Monday, November 8, 2010

The Social Network

I have a soft spot for films set on college campuses, my favorites (off the top of my head) being Wonder Boys, Good Will Hunting, The Paper Chase, and Legally Blond. Young women and men are in the midst of what, for many, is the first flush of quasi-independence; they’re being challenged to show their stuff intellectually in the classroom while engaging in animated conversations at local watering holes after hours and attending wild parties where all the females look almost like movie stars. My years at the U of M weren’t quite like that….but our five-man intramural touch football term, the Dirty Hittites, did reach the class-D finals in my freshman year!

The Social Network, set largely on the campus of Harvard University, is similarly well-endowed with late-night drinking, over-bright students, odd-ball personalities, and winsome coeds. It tells the story of Mark Zuckerman, the inventor of Facebook, and the plot-line would fall squarely into the category of implausible wish-fulfillment fantasies if it didn’t happen to be largely true. It would appear the Zuckerman came up with a proto-version of the website in a single evening after being jilted by his girlfriend, by hacking into the photo pages of every sorority on campus. The rest was just a matter of nuance, details—and funding.

The plot-point around which the film turns is a legal battle between Zuckerman and several former partners or associates who were dropped from the development team at various points along the way (or were never a part of it, according to Zuckerman) and are suing him to cash in on the webpage’s success. We’re brought up to date in a series of flashbacks as the lawyers question Zuckerman and the plaintive about who did what, when. At the heart of the film, if not the legal dispute, is a difference of opinion between Zuckerman and college roommate Eduaro Saverin, who financed the project and is considered Facebooks co-founder, about whether or not the site ought to carry advertisements. Eduaro is Zuckerman’s only friend and their clashes become increasingly painful to watch, especially after cool-Californian Sean Parker, the founder of the file-sharing site Napster, arrives on the scene.

Though Zuckerman comes across as somewhat snarky, and treats his intellectual inferiors with bored distain, he’s seldom really malicious, and the path by which, picking up on incidental conversations and events, he hones the features of his social networking website, is fascinating to watch. We rarely actually see a page of Facebook during the film, and that’s probably just as well. The film is well-paced and unflaggingly engaging, while Facebook itself is a simple thing, not well-suited for the big screen. Lots of people get a kick out of it. In fact, I have a page myself. Being self-employed, I find that it offers a refreshing break from the solitary grind of making books—like gathering with friends for chit-chat around the proverbial water-cooler. But I find it hard to see, even with ads, how it could ever live up to its current valuation of $33 billion dollars.

And now, writing a blog about a movie about Facebook, I find myself in an almost Borgesian situation. (Borgesian? What’s that?)

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