Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Social Network: A Few Thoughts about the Movie

I've been meaning to post a few thoughts about The Social Network - an excellent movie that deserves all the praise and award nominations it's been receiving.

First, I think it's important to assess the movie as not a literal documentary, but rather the fictionalized account - in terms of conversations, etc - that it is, and in fact indicates in the closing credits.  Indeed, since the actual micro details regarding the birth and early growth of Facebook are not generally known, there is no way the average viewer can even judge the authenticity of given fine points in the movie.   As I indicated in my 2009 book New New Media, I've been on Facebook since 2004 - my son was a student at Harvard then (in the same year as Mark Zuckerberg), and he let me know that my faculty account at Fordham university (a .edu account) would be enough to get me on Facebook.   But that gives me no more knowledge than anyone else about the early days of Facebook.

To the movie then ... its best parts were actually the details and the conversations, ranging from the way Sean Parker first came upon The Facebook (as it was then named - it was Parker, the creator of the original Napster, who suggested losing the "The") to Zuckerberg's zestful contempt for all levels of authority, especially his opponents' lawyers, which I found very appealing.   The truth is I didn't find the Zuckerberg in this movie to be much of an asshole at all, but rather a genius who doesn't suffer gladly the fools that beset him.

The one weakness of the movie, I thought, was the ham-handed romantic angle which was presented as the underlying motivation of Zuckerberg's Facebook endeavors.  Girl breaks up with him.  This sets Zuckerberg to create Facemash, the predecessor to Facebook.   Zuckerberg tries to speak to her a few months later, when Facebook is starting to take off.  She rebuffs him.  And the movie ends with Zuckberg trying to Friend her on Facebook, now a huge success.   More important than this not being factually accurate - Zuckerberg had a girlfriend all along (but as I indicated above, the movie is better evaluated not as to its truthfulness as a documentary) - but more important than that, the storyline of a genius moved by a hurt heart is trite, simplistic, and distracting from the more complex factors that motivate genius.

Still, the acting was superb - especially Justin Timberlake's spot-on performance as Sean Parker (Timberlake was reminiscent in this role of a young Sean Penn) - and the movie provides a satisfying snapshot of a painting still not dry, indeed, still being painted, which in itself is a rare and awesome accomplishment in movie-making where such subjects are usually decades or further in the past.

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The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book
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