The Social Network, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (The Cornfield #1)

First installment of a new weekly feature: a post about a movie (two movies, this time) that happens to be in front of me for some reason, any reason, no reason at all. Not necessarily tied to a new release in theaters or DVD, no particular “news hook,” nothing like that. Just notes from the cornfield – in the North by Northwest sense, or maybe the Twilight Zone sense.

Oh, to be a zeitgeist movie. To sum up a moment in history, to hit the crest of the cultural wave, to speak for an era. Make a movie like that and you’ll catch the excitement of How We Live Now; the question is whether the film will stand up decades later.

So, we have two of these here. One opened two days ago, the other in 1969. By chance, I saw both within a 48-hour-period. Both, as it happens, are about the way humans make connection, although the ’69 film is more successful at actually being about that.

In fact, The Social Network, despite its title and its occasional stabs at epoch-defining, is a legal thriller. It isn’t about Facebook, and anybody watching it without a prior knowledge of how Facebook works could be forgiven for remaining in the dark. In the movie’s terms (and as one dialogue exchange has it), Mark Zuckerberg invented a better chair, which becomes the basis for a tale of: lawsuits, a Faustian bargain, and the question of how inhuman the movie’s central character is. Those stabs at generational rallying cries are mostly spoken by the movie’s Mephistopheles, Napster founder Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake) – “This is our time!” and all that – and he’s saying them to seduce Zuckerberg.

As a legal thriller, The Social Network is smart and fun and sometimes exhilarating. From the brilliant opening sequence, in which Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg tries to argue his case with a girlfriend (Rooney Mara), the trademark ping-pong of Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue provides the jitterbugging pulse, caffeinated for a Red Bull sensibility. The script hedges its bets with Zuckerberg: he gets some of the best lines, especially in the legal scenes, but from the opening scene forward Sorkin takes pains to let other characters call him an asshole; indeed, this sets up the movie’s final exchange, a too-tidy, TV-scaled dressing-down. Why do we need to be told this? God forbid we should think the movie thinks Zuckerberg is a hero, just because he invented an ingenious and far-reaching Internet phenomenon?

In the movie, Zuckerberg gravitates toward Parker and away from co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, damp). Guess what: he’s right to do so. Parker’s ideas are better. The film moves away from Zuckerberg in its final third, setting up the bland, dewy-eyed Saverin as its, I don’t know, human-interest peg. I may be in the minority, but Zuckerberg (the film’s Zuckerberg, anyway) presents a great deal of human interest, actually, especially in Eisenberg’s deft performance. Sorkin’s script may distance itself from Zuckerberg, but Eisenberg’s performance is unapologetic.

David Fincher seems to like him pretty well, too – and how could he not identify with the character? Fincher’s metronome is right on target with this film, and he’s superb at finding ways of arranging bodies in rooms. I’m not sure why people are praising the movie so much for how great it looks – to my eye, the faces frequently take on a flat, video-greenish quality. An intentional touch for a picture about the Horrible Dangers of the Internet? Fair enough, but still. (And to be fair, The Social Network doesn’t contain that much old-fogeyism about the Horrible Dangers of the Internet; the overheated Catfish is much more simple-minded on that score.)

There’s one chance for Fincher to show off, a rowing sequence involving the Winklevoss twins (terrific double performance by Armie Hammer) in England, set to Trent Reznor re-doing “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” It’s just as mystifying as it sounds. The scene that follows is quite good, but the race itself – what the hell? A visual depiction of the competitive drive that fuels some of the lawsuiting? An excuse to wake the audience up after lots of dialogue? Continue reading