after all of their other tactics had failed and they were feeling helpless (that theme shows up once again in a Fincher film). If this movie was made in the 80's, the twins would have been played by James Spader and they would have been nothing more than rich, good looking assholes. Thankfully TSN does not paint them in such broad strokes and the viewer does have a bit of empathy for them.

I still think the true hero of the film (and the one actor who was the most over-looked) was Eduardo, played by Andrew Garfield. Eduardo was not going in with an ego and was not really looking to get rich but doing it for a friend. While Eduardo did not have the drive or the idea, he was a main contributor to the creation of the site and the ways he was screwed were brutal and heartless.

So here we have a "hero" who is a actually a remorseless bastard, villains who try to do the honorable only to have all doors slammed in their face and a secondary character who becomes the focal point of the audiences sympathy and interest by the end of the film. I love the film for many reasons, but the way it subverted the stereotypes of its main characters has to be near the top.

As much as I’ve grown to enjoy Andrew Garfield, especially in Red Riding: 1974 and Never Let Me Go, I don’t think his performance was really overlooked. If anything, he has the least to do out of all of the main performers. His sensitivity is nice and gives the movie some heart, but I think TSN really didn’t need much more heart. While still a great movie, his role is about as useful as Rooney Mara’s is. She anchors the film by, again, giving it more heart but is mostly a non-started and is around just so Eisenberg has someone to project some humanity onto. Both impressive, but both just kind of something to hang your heart onto.

The real unsung performance - and technical fact of the movie which makes me wonder why people don’t just freak out when they think of the complications – belongs to Armie Hammer. Every time I watch the movie I’m further staggered that technological advancements have made it possible for the same living, breathing human being to encompass two entirely separate characters in the same film. This isn’t done at the level of the direct-to-TV sequels to The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, these are entirely different people in motion and interacting with a non-static and involved camera.

Technology aside, Hammer makes the Winklevoss twins entirely separate people, one bound a bit more by honor and tradition, while the other likes blunt force to get what he wants. Their dynamic nicely mirrors the social transitions I mentioned at the beginning. I especially like how the transition of the physically ignoble course of action (hurting Zuckerberg) is completely useless next to the new way to trash someone by trolling them online. Zuckerberg, completely conscious of whether he’s doing this or not, exaggerates details about both Eduardo and the Winklevoss twins, almost singlehandedly inventing the notion of online trolling.

Yes, I’m exaggerating, as internet message boards have been around before Zuckerberg was even alive (albeit in a much different form) but I like the way the movie presents that as one of his driving personality points. Yet despite his trollish, socially off-putting, terribly egotistical nature he still becomes empathetic. The rougher aspects of his personality are explained away a bit by (Justin Timberlake) and he’s left alone and longing for a connection. He’s like a techie Hannibal Lecter, unable to really control what he does to people because of being unaware socially instead of being a serial killing cannibal.

I love how TSN chronicles the internet and Facebook changes social dynamics and manages to be incredibly entertaining in the process. Before I let you sign off, I just want to say that after watching TSN the first thing I did when I got home was load We Live In Public. It’s a great documentary about how early technological experiments disguised as art projects were eerily prescient about how companies gather information on you today. Combined they make for a fascinating double-feature about how brilliant and flawed people shaped the internet as we know it today. I just love that we were able to wring such great movies about them in the process.

It is funny because Fincher is never seen as a big effects director but he is a great director to use effects to enhance his movies and not to become the movie. The Winklevoss effects were awesome but was never that big of a story in the press because it gels into the film that it becomes a fabric of the film. I agree that Armie Hammer was great in the film and I bet he will become a big star in the next few years but I still think Garfield was the bigger aspect of the movie because if it wasn’t for the heart of Eduardo and Zuckerberg’s treatment of him, Zuckerberg would not have looked nearly as bad since the only people he trampled on his way to the top were kind of assholes.

I think we both agree that it is amusing that a man who does not know how to be social (I like your techie Hannibal Lecter description) became king of the social networks. It does not take muscles or even any kind of bravery to be a bully in tech society and this movie shows that very well. All you need to be a “troll” is an internet connection and a witty screen name to hide behind and this new form of bully is portrayed well by both Eisenberg and Timberlake.

The last thing I want to mention with this film is the fact that the movie should not have worked. When I heard they were making a movie about Facebook, I admit I rolled my eyes and automatically dismissed it. After I heard Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night, American President) was writing it, I became a bit interested and when Fincher came on board it became a must see for me. Yet, if you look at all the pieces of the movie: a visual director, a dialogue heavy screenwriter, a score written by an industrial music rock star like Trent Reznor and based on a book whose reporting was suspect; the movie should have been a train wreck.

Thankfully, we got the rare occasion on which all this wildly different parts were put together to make a wildly interesting and entertaining film. I would never of guessed that Sorkin and Fincher would have worked together so well but the way it was shot and edited made the dialogue crackle and pop even more than usually did in one of his screenplays. The truth of the matter is Fincher made many scenes of people standing around talking about programming and lawsuits exhilarating. TSN is a great movie to watch beside your pick of We Live In Public but it goes well with a movie like Catfish also, which again shows you the darker aspects of a society moving towards more web based than not.

Finally I want to bitch a moment and since this is our site I am stepping on my soapbox. When people look back at the year of 2010 in films 5-10 years later, I believe the movie that will still be remembered vividly is The Social Network. It captured where society was perfectly and was a great movie on top of that. Everything works in the film from the directing to the acting, the score to the editing and all in-between. The fact that The King's Speech won the Oscar for Best Picture was asinine alone but Fincher losing the Best Director to Tom Hooper was incomprehensible.

The only person that I could see Fincher losing to was the director of the other tour de force movie of the year, Inception and Christopher Nolan. Nolan was not even nominated (a rant for another day) so Fincher should have had the award in the bag. Tons of people could have made The King’s Speech but no one else could have made The Social Network.

For now, we must close this chapter of director appreciation as there are no other feature-length Fincher films to analyze.  But fear not!  Andrew and Ryan will return when Fincher does.

In the meantime stay tuned next week for the announcement of our next step on the journey of directorial analysis.  See you then!

Posted by Andrew

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