Monday, February 21, 2011

Five Favorite Scenes: The Social Network

As I keep digging into The Social Network Blu-ray (so how about that weird packaging and the brilliantly bizarre title menu?) I've come to the conclusion that if it wins Best Picture that's great, but if it doesn't, well then, that's fine too. The Academy has impressively avoided rewarding the most deserving film for the past 83 years so why start now? No validation is necessary here because this is far and away, hands down the best film of this past year or any other recent one and nothing even comes remotely close. Oscar or not. It's best just to celebrate the achievement on its own terms and remind oneself that Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture. See? That feels better already. As we all know, losing might actually be the best thing for it. For all the controversy surrounding the truthfulness of the movie I think it says a lot about Time's "Person of the Year" Mark Zuckerberg for publicly being a good sport and taking this bullet like a man for the sake of his company. Aaron Sorkin's script loosely incorporates real facts into a semi-fictional work so damning it makes Oliver Stone's W. look like a tribute documentary and it wouldn't have taken but a phone call to his lawyers for Zuckerberg to stop this project altogether (or at least prevented the use of his name and Facebook's trademarks). But he didn't. Give him credit for being seemingly one of the few to actually grasp this is meant for entertainment. He had to be slandered and dragged through the mud for the film to work as well as it does.

Back in October, I attempted a somewhat objective assessment of the film knowing my time to rant and rave about its greatness would get here soon enough. So now it's here. Director David Fincher has gone on the record humbly insisting his film isn't as "important" as Zodiac and if we're going strictly by their topics, he's right.  Only movies are rarely about their actual topics. Such is the case with The Social Network, a film no one said could be made, based on a topic no one wanted to see explored on screen. The level of difficulty here was insurmountable. I'd say in terms of actual execution this feels more important than anything he's done so far. So, how did Sorkin and Fincher ever make a movie about Facebook? Well, for starters, they didn't. Ranked in non-chronological order below are my five favorite scenes/moments in the film, along with accompanying thoughts. Obviously, SPOILERS follow.


This brief, but memorable scene toward the middle portion of the picture when the action moves to the West Coast marks the first onscreen appearance of Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker. It also marks the first instance of applause erupting from the theater I saw it in (the second: the reveal of Mark Zuckerberg's "Ardsley Athletics" T-Shirt). Has there ever been a better character introduction? If I could pick one scene that exemplifies the strength of Sorkin's writing it would probably be this brief sequence. Even over the "Did I adequately answer your condescending question?" lawsuit deposition scenes. A strange statement, but I just love the way this whole exchange unfolds and doesn't take the predictable route you'd expect given the situation.

It's reasonable that Parker would know every little detail about Amy (Dakota Johnson) from Stanford because he's Sean Parker and he does his research. So there's a glimpse of actual common sense in a movie script. Yet somehow Sorkin writes the scene in such a way that she still seems right in step with him and doesn't come across as an airhead for not knowing who he is, or worse, just a slutty party girl who woke up as his latest conquest. Of course, he finds out about "Thefacebook" through someone else, which is typical, and sets the stage for his leech-like behavior later as a charismatic opportunist who sees his opening and takes it. It's easy to see how Zuckerberg fell under his spell and bought what he was selling and why the purely idealistic Eduardo would hate his guts. The more times I watch the film the better Timberlake's performance seems, dropping subtle clues that the likable but flawed Parker was destined all along to make that pathetic police station phone call to Zuckerberg at the end of the film because that's what always happens with him. We get our first glimpse of that here.


One of the film's more exciting, overlooked aspects was being given full access to Harvard University without really being given access to Harvard, a setting we've really never seen fully exploited on screen before (let's not count 2001's Harvard Man). Fincher changes that, miraculously giving us a very specific sense of time and place without ever even filming at the actual location (Fincher was forced to use Wheelock College as a stand-in) and it's a feeling especially present in the opening campus scenes. The two self-professed "gentlemen of Harvard" who best exemplify this world and our preconceived notions of it are Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, twin rowers who find their idea for a campus social networking site hijacked by Mark Zuckerberg. Supposedly the real twins were thrilled at their depiction in the film, which is hilarious on too many levels to list. Then again, everything involving the Winklevi is hilarious as played by Armie Hammer in the best depiction of preppy entitlement ever put to screen.

I like how Sorkin doesn't write them as villains or bullies, but hard-working guys who had an idea that really could have been stolen out from under them. And they've got a strong case, which leads to their meeting with clueless, hysterically patronizing Harvard President Larry Summers (Douglas Urbanski) in which they futilely attempt to convince him that Zuckerberg's in violation of Harvard's student "Code of Conduct." Their allegations sound as ridiculous to him as the idea of making a movie about them seemed to us. You could compile another separate list of the twins' greatest moments ("I'm 6'5, 220 and there's two of me!") but this scene best exemplifies how the actor immerses himself in two very different and distinct personalities. As dark and nasty as the film gets at times, Hammer insures that it's also a comedy.


Leave it up to Fincher to somehow find the one Beatles song that hasn't been played out. In a career packed with memorable musical moments he always seems to pick just the right song and put it in the perfect place for maximum effect, but he outdoes himself here. You could argue that with Reznor and Ross' haunting score the entire picture is a musical moment unto itself (their brilliantly twisted version of "In The Hall of the Mountain King" during the twins' Henley Royal Regatta rowing race is obviously one of many highlights) but what else but the under-appreciated 1967 Beatles B-Side "Baby, You're A Rich Man" could possibly wrap up the conundrum that is Mark Zuckerberg, or at least the fictional version of him presented here.

The "likability" of the character, and his obsessive desire to be popular, is something that's returned to many times as we get the unofficial closer to his conversation with Erica at the bar, except this time in a conference room with attorney Marylin Delpy (Rashida Jones, getting to deliver that unforgettable final line).  He might end up as a billionaire but this Zuckerberg never cared about money at all which might be his only link to the real-life counterpart, making the ending song choice especially ironic. Sitting alone at the computer, pathetically refreshing the page to see if Erica accepts his friend request is also the least pathetic and most understandable choice Zuckerberg makes in the film, confirming the trace of humanity we suspected he had throughout.


Supposedly, Fincher filmed 99 takes of this opening scene in the bar to knock all the acting out the two actors, which kind of makes sense when you consider they're delivering Sorkin's dialogue. Anyone who watched The West Wing or any of his other TV or film projects knows how wordy it is and how fast it needs to come out. If it it doesn't it can really sound like someone's reading from a script, which you obviously never want. The best thing about Eisenberg's performance is how he almost invisibly implies on his face all these emotions that his character seems incapable of even expressing to anyone.

As Erica, Rooney Mara has an even tougher job here, having to sell that she would even like and date this guy to begin with, then by the end of a single 8 minute conversation be believably fed up enough with his arrogant antics to just walk. She knows his game and won't stand for it, making all the misogynistic accusations leveled against the picture seem ridiculous, especially considering the women always seem much smarter than the guys throughout the film (save Eduardo's psycho girlfriend). With minimal screen time Mara makes us believe that letting Erica go is a mistake Zuckerberg won't ever be able to live down. When we get to the final scene the big revelation isn't that he built a billion dollar company to impress her, but that he believes giving it all up for another chance would be worth it. The scariest part: He's right.


Oh, that "Facebook movie." So cold, cynical, detached and unemotional. Such unlikable characters. Speaks to the mind, not the heart. No one has any FEELINGS. And that's only the second biggest misconception about the film. The biggest is one that Fincher's addressed in many interviews and involves the perception of the picture as some kind of cinematic landmark that speaks to a generation (one that ironically refused to support the movie and probably cost it a few Oscars). I expressed my own doubts on that when I reviewed it and see his point since it usually takes decades to make such a determine any film's value as a cultural touchstone. It also burdens the movie with added pressure it doesn't even need because it's important enough just as what it is: A perfectly directed, written and acted coming-of-age drama about the destruction of a friendship. And it all builds to this. 

Eduardo enters Facebook headquarters a boy but walks out a man after realizing he had the screws put to him by his best friend And in a movie packed with endlessly quotable lines, the criminally un-nominated Andrew Garfield gets to deliver its best to Timberlake's befuddled Parker, a verbal blow anyone caught in a volatile confrontation wished they could come up with in the heat of the moment. After being used and stepped on (though it's a credit to Garfield's performance it never exactly seems that way) Eduardo finally learns the hard way how to stand up for himself becoming the emotional center of what's otherwise been described as the most unemotional of films. He's our way in. Even though its characters talk endlessly, the film wisely holds a lot back in terms of what they're actually thinking and feeling until here, why is why this breaking point moment registers as powerfully as it does.

Images: DVD Beaver

1 comment:

Luko said...

Really great article! All of my favourite scenes too.

You really summed it up about the film's chances at the Oscars: it doesn't matter. This is a film that will stand the test of time. If it doesn't win the award for 'Best Picture' of the year, that's okay, because I'm pretty sure it has the potential to be topping 'Best of the Decade' polls ten years later.