Friday, January 28, 2011

Love In The Time Of Social Networking

With the Oscar nominations officially released, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of love for The Social Network. But can a film this contemporary take Best Picture?

On the surface, the story of The Social Network is one that we’re familiar with – Mark Zuckerberg founds Facebook while he’s a student at Harvard, drops out, and becomes the youngest billionaire ever. But under the direction of David Fincher (Fight Club) and with a script by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), there’s no denying the elegance with which the story is told.

In the opening sequence Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara – who is working with Fincher in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) converse in a pub, and their charged interchange sets the tone of the picture. Mark’s working at a breakneck pace, but people and relationships can’t be broken down into ones and zeroes. Fincher reportedly shot the scene 99 times, and it’s so tightly written that it compresses what could be 15 minutes into five and a half.

Sorkin’s dialogue drives the film and it’s deftly crafted. Even if the story is culled from Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires, it’s Sorkin’s intensely pithy interchanges that allow the story to flow through the characters. Really, the only disappointing part of the script to The Social Network is that it never makes a crack about (which was the butt of many jokes in the Silicon Valley circa 2005).

It would have been easy to make a very boring film about the creation of a website and the lawsuits regarding ownership that followed it, but The Social Network maximizes every tool at its disposal. It plays with ideas about status, class, and the nature of communication and friendship – underlying themes that tend to bubble up at just the right moment. It also utilizes its college setting – alternating quick cuts of computer hacking with images of sorority girls on their way to an exclusive party – making sure the viewer’s interest doesn’t wane. But is the brilliant construction enough to push The Social Network over the top?

Certainly the actors deserve a lot of credit for making this picture as compelling as it is. Eisenberg (now nominated for Best Actor) plays Mark with such focused aplomb that you might forget his precociousness in Adventureland. Mark’s best friend and right-hand man, Eduardo (British actor Andrew Garfield, who is taking over the Spider-Man franchise) may be the film’s most sympathetic character, as he finds himself alternately fighting against and defending Mark in the litigation scenes. And the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer) exude just the right amount of entitlement and privilege to make them perfect foils. While these characters are pitted against each other, the lawsuits are largely symbolic – they’re not about money as much as they are about credit, acclaim, and loyalty.

There’s been a very literal interpretation of the final sequence of the film – where Mark sits alone, endlessly refreshing the webpage where he’s just requested Erica as a friend – that suggests he’s regretting a lost love. But this gesture is more about wanting to right past wrongs. Mark’s only real love has ever been his work, and the acknowledgement that it’s solely his. The film’s final scene is not about love, it’s about maturity.

Despite the film’s contemporary contrivances, its seamless construction and ultra-tight writing could definitely help earn the Best Picture award. Of course, sometimes being contemporary in and of itself can work in a film’s favor (the navel-gazing, yet of-the-moment Crash springs to mind). The Social Network is a decidedly modern film, but its themes – class, status, distinction – are far-reaching. Though, with all that being said, it’s hard not to secretly want Toy Story 3 to pull out the big win.

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