Once upon a time I dreamed of a weekly column based around exploring the space of interactivity and its effects on people. I wanted to see how bad games could become good games, great games could become fantastic games but most of all, to find out the elixir of great game design. Through my criticism of common video-game practices such as the middle man narrative (where the narrative focuses on the player character rather than the player) and the convention of ‘story’ being integral to a video-game (it isn’t, storytelling is), I feel it’s time to move on. I’m not killing off game critique corner, don’t you worry, but I want to branch out and films are the absolute perfect way to do this.
If you’re reading this on my Flixist blog, then go have a gander at my Destructoid blog to see what the bloody hell the general idea of critique corner is. If you’re reading this on Blogossus, hello loyal reader! The general premise is the same, each week I take a video-game or film and critique some part of it that I felt could have been improved. With video-games I was critiquing design choices but in film I now have to critique all manner of linear ways that the story is told. I am no film critic, but I am somewhat of a film buff, I will try my best to write about film in all of its glory.
So, my first choice to start off this amazing critique corner series is probably the worst choice I’ve ever made in my writing career. I decided to choose a film I only saw yesterday, one that is already the second best film I’ve seen from 2010 (Inception is numero uno by the way) and also one that just so happens to be absolutely fantastic at absolutely everything it sets out to do. It takes liberties from the story its based off of, the main character isn’t a massive asshole and some of the legal bits weren’t played to their full effect but for a general sound film it’s an electrifying masterpiece that examines something we don’t get to see everyday – the inception of post-modern society.
I am of course talking about The Social Network, the absolute brilliant masterpiece from the penning of Aaron Sorkin, the direction of David Fincher and somehow executive produced by Kevin Spacey. Perhaps I’ve made both the greatest mistake of my writing career to try and find something to talk about here, I have found something, but perhaps I’ve made the best mistake of my wriitng career. This series should be about making the great even better, since bad media often repeat common mistakes. Shall we dive straight into The Social Network then?
Spoilers, of course.
Before I start tearing the film a new one, let me say some things about the cast. Eisenberg deserves the Best Actor Oscar but he won’t get it because the Academy is full of fucking clowns and it’ll go to Colin Firth who’s as deserving. Andrew Garfield AKA Spider-Man gives an Oscar deserving performance as Ed, Armie Hammer plays both of the Winklevoss twins (dubbed ‘Winklevi’) and I’ve never seen an actor have such effective chemistry with themselves. I honestly kept double-taking whenever Justin Timberlake was in the room playing Sean-Napster-founder-Parker, as he was damn good. I mean, on the edge of Supporting Actor Oscar good.
So where does my criticism lie? Is it in the writing? No, this is snappy dialogue at its finest – only Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher can make hacking into something as exciting as anything from the likes of Inception. Is it the performances? As said above, this cast is perfectly spotless and I’m dead serious that down to the littlest roles of littlest input, this is the perfect performance film. Better than Inception in this respect, since I felt Ellen Page was often misplaced and the guy who played Yusuf didn’t bring any weight to the table. Oh my, the greatest film of 2010 ain’t looking so nice now is it?
Speaking of Inception, I think that Nolan’s dreamscape-heist-epic-acti0n-thriller-thing had something that The Social Network lacks. In fact, maybe it’s something inherited from the material, although it could have been so easily inserted given that even the book and real life story have it. Inception ended with the spinning top spinning on the table and Cobb being distracted by his kids to even care about reality and the dreamscape, clearly a lesson for the audience that it perhaps doesn’t matter in the end as long as you’re happy and at peace with oneself. Notice how Cobb finds catharsis before he completes the job given to him by Watanabe?
Inception had this ambiguity to its ending, not on the level of Blade Runner where the director’s messages mixes in with many cuts of the film and the book by Philip K. Dick is vastly superior. That kind of ambiguity isn’t ambiguous, it’s clearly showing us an answer and not leaving anything to the mind. Without that ending, I think that the film would be much superior, it should have ended on a hint rather than a definitive answer. I’m talking about Blade Runner here and those who’ve seen it will understand what exactly I’m talking about. It’s a lack of a good ending, or even an ending at all, it’s a lack of closure.
That’s what plagues The Social Network.
Zuckerberg loses everything and nothing at the exact same time. He’s never been able to connect with anyone on his level and even Ed doubts the friendship they had, but still he’s left with all of this power but nothing to control. He effectively becomes the thing he has created, a network without physical connection, just a cold shell of interaction. We as an audience see this and we find it hard to sympathize with this guy, yet we’re not here to sympathize, we’re here to watch a nerd get angry and destroy the potential to not be an asshole.
Consider then, how the film chooses to end itself, with Zuckerberg looking blankly at the thing he has created and perhaps full of so many regrets. But… what about all of those people. There are several stories that just end with a statistic rather than something that is shown, which would’ve added some kind of… closure to that plot-thread. Many of the threads just sort of end with that roll of statistics at the end which may be a understated way of doing things but sort of creates this dissonance between each thread. Let me explain.
Sean Parker’s thread with Zuckerberg ends with him talking to the Facebook king and finding out he was perhaps being played all along, or there’s been a role reversal here. It ends with McZucker standing triumphantly over his once former mentor, now fully without a friend to depend on or care for him. This thread is resolved with the two characters talking and the revelation in Zucker’s eyes that it’s over and that he was won over Sean. You can clearly feel the friendship and thus story thread collapsing, the only thread with clear closure.
The thread of the Winklevi sort of… ends when Parker comes to play. I never noticing it returning and when it did, it wasn’t focused on the Winklevi’s relationship. They were such powerful characters compared to Zuck, clearly put into the film to demonstrate the diversity of the definition of power. Zuck has zero power, yet he manages to end the film with all of it but no-one to use it upon. The thread with the Winklevi ends with a statistic and not a silent scene involving the twins walking away, smiling to themselves, and then the smirk on Zucking’s face when he knows that he’s got away with a speeding ticket. He’s given away $65 million out of a company worth tens of billions. There’s no closure here, you can’t end such a central argument of the film (the judgement of what power is) with a little statistic.
Likewise, Ed’s thread (rhyming is cool) ends with him proclaiming “I was your only friend.” inside the court room. It’s a little emotional, it does have a ring of closure to it, that there will always be this angry aura between them. This is the only part of the film that I feel was misrepresented poorly of actual facts. Of course, Sorkin took liberties and created a thrilling ride through the price, definition and all things assorted with power but he forgot something more important. In this instance he separates Zuckington from having dominion over anyone, which is what the film should be doing, but doesn’t end this thread with an effective note. Ed and Zuckington hate each other, when in reality they reconciled and Ed came out of the whole ordeal billions richer than the Winklevi. Perhaps the event of showing Ed walking away from Zucks would’ve been more powerful in showing his loss of power than a simple proclamation.
That’s for you to decide though. I think showing something like that would’ve hammered home the main message of the film, that power has a price and it has multiple meanings. It’s a fantastic film but lacks effective closure for an already effective film. It’s essentially a letter without a signature, it’s fine and dandy and the message is there, but there’s nothing to end it. There’s no-one to point the finger at or to reply to. We as an audience feel disconnected now. Heh… disconnected.
It’s funny because it’s about Facebook.
Re-branding by Joe Byrne