Saturday, October 9, 2010

Old School: David Fincher’s 'The Social Network'

By Lars Trodson

The first thing we see the Internet used for in David Fincher's "The Social Network" is an act of petty vengeance. The Internet is shown as a tool of remarkable efficiency, anonymity, and rapid-fire nastiness. These are notions that the rest of the film does not try to dispel. In fact, all we see about the Internet in "The Social Network" is a mechanism that destroys friendships, releases jealousy, initiates lawsuits and causes general unhappiness.

In this movie, trouble tends to erupt when people communicate by email, or through lawyers, or when they don't attempt to communicate at all. In "The Social Network", Facebook turns out to be the biggest troublemaker of them all.

Human contact, as elliptical as it sometimes can be, especially as it revolves around the lead character, Mark Zuckerberg, is always much more satisfying. It may not end well for one or more of the people involved in the conversation, but motives are at their clearest when people actually speak to each other. The fact that the dialogue is so clever has almost disguised the fact that the words said in this film are used to try to convey a feeling. There is a desperate attempt to communicate in this film. It doesn't always work, but it's there.

That may be why, by and large, computers, in relative terms, have a minor presence in this film. We see them ubiquitously in the early section of the film as Zuckerberg's Face Smash program goes viral (this is the little thing where students were able to rate the appeal of various female students). But then laptops, as a tool, by and large disappear from the movie.

If this is a movie about human communication, Fincher and screenwriter may be picked the wrong time in history to explore such a theme. Language as a tool for clarity and meaning is at an all-time low. We may live in an age where language is used more to obfuscate that to illuminate. So if you make a movie where language, both body and verbal, is used to try to convey something, the audience may not be with you. So far this is borne out. "The Social Network" is one of the most subtlety communicative movies you're ever going to see and so far it hasn't done as well as people had hoped at the box office. This is depressing.

So, what, really is "The Social Network" all about? I don't think "the social network" referred to in the title is Facebook at all. I think the social network is people and it's about all the messy ways we can try to communicate.
So go see the movie. And then talk about it, over coffee or a drink, face to face.