It is February. Awards season is in full swing and the buzz of Oscar-madness is sweeping Hollywood (and my subconscious mind). The truth is that I was supposed to write my first blog in January, but as per usual, I got distracted by such silly things as the day job and planning my over-ambitious, gigantic wedding. So here we are – it is February and not January and instead of writing about the first movie that ever moved me, I feel compelled to write about Oscar-nominated films. Typical.
As a critic and appreciator living in South Africa, I am always at a slight disadvantage, because the Oscar films usually only make their way to our shores well after the official ceremony, but this year we appeared to have struck it lucky. As of yet I’ve been able to see THE SOCIAL NETWORK, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT and BLACK SWAN, without the use of pirated material. Luckily, both THE KING’S SPEECH and WINTER'S BONE have also just opened in SA theatres and soon, so will TRUE GRIT - just in time for me to praise them or punish them in this very arena.
Let’s get to it then…
“On THE SOCIAL NETWORK” or “Why Aaron Sorkin is a very wise man”
Film: THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Director: David Fincher
Screenwriter: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
On the face of it THE SOCIAL NETWORK appeared to be just another bio-pic, contemporary as it may be. It is of course the (somewhat) true story of Facebook co-founder and media mogul Mark Zuckerberg’s meteoric (and dubious) rise to billionaire status. Its the dubious part of the story that has left many a loyal Facebook user feeling confused and disillusioned with the iconic social networking platform. The words dick, asshole and even sociopath have been used to describe the enigmatic Mr Zuckerberg and yet, we feel strangely attracted to him (at least I know I do). Sure, it may be the fact that he is so aptly portrayed by Hollywood’s current king of all geeks, Jesse Eisenberg, but I have a different theory: Zuckerberg is not just the most perfect anti-hero ever written, but he also happens to be a real-life loser turned youngest billionaire ever. And us humans simply cannot resist such an inspiring rags-to-riches tale.
What sets this particular rags-to-riches tale apart from the rest is without a doubt Aaron Sorkin’s subtle and nuanced screenplay. It is important to note here that the quality of the screenplay should not in our eyes be diminished by the recent revelation that it in fact does not bear much resemblance to reality at all. If this eye-opening information surprised you, it may be time for a wake-up call: no “true story” is ever really true! That’s why the text on screen reads, “BASED on a true story”. Movies and television (even documentaries and especially the masses’ firm favourite: “reality television”) are works of art (bad as some of them may be); and art is not truth - it is interpretation. It’s also impossible to expect of any REAL story to adhere to the structural and dramatic requirements of the classic three act Hollywood screenplay. Real life simply isn’t theatrical enough. I suspect that the element I found most appealing about Sorkin’s screenplay may be precisely the very element that repelled and even bored the lesser discerning moviegoer: its moral ambiguity; its unwillingness to make any real kind of moral statement. Throughout the film we watch Zuckerberg lie, trick and steal from everyone who trusts him. For the most part we are all able to forgive him for pulling the rug from under the (very Aryan) Winklevoss twins, but it is when he screws over his best friend and Facebook co-founder, Eduardo Saverin that we feel morally outraged. Why is this? Why do we feel that his actions towards Eduardo are more reprehensible than his treatment of the almost impossibly preppy twins? I’ll tell you why…
You just don’t fuck your friends, man. It’s as simple as that. It’s the basic rule that demarcates the boundary between being a shrewd businessman and a total asshole.
Up until the revelation that Zuckerberg and Justin Timberlake’s deliciously obnoxious rendition of Sean Parker (the creator of Napster and apparently an all-round jerk) have tricked Saverin out of his share and co-ownership of Facebook, we are actually rooting for the very socially dysfunctional Mark. He’s that scrawny Jewish boy who got picked on in gym class, who spoke to himself when no-one was watching and who never, ever got laid. Poor loser. Let him have his website. Let him “get his”, before the good-looking jocks of this world can stuff him into a locker again. So what if he’s a bit of a meany? Everyone lashes out when their girlfriend dumps them. And anyway, haven’t we all agreed that someone is allowed to be a bit of an asshole, if they are a genius? Remember Beethoven? Picasso? Kubrick? Gervais? (Hehe) BUT, it doesn't matter how brilliant you are, you don't get to be an asshole to your best friend! It is the latter mutually agreed upon social norm that finally forces us to turn against our protagonist and not the former. Personally, I relished the scene where Eduardo has just found out what has happened and he loses his cool in a spectacular fashion – first by dramatically destroying Mark’s MacBook and then by throwing a fake-out punch at Sean’s face. The expression of fear on Justin Timberlake’s face is truly priceless! (And hey, that man can actually act…)
But I digress. It is really time to get to the MORAL of the story. I am the movie moralist, after all. It would be hard to pinpoint just one moral lesson to learn from this tale (Mr Sorkin’s screenplays are far more complex than that), but I shall give it a go. What we CAN learn from Mark Zuckerberg’s story is that in a capitalist world karma really has no feasible effect on economics. I.e. it can totally happen (and it totally does) that someone who by all accounts is a social retard or a bona fide asshole can in fact become filthy stinking rich. However (and this is where Aaron Sorkin’s wisdom steps in), all that money and power cannot buy you the true forgiveness of the friend that you have wronged. Plus, you could end up having to sit through hours and hours of annoying depositions listening to people moan and whine about what a dick you are. Eeek!
Moral of the story? It's very clear. Just try and not screw your friends over, man. Because that shit is just plain messed-up!