A pre-review of “The Social Network”

I have not seen The Social Network, or at least I have not seen any more footage than is in its theatrical trailer. Like many many people, I found the trailer to be unintentionally hilarious, given the dramatic weight given to a movie about the website that lets you poke people and play Farmville.

But now, I see Rotten Tomatoes, the movie database that gives films a grade based on the percentage of positive reviews it receives, has given The Social Network, the drama based on the “true story” of Mark Zuckerberg’s founding of Facebook, 97 percent. But. I find it odd that while many critics praise “Social Network” to the skies, they also attach enormous qualifiers questioning its viability as the work of realism it aspires to be.

I wonder if it will become some kind of aborted classic; a film that is met with ecstatic reception on first viewing, but upon further inspection or repeat viewings. I’m thinking of “Titanic” and “Pulp Fiction.” “Titanic” won a lot of praise, treasure, and awards, but I get the impression it isn’t taken seriously anymore; now that people have had the time to think about it, they recognize it’s a sappy romantic melodrama grafted onto an undeniably masterful technical achievement.

“Pulp Fiction” was also called groundbreaking at its time for its experimentation with cinematography, nonlinear storytelling, and for its fusion of its supposed fusion of high and low art. It was a serious film, but with a vein of profane humor throughout, and a genre film (neo-noir) that drew upon or “homaged” film’s trashiest subcultures, grindhouse and ‘70’s style exploitation cinema.

It was predicted that the film would be influential, and it has been—only it has produced no film even equaling its caliber, but only mainstreamed ultraviolence and inspired countless third-rate knockoffs. And, upon revisiting, I don’t find the film to hold up even on its own merits. I was impressed when I watched it the first time as a teenager; but when I revisited it again last summer, I couldn’t even finish it.

It was…boring. It wasn’t that the plot failed to excitement, tension, or a sense of peril. But there were no three-dimensional players involved in the action. Characters didn’t have personalities; they had quirks. Or rather, they had idioms, or rather individuated dialects within Tarantino’s own idiom, one of sarcasm, allusion to trivial things, and manic detachment. The film draws attention to the artificiality of its world, and strains the suspension of disbelief, while giving us nothing and no one interesting worthy of our belief.  

What, then, do I think will condemn The Social Network to mediocrity? Most agree that, while it is impeachable as a work of drama, as a piece of storytelling, it does not tell the story it purports to. Though it film’s advertising purports to be “based on the true story” FB founder Mark Zuckerburg’s early struggles to create the site and protect his sovereignty from the grasping claims of hangers-on, director David Fincher has admitted much of the film is pure fiction. More damningly, Fincher has freely admitted he does not know much about the Internet, and, according Lawrence Lessing, it shows. Harvard men like Nathan Heller have also pointed out he gets the university’s culture wrong as well.  

So we have possibly the first serious film to treat at length the revolutionary information platform which will forever distinguish our age from all human epochs before it—the Internet—and it is made by a self-professed Luddite. So it will not work as a “time capsule” film as The Graduate does for the 1960-70’s, or The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit did for the 1950’s.

I will not say how exquisite the film’s portrait the fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg is until I myself see the film. But I am skeptical he will become an iconic film character with an existence all his own. Other masterful performances will likely stand out as the meticulous character studies of this decade—Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview and Noomi Rapace’s Lisabeth Salander come to mind as likely candidates.     

Of course, a film doesn’t have to be a timeless classic to be a good one. But I think a weekend is too short a time to test a work of art’s greatness. I suppose it would be a lie to say I’m approaching the film with an open mind, considering I just wrote 600+ words about without having actually seen it. But I approach it skeptically, which is to say I approach it keeping in mind the possibility I might be wrong.

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