Cahiers Péguy


Best Picture, Maybe Not

If “The Social Network” really is the best U.S. movie of 2010, as critics seem to agree, then one of two things must be true, maybe both. Hollywood has no ideas left in its bag, and/or I am even older than I think. . . .

Last night, I became one of the last Americans to see the film in theaters. Released on October 1, “The Social Network” is sure to be swept out of your local 20-plex by the tsunami of Christmas releases this weekend and next, but the betting is that it will vie for “Best Picture” at the upcoming Oscars. David Fincher’s film is a dramatic retelling of the founding of the social networking site Facebook by Harvard College geek Mark Zuckerberg and especially of the unseemly battle for control, fame, and riches that ensued. The antagonists seeking to wrest Facebook away from Zuckerberg (Time’s “Person of the Year”) include a pair of wealthy Harvard classmates; Shawn Parker, co-founder of the music file-sharing site Napster; and Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate and original CFO, seemingly the only innocent in this whole greedy crew.

As we left the 20-plex, my two companions chirped about what a “great” and “fun” film that was. I kept my counsel until my silence became annoying. When my opinion was finally coaxed out of me, you would have thought I had farted at a funeral. How could I be so smug as to poke holes in such a great and fun film?

Let me tell you how:

I wanted “The Social Network” to make a judgment about the significance of social networking in our lives. How have Facebook, Twitter, and others changed our consciousness, our way of working, loving, being? The film might have done so by not focusing solely on the legal battle over Facebook (enough deposition scenes already!) but instead looking into the lives of people actually using Facebook. Sadly, the sole “revelation” here—Zuckerberg’s eureka moment—is that those who log on to Facebook care mostly about hooking up (in the sexual sense of the term, not the electronic). As best I can recall, the only time in the entire film when actor Jesse Eisenberg shows any affect whatsover as Zuckerberg is the moment when he thinks of adding a “status” line to the Facebook profile. Status as in married, in a relationship, or single, interested in males/females. Status as in I want to get laid this weekend.

Except for an indecipherable but decidedly cool algorithm scrawled on the window of a Harvard dorm room, the sight of a roomful of programmers in a rented Silicon Valley bungalow banging away at their laptops between shots of Wild Turkey, and the obligatory snorting-cocaine-out-of-an-underage-girl's-navel scene, there is nothing in this tale of greed and lust that couldn't be found in a film about Gilded Age tycoons like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt.

Which is perhaps the point? Technology changes, our humanity doesn’t? Hollywood neither, by the way.

I grow old, I grow old: I admitted to one of my companions, a college student, that only when I saw the name Justin Timberlake in the end credits did I realize that the pop-musician-turned-movie-star (and one-time featured player on The New Mickey Mouse Club) had played Shawn Parker. But then I'm not exactly ’N Sync.

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About Webster Bull

Webster Bull is a writer and publisher living in Beverly, Massachusetts, north of Boston. His latest book is "Something in the Ether: A Bicentennial History of Massachusetts General Hospital, 1811-2011," to be published in April 2011. You can follow Webster on Facebook.
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  1. An afterthought. For my money, the best performance in “The Social Network” is that of Douglas Urbanski as Harvard President Lawrence Summers. His dismissive attitude toward Harvard twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss when they accuse Zuckerberg of stealing their idea was hilarious to me—OK, probably because it was the one case in the entire movie of age trumping youth!

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