Five Thoughts on The Social Network
2. Some of my favorite scenes in the movie are the deposition scenes. Maybe my favorite performance in the film, especially if you compare what's in the script to the deftly shaded personality on the screen, is Denise Grayson's as Gretchen, the lawyer for Eduardo Saverin. She balances disdain for Mark and exasperation with his obstinacy with a kind of subliminal excitement at the challenge he poses to her sharp, canny interrogatory strategies. She furnishes shades, too, of admiration for Mark's feistiness, sympathy for but also doctor-patient detachment from Eduardo, astonishment at the stakes and details of these friends' mutual falling out, fatigue with the whole affair, and an obvious, gendered pleasure in having called Mark on the carpet for his Facemash- and Erica-related sexism. She gets even this into the performance, without the screenplay allowing her to recite any of Erica's testimony in an actual scene. Way to go, Denise Grayson, and David Selby, too, who is super as the older lawyer trying, somewhat in vain, to command Zuckerberg's attention.
3. The larger point to make here is that the depositions play a larger role in the film than a lot of reviews admit. Fredric Jameson ingeniously argued that Dog Day Afternoon, so colorfully staged as a standoff between Al Pacino's showboating bank robber and Charles Durning's frustrated local cop, is actually a shrewdly veiled platform for evoking the quietest but most trenchant figure in the movie: the faceless feds, hiding behind their reflective sunglasses, absolutely laconic in speech and movement and attitude, who barely try to "hold" the screen but most assuredly decide Sonny's fate. They represent to Jameson an era-specific image of a new form of power: no personality, neutral voice, lethal anonymity. Hugo Weaving in The Matrix, 25 years ahead of time. I see The Social Network as doing something similar. If you look past the Zuckerberg-Saverin-Parker-Winklevoss-Narendra pentagon of vivid recrimination, there's a pretty fascinating snapshot of America as a purgatory of legal arbitration that's all but decided in advance. (As even Jones's character knows, of course they're going to wind up settling.) Facebook is described endlessly in and around the movie as a "game changer" in terms of how we all relate to each other, as both a venue for expressing personality and a monolith for crushing and homogenizing personality. But look at the warring lawyers, who yield only sidelong impressions of individuality while serving functional positions within a convoluted series of highly rhetorical, probably unwinnable arguments. Despite Zadie Smith, whose essay on The Social Network I admire enormously, it's not clear to me that we weren't already "People 2.0" well before "the" Facebook ever arrived. Zuckerberg, Saverin, and their ilk in one way represent a new social creature, and in another way look very much like the logical offspring of the elders who "represent" them, in more than one sense.
4. One last comment on the depositions, this time related to the film's structure. Normally, I'd be irritated by such constant flashback/frame oscillations, especially since the depositions carry such a heavy expository burden (even if, as I hope I've made clear, I think they serve the movie in infinitely richer ways). Whenever, for instance, Milk or the more recent Howl kept hustling us back and forth to scenes of retroactive narration and context, I felt dramaturgically cheated. But something else The Social Network manages is a deeply Web-conditioned, hyperlinking structure wherein I, as a viewer, feel like I am constantly "clicking" between past and present episodes trying to get at the bottom of what, if anything, is the root of the collective web of grievances. That this is achieved without dumbly straightforward Citizen Kane homages is itself cause for celebration. Granted, I feel like The Social Network stumbles a few times in trying to trace its way backward to the first seeds of discord. Erica-as-Rosebud feels too neat. I suspect the film is airbrushing the extent of the intellectual property claim of the Winklevosses and Narendra, since I don't see how the on-screen details would yield a $65 million payday. And the details of Saverin's assassination-via-legalism get kind of rushed through, on the way to the more emotionally showy but more dramatically superficial personality standoff with Sean. That said, I like that the film seems more driven by the nervous, uncertain, acrimonious "surfing" of the conglomerated problem of Facebook than by an impulse to settle or to crystallize these disputes. Structurally, the movie feels almost the same way it would feel if you got on Google, or Wikipedia, and tried to research the legal and personal history of who wronged whom in the creation of Facebook: hundreds of page views, lots of facts, many but not all of them disputed by various parties, but no clear "answer" at the end of all that. In this way, it is very much a Zodiac companion piece, without the glory or the tedium of that film's even more dogged commitment to illustrating a hopeless, boggy, monomaniacal fact-finding mission.
5. The movie steers largely clear of moralism, though not entirely. A great badge of credit in this direction is the characterization of Erica Albright, played with terrific focus and intelligence by Rooney Mara, who wins our sympathy without begging for it, or needing to. Somehow, despite giving Erica two full scenes plus one, furious, silent, moist-eyed reaction shot to clarify just how grossly Mark has used her and how much more ethically conditioned she is than he, The Social Network is scripted, acted, shot, and edited so as to avoid a kind of easy-pickings TKO of its own main character. The dialogue, the camera placement, and the utter unflappability of Eisenberg in the opening scene make it feel like an exciting square-off, even though in every moral way, Erica trounces him in straight sets. The movie is generous enough to make the programming of Facemash, the going-live of Facebook, and the boys' first tastes of peer approval feel genuinely exciting and more or less ingenious, rather than reducing these to melodramatic, Faustian moments where Zuckerberg sells his soul. Erica strikes me as correct in everything she ever says, but her being right is not allowed to feel like the only point of The Social Network, and Mara's performance isn't infected by seeming smugly self-conscious of her character's victories. By contrast, Justin Timberlake, who gave smart, differently charismatic performances in Alpha Dog, Black Snake Moan, and Southland Tales, is the only actor in The Social Network who seems to play to the audience's impressions rather than to the core of what his character thinks and says. You can see the cocky walk and flamboyant gestures he has worked out for Sean Parker, just as you see and hear the extra arrogance he needlessly injects into his already-arrogant dialogue about lacquered pork, moving to California, billion-dollar paydays, et al. The movie joins him in ganging up on Sean Parker, who is triply embarrassed as the finale approaches: flinching from Eduardo and pathetically lying to the cops and making an absurdly paranoid phone call from a holding cell. It's not that I'm eager to see Parker recuperated, but the movie's willingness to maintain multiple points of view within a highly contested situation is one of its biggest credits. In acting and scripting, the handling of Parker falls short.
This post is already too long. Five more thoughts to follow, in due course.