Addicted to novelty since 2001

The Social Network and a Soulless Schizoid

I finally got around to seeing The Social Network, a film enjoying rather inflated reviews (a 95 on Metacritic puts it among the top 40 movies of all time) and box office success this month.

There’s a lot to like about the movie. Aaron Sorkin is a delightfully gifted writer, and he does an extraordinary job of turning a business story into gripping drama. The film opens with this deceptively-simple scene–director David Fincher frames it very formally–in which Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) gets dumped by his girlfriend (Rooney Mara, next year’s Lisbeth Salander). On another level, it’s a scene about talking, and a scene about words. Zuckerberg and Rooney constantly prod (or poke, even?) at each other by talking about how the other person talks, and the words they choose. It’s as if Sorkin is saying “this is going to be a talky film, so get settled in”. The scene apparently required 99 takes to shoot.

Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as a kind of soulless schizoid , and he’s exceptional. He does understated work. So he’ll probably get overlooked for an Oscar, but he deserves consideration. It’s always harder, I think, to do less on-screen. This is why Meryl Streep, Claire Danes and Clint Eastwood are such fine actors, and why Gwyneth Paltrow is not. Eisenberg has been great in everything I’ve ever seen him in, and now should be able to write his own ticket in terms of his choice of roles.

Conversely, I didn’t much care for Andrew Garfield’s performance as Eduardo Saverin, the moral centre of the movie. Perhaps he was overshadowed by Eisenberg’s performance, but he felt miscast.

I’m a fan of David Fincher’s movies, and he did deft work in managing The Social Network’s fractured time line and multiple lawsuits. The movie did feel over-directed in places–there’s a tilt-shifted rowing sequence which feels dreadfully out of place–as if Fincher was concerned that the talky scenes couldn’t stand on their own.

Ultimately, The Social Network was an exceptional piece of movie craftsmanship, but I’m not quite sure why it’s getting such accolades. It isn’t, as some reviews suggest, the Citizen Kane for our time. In fact, a bit like Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg, it’s a bit hollow at its core. Fincher and Sorkin are brainy artists, and while The Social Network is incredibly smart, it felt a little cold, calculated and disaffected.

What did you think?

6 Responses to “The Social Network and a Soulless Schizoid”

  1. Derek K. Miller

    I haven’t seen it yet, but I get sense that it’s a movie like Apollo 13: it tells an interesting and engaging story that a lot of people have a connection to. But it is well crafted rather than a work of genius.

    Still, given how well (if not realistically) Sorkin writes movie and TV dialogue, I plan on seeing it for the entertainment value. Is it all as dark and brown as the trailers make it out? Will Fincher ever make a well-lit, vibrant film?

    darren Reply:

    Indeed, your comparison to Apollo 13 is very apt.

    As for Fincher…nope, all dark and slick with moisture.

    Derek K. Miller Reply:

    Let’s just hope he never re-makes The Wizard of Oz.

  2. Darren Negraeff

    Spot on. I really enjoyed the movie, but even as I was watching it, I knew I would never watch it again. As you say, it was hollow at its core. It’s a story for this generation, and in some ways, it may again be extremely interesting to watch from a historical point of view in as few as 20 years. But beyond the writing and a few fantastic performances (I would include Timberlake in there), there was no great insight to be had.

  3. Elaan

    Really enjoyed the movie. Not sure that I will watch it again, but it was quite fascinating overall.

    I wasn’t a fan of Timberlake really. I really liked Eisenberg though. His Zuckerberg reminds me of autistic kids who sometimes have poor social skills and interact with people in a very abrasive way. Not quite that extreme, but… almost.

    I liked how they brought it all back to the girl (Rooney) at the end – it made him seem human. It gave us a reason to forgive him (not that I did), without straying from the black-and-whiteness of his behaviour. Without that it would have seemed a heckuva lot more hollow & cold.

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