Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Social Network

Ratings - MPAA (PG-13), USCCB (A-III), Roger Ebert (4 stars), Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb info - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1285016/
CNS/USCCB Review - http://www.usccb.org/movies/s/social-network-the.shtml
Roger Ebert's Review - http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100929/REVIEWS/100929984

Many people pick The Social Network about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (played in the movie by Jesse Eisenberg) to be a contender for "Best Picture" at the Oscars this year (and Justin Timberlake to be a nominated for "Best Supporting Actor" in his role as Sean Parker, the 20-something founder of the infamous music downloading site Napster, who in the film befriends and mentors Zuckerberg).

The key scene in the movie falls right at the beginning. Harvard computer science student, Mark Zuckerberg is in a bar with his Boston University girlfriend, Erica Albright. Focused on himself, and rambling on and on about his plans and only peripherally refering to how these, his plans, could "benefit her," he seems utterly clueless that she's considering breaking-up with him. She does. And she ends with the words: "What's really sad is that you're going to think that people don't like you because you're a nerd. But that's not the reason, it's because you're an asshole."

At this point, we don't know enough about Zuckerberg to tell if he really was an asshole, but the moviegoer is invited through the rest of the movie to deliberate internally and render his/her verdict.

Does the Zuckerberg character do assholy things? Yes, he certainly does. He goes back home, writes a slew of nasty and immature things about Erica on his blog, including disparaging (and almost certainly untrue) things about her bra size, things that certainly wouldn't serve at all to win her back, if that was his hope. So he certainly becomes an asshole to her. He also does or _plausibly_ does other assholy things to all sorts of other people throughout the arc of the story.

But was he / is he really an asshole (or a real asshole)? The movie leaves this up to the moviegoer to decide.

Now I do find a certain "Hollywood defensiveness" in this movie, that the movie seems to need to say "Yes, he's smart and yes he's got his billions, BUT ..."

And it does this in many ways:

(1) Zuckerberg is portrayed throughout the movie as being somewhat creepily obsessed with the girl who dumped him. If that is true, then yes, he _is_ a sick jerk. But it also seems to me to be unlikely. Afterall, the guy was dumped like in his sophomore year in college. Most people get dumped at least a few times in college (or otherwise) and _go on_ with life.

(2) Zuckerberg's portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg playing him as exhibiting symptoms of ausperker's syndrome / mild autism. This makes his character perhaps more compelling and perhaps more pitiable, but is it true??? Actual footage of an hour long interview with Zuckerberg available online doesn't seem to show the autism-like behavior that Eisenberg displays playing him in the movie.

(3) Finally and to its credit in the movie, Zuckerberg, who was portrayed early in the movie as being obsessed with being accepted into one or another of Harvard's exclusive student clubs (as a means of acheiving a better life), says that with Facebook "everybody gets to be the gatekeeper of his/her own club." It's an interesting insight into Facebook and it is true -- everyone can choose to "friend" or "unfriend" anyone who requests becoming "friends").

And here could be the crux of a "Hollywood defensiveness" regarding Zuckerberg -- Hollywood is built on status. Here's a guy who's made billions, more than ANYONE in Hollywood has ever made, and who did it through a means (creating Facebook) which undermines (not just for Zuckerberg, but for EVERYBODY) the status pyramid on which Hollywood has stood -- If thanks to Facebook, you are really (using Seinfeld's words) "The Master of your own Domain (club/page)" why would you care what Lyndsey Lohan or Shia LaBeouf did or did not do anymore?

So is Zuckerberg an asshole? Perhaps, but it also sounds a little like the former "in crowd" complaining that "the nerd" actually made good ;-).

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