As I’ve mentioned recently, movie theaters in 2010 haven’t been very hospitable to nerds, as one film after another built around premises and/or characters of the geek persuasion have gone down to middling box office or outright collapse – in most cases, despite huge marketing campaigns and largely positive reviews. All of which doesn’t bode well for the financial prospects of David Fincher’s The Social Network, the story of a coterie of collegiate computer coders who became baby-faced billionaires by inventing Facebook.
The Social Network, reviewed in this week’s Escape to The Movies, is an electrifying drama; probably the most exciting, funny and even moving film you’ll ever see about the building of a website – and I don’t mean that ironically. It’s a killer flick, one of the year’s best and a surefire Oscar nominee, but let’s face it: Audiences didn’t turn out to watch a socially-awkward uber-geek engage in super-powered martial arts duels over a girl, so who’ll be surprised if and when they also don’t turn out to watch one write code, get rich and get sued?
Well, I’ve got a list of very good reasons why you shouldn’t skip The Social Network, and – courtesy of a roundtable interview conducted on September 22nd – so do the film’s writer Aaron Sorkin and stars Jesse Eisenberg and Armie Hammer. And without further flowery introduction, here they are:
“He demands a lot of his actors, but I demand a lot of myself.” – Jesse Eisenberg, actor
“I trust David so much, I’d let him perform open-heart surgery on me.” – Armie Hammer, actor
“Intuitively, it’s not a logical marriage of writer and director. David is known as a peerless visual director I write people talking in rooms. But it turned out to be a perfect marriage.” – Aaron Sorkin, writer
Director David Fincher has made a bunch of movies, and chances are you’ve seen a few and loved at least one or two. Fight Club, Se7en, Panic Room, Benjamin Button and Zodiac is quite a filmography. (He’ll next direct the English-language adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which many believe is a blockbuster waiting to happen.) Long-denied proper recognition by many “serious” film-appraisal bodies for working predominantly in the world of genre film, he’s the best possible choice to make this kind of material crackle.
The Special Effects
“I have no idea how they did that – I swear somebody sold their soul to the devil, or something.” – Armie Hammer, actor
Weren’t expecting this one, were you? We’re conditioned to think of jaw-dropping effect sequences to be strictly the territory of blockbuster action/fantasies, not of character-driven drama. But much like Fincher’s previous film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which featured staggering amounts of subtle aging effects applied to its stars), Network features a shockingly seamless use of digital trickery: Armie Hammer portrays twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss through a mix of split-screen technology and a new, high-tech variation of traditional twinning effects wherein his head is superimposed onto the body of another actor. Coupled with Hammer’s terrific dual-performance, it’s really something to behold.
“I’m told that not one line was cut from the script, which is unheard of.” – Jesse Eisenberg, actor
“He had developed everything in the script so fully that when you went in, you had it all right there.” – Armie Hammer, actor
Aaron Sorkin is screenwriting royalty, having written classic actor’s movies like A Few Good Men, The American President and a “polish” of Schindler’s List, but he’s best known for dialogue-driven TV shows like The West Wing and Sports Night. There are few people as well-qualified to write a movie mostly concerned with the interplay between highly intelligent yet highly insecure young geniuses stumbling haphazardly into Masterhood of the Universe.
Spider-Man Is In It
Well, only kinda. Andrew Garfield, who plays Zuckerberg’s startup partner and – at least in the film’s version of the story – the lost moral center of Facebook, is probably best known to American audiences for The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and for being mistaken for Robert Pattinson by paparazzi; that’ll change a year from now when he debuts as the new Peter Parker in Sony’s ill-conceived Spider-Man remake. So enjoy his really, really good performance in this really, really good movie now and try to keep it in the back of your mind when that … thing comes out in 2012.
“I think [Mark Zuckerberg] had difficulty interacting with people in the normal ways … I can identify with that. In school I had trouble communicating with others and took refuge in the contrived setting of playacting – which is what I still do. He took refuge in the contrived setting of Facebook – which he created. In a way we both created worlds where we felt more comfortable.” – Jesse Eisenberg, actor
“It’s not about Facebook. It’s about themes as old as storytelling. It’s about friendship and loyalty and betrayal … power, class, jealousy. The sort of things that Escalus would write about, that Shakespeare would write about, that a few years ago Paddy Chayevsky would write about.” – Aaron Sorkin, writer
At the end of the day, a good story can be related to by anyone if it’s well told. Most of us will never be gangsters, or pirates, or a Hobbit, or a Jedi Knight, or a stock trader; but we can still get into The Godfather, Treasure Island, Lord of The Rings, Star Wars or Wall Street.
Likewise, you may or may not know thing one about computer coding. You may not be an ostracized genius looking to stick it to the Harvard social system. You may not use Facebook, or even have much idea what it is, but the reason The Social Network is a magnificent film is that you don’t need to in order to appreciate it or, more importantly, to relate to it.
This is a story, at least some of it true, about creating something and having it explode into something bigger you didn’t plan on. It’s about what happens to a friendship when one partner feels the need to cut the other loose in order to succeed – and maybe even betraying him in the process. It’s about an awkward young guy who meets the embodiment of everything cool he desperately wants to be, is offered the chance to join him, and maybe loses his soul in the process. It’s about getting what you wanted, and then finding out that maybe you wanted the wrong thing. Who hasn’t been there, to one degree or another – or at least known of someone who has?
It’s not about Facebook, or the experience of using Facebook – it’s about the experience of being human.
“In a perverse way, I admired [Zuckerberg’s] stubbornness. Because his goal is the creation of Facebook – not money, even after he’s a billionaire – I really admired that his goal was so pure … even if it comes at the expense of personal relationships. There’s something perversely admirable about that.” – Jesse Eisenberg, actor.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.