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This Week in Netflix: “The Social Network” (2010) March 8, 2011

Posted by Skippy in Movies.
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Verdict: Too slick and cynical for its own good.

Do you remember when you were in the college application process? If you are older than, say, thirty, you might remember the glossy brochures which came in your mailbox from universities and colleges far and wide. They were chock full of pictures of an idyllic college life. The leaves were in a perpetual state of Autumn as happy, multiculti students gaily strolled along pristine sidewalks. The dormitories were portrayed as neat, orderly homes away from home for future students. Classrooms were presented as oases of academic excellence.

In short, you were sold a fantasy of college life.

This is what Aaron Sorkin’s college wet-dream masquerading as a quasi-biopic of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg “The Social Network” is. It is a fantasy of what a Tortured Genius goes through at a fantasy school like Harvard University. While there is a real Harvard University, the Harvard we see on screen—and the Mark Zuckerberg who is a student here—is as real as the United Federation of Planets and the U.S.S. Enterprise. We first see the fictional Harvard University after the fictional Mark Zuckerberg’s fake girlfriend breaks up with him and he tromps across the fake campus back to his dormitory. It is the brochure come to life: Fall colors grace the trees as young people lazily stroll along in the fall night amidst the stately fake Harvard buildings. Sorkin takes care to shove as many mythical scenes or references to the myth of Harvard as possible. It is amidst this mythological backdrop that the myth of Mark Zuckerberg emerges.

The mythical Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is an asshole of galactic proportions. He has two conversations at a time because he’s bored with at least one of those conversations and blames you for not being able to keep up, takes a break-up so personally that his way of coping is creating a misogynistic website that crashes your university’s servers, prefers the company of fellow assholes like fake Sean Parker (a parody of the real Sean Parker and played by Justin Timberlake, who may or may not be an actual asshole himself) to the company of the one real friend (who funneled a ton of money into getting Facebook off the ground), and may or may not have set said friend up to get charged with animal cruelty. Oh, and he’s obsessed with Fake Harvard’s male Final Clubs, as he sees them as the pathway to a better life.

Of course, everyone around Fake Zuckerberg is as pathologically self-centered as he is. Fake Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) is a clueless prat who is consumed by jealousy as he sees Fake Zuckerberg getting closer to Fake Parker. There are points at which the movie verges on homoeroticism. Fake Saverin’s jealousy reads as him being in love with Fake Zuckerberg, who himself is busy being wooed by Fake Parker. I’m pretty sure that this is what not Aaron Sorkin intended, but hell; it was more interesting than what Sorkin was trying to sell.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the worst thing about this movie, not by a long shot. This college wet-dream quickly devolves into a revenge fantasy—it is Revenge of the Nerds, but without any of the humor of the 80s comedy and ten times the malice. It is about Fake Zuckerberg striking back at two groups in particular: the Popular and the Women.

The Popular: As I mentioned before, Fake Zuckerberg’s early obsession was joining one of Mythical Harvard’s Final Clubs. He envies how the men in these clubs have The Better Life ™. It’s such an obsession, that you’d think that Real Zuckerberg had grown up poor and universally hated. You’d think that Real Zuckerberg was as much of a galactic asshole as Fake Zuckerberg. But, with the help of a little Google, you’d find out that you’d be wrong. Now, it’s clear that Sorkin is Trying To Say Something here, and he tries to say it in the form of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (or, as Fake Zuckerberg calls them, “The Winklevii”), two overprivileged and insipid twins (who, in real life, sued Real Zuckerberg for stealing the idea for Facebook). It is inconceivable to them that someone who isn’t connected, isn’t an athlete, and isn’t The Popular could succeed at doing something great. That privilege should be theirs and theirs alone. In a rather hilarious scene, they secure a meeting with then-president Larry Summers. Fake Summers slaps them down with extreme prejudice. Fake Zuckerberg builds Facebook on the backs of the Popular instead of the Popular building success on the backs of the UnPopular. In Sorkin’s fantasy, the Geeks inherit the Earth, not the Popular, and they do it by using the Popular’s vanity against themselves.

The Women: At Sorkin’s Mythical Harvard, women are either a) emasculating bitches who reject the nerds in favor of The Popular, or b) shallow, brain-dead appendages of the Popular. To say that “The Social Network” is misogynist is a bit of an understatement. Perhaps Sorkin is trying to show that these Harvard men (either Popular or Nerd) are so misogynistic that women are literally playthings. However, we don’t really know what women think about anything other than the men with whom they interact. The women in these movies do not interact with each other—except to grind on each other for the entertainment of the Popular males in the Final Clubs. The mythical girlfriend of Fake Zuckerberg busts his balls at the beginning of the movie; she is clearly incapable of following Fake Zuckerberg’s train of thought, nor is she supportive of his desire to get into one of the Clubs.

To punctuate just how crazy The Women are, we are treated to a completely irrelevant scene involving Fake Saverin’s girlfriend and a burning trashcan. She is so insanely jealous that when he doesn’t return her thirty or so text messages, she barges into his apartment and sets the gift he bought for her on fire. Awesome.

The only sane person in this world is Rashida Jones in a thankless role as a junior lawyer on Fake Zuckerberg’s team. The only problem here is that her character (and seriously, I don’t remember what her name was) virtually becomes a maternal figure to Fake Zuckerberg. She dispenses words of wisdom to our favorite Facebooking asshole…but who is she?

All in all, I am not surprised at the critical praise that was showered on this movie. The movie was well-crafted and slick. The dialogue was taut and, at times, humorous. However, I am not at all certain it was warranted, as I found this movie to be lacking in humanity and deeply cynical. Even the final scene of Fake Zuckerberg becoming a victim of his own creation as he friends his ex-girlfriend is dripping in cynicism. The Tortured Genius, now Popular, cannot escape the event which led to his quest for retribution.

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