Thursday, 30 June 2011

Mauled by walls! - A review of Social Network the movie

Aisoorya Vijayakumar

The lives of the young, the successful, and the aspiring, more often than not, have been chronicled in newspapers, television, and these days, social networking sites. People draw inspirations from these endowed souls and try emulating them, or at least try singing their glories. The accomplishments of these young achievers get as much prominence as their hideous and heinous acts of venom and revenge. Recall the stories of child prodigies and teenage entrepreneurs that you might have stumbled upon or come across and followed – be it stories of kids turned dazzling millionaires or simpler people who made it big by starting out on a smaller pursuit of making an extra buck.
Directed by David Fincher and written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network, based on The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, is one such tale – a tale of conflicting ambitions, seeking strength from misgivings, a tale of Facebook, the most popular social networking site of our times, a tale of betrayed trust and faltered friendship. It maps out the lives of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) – a genius kid who sets out to storm the world with his ideas on networking, Eduardo  Saverin (Andrew Garfield) – a svelte man of the world who has immense faith in his brainy friend’s mind-maps and decides to invest in his friend’s fledgling project, the Winklevoss twins(Armie Hammer) – full of righteous indignation and resentful bitterness at what to them is as an underhand blow by Zuckerberg, and Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) – of loose morals and  - yet, or therefore - self-assured. This motion picture also brings to the fore how society succumbs to sensationalism and struggles not to be left behind – the urge to “belong”that skulks within us.
There are varyingly intense debates on how accurate The Social Network is in bringing out the truth, but as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin said of the film, "[...] the movie was clearly intended to be entertainment and not a fact-based documentary.”

The storyline seems innocuous to begin with. Harvard nerd Zuckerberg’s girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) dumps him. In retaliation he resorts to a nasty blogpost on her, in the process coming up with Facemash, a rating site that lets guys compare and rate girl students across the campus. This development is so predictably lurid that it catches on like wild fire. Before they realize it, Zuckerberg and his battalion of 3 have crashed Harvard’s servers. It is a mixed bag for the hero. Though he is served a 6-month academic probation notice, he also ends up impressing the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). The latter three have been thinking about creating a Harvard-exclusive dating site called The Harvard Connection and they express their interests in using Zuckerberg’s programming expertise, in the process getting his verbal consent.
Zuckerberg meanwhile is coding The Facebook, a student-level social networking site, and gets funded by Saverin. He lets the Winklevosses and Narendra nurture hopes that the whizkid will soon start working on their site.
When Zuckerberg launches The Facebook, outrage follows, with the twins and Narendra convinced that he stole their concepts, leading to a decision to sue him together.
Zuckerberg meanwhile draws warmth from the seemingly frivolous Sean Parker, who, the movie claims, founded Napster, the music site that bombed out the record industry. Zuckerberg finds himself increasingly relating to Parker’s ideologies.
Parker’s helps Zuckerberg in many ways, from convincing him to drop the “The” from “Facebook” to fishing and hooking investors into the Facebook project.

This leads to an ugly turn of events with Saverin remaining skeptical about Parker’s character and callousness. When Zuckerberg orders him to move to Palo Alto, CA, so that he is “not left behind,” the warning so haunts him that he freezes the company accounts. Saverin labors tirelessly to pitch for advertising revenues for Facebook and to his horror learns that his shares in the company have been unfairly diluted to make room for new investors. He duly challenges Zuckerberg to a lawsuit. So, the creator of the Social Networking phenomenon goes through two lawsuits and settlements. At the end of it all,he is  left spending another evening by himself, his friend catching tool of little help in getting over his loneliness.

Characterization is a big positive for the movie.
Fincher and Sorkin seem to be masters at creating cold and ruthless characters and they are highly effective in that the characters do not try eliciting your sympathy or empathy. 
Zuckerberg is the beacon of this clammed-up clan in the movie, and his obsession and short attentive spans make us believe that he is suffering from a mild variant of Asperger’s syndrome  – he is remarkably expressive when situation demands, and disdainful and icy at other times. His razor-sharp wit and split-second decision-making are bizarrely admirable. 
Eisenberg nails the role with ease and elegance – restless eyes, appalling wardrobe, and a scathing tongue, he has played the ominous scenes so well so that you cannot help itching to smack him on the head for being such a creep. 
Saverin is perhaps the only human-side character in this disarray. Garfield, as Saverin, is endearing, with his helpless concern when he tells Facebook lawyers that Zuckerberg is usually careless about money, and needs to be looked after, and when with child-like astonishment when he tells Zuckerberg in the courtroom, “I was your only friend!” Gleamy-eyed Timberlake portrays Parker with his spontaneous humor and menacing villainy rolled into a bundle, and deserves kudos for the portrayal. The Winklevoss twins, embodied by Hammer, are surprisingly impactful. They, contrary to usual dogma that rich kids always bully nerds, consider themselves as the victims of a master manipulation by a nerdy geek. When realizing that they would find no support in Summer, the Harvard President, they show their spite very ably.
Aaron Sorkin’scriss-cross screenplay is riveting. Court-room to campus, motives to consequences, slights to anguish and distress, Sorkin covers it all. Dialogues are memorable for the most part and keep viewers engaged. Sandwiching emotions with ironies, the straight with the crooked,Fincher and Sorkin pack this gripping tale with coats of artful paradoxes which hold true in life as well. As the whole world gets smaller, brought to the monitor, as communications gets cheaper and simpler, individuals start getting rated on how others perceive them socially. How the number of friends one has on his or her list determines worth and success, how trivial gestures of acknowledgements – “liking” a picture, a wallpost, a comment – have taken up mammoth importance in the way people value relationships, the “wall, don’t call” phenomenon where age-old habits of catching up with friends have been assigned new dimensions.
As the movie ends, Zuckerberg sends his ex-girlfriend Erica a friend request on Facebook and refreshes his screen every few seconds to check for a response from her. We, like Zuckerberg, can’t help wondering if the future is as bleak to the rest of us as it is to him – lonely evenings of coffee and the computer, a million people to “like” what you say on Facebook but not a soul to listen to you.

With diagonally opposite life trajectories vis-a-vis a masters in biotechnology and a career in technical communications, Aisoorya revels in being able to put down in words all that her mind registers. Forgetful beyond redemption and a hopeless insomniac, her blog world avatar is named "the Coffee Bean," inspired from the 'The egg, the carrot, and the coffee bean" story. She scribbles down her musings in her blog. 

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