יום שישי, 29 באוקטובר 2010

The Social Network - can you make any story into a movie?

[This  review  contains  some  spoilers  !!!]

Here's what everybody already knew:
Mark Zuckerberg was a Harvard geek who in 2004 created a social website called TheFacebook which gained a great amount of momentum and popularity within a short amount of time. In 2007 some fellow Harvard students sued Mark, claiming he stole the idea of Facebook from them, while being 'hired' by them to make a social website they conceived.

Now, ask yourself the question – can this story be made into a dramatic film?
Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher thought it can. Were they right?

The movie opens with a dialogue between Mark and his girlfriend, sitting in a date.
From that dialogue we learn that Mark is a self centered character obsessed with trying to prove his 'validity' and his intelligence. During that dialogue he unconsciously suggets that his girlfriend's 'intellectual status' is inferior to his. At the end of that scene – she breaks up with him.

This, was actually a nice way to establish and introduce a character to the audience. One of the strong points of the movie is its ability to quickly and reliably familiarize the audience with new characters in the plot.
Unfortunately, one of the weakest points of the movie – is its lack of ability to later develop those characters. 
Mark, broken and angry from the breakup (his inability to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend as a mean to cause him to submerge in his work is a reoccurring theme in the movie - and, again, greatly contributes to the film's strong ability to characterize its characters and explain what 'drives' them)  – closes himself inside his dormitory room, and creates a website from his laptop – that allows visitors to compare the hotness of female students by showing two pictures of them at a time. He downloaded the pictures from the registry of the different houses of the university (The sequence that shows how he 'hacks' the directories is shown with Mark's voice over "explaining" what he is doing – in "tech babble" (to establish that he is a "computer wiz") which, for those with no computer background sounds like gibberish, and for those with computer knowledge sounds way too simplistic – thereby 'falling between the lines', in my opinon).
Now, the site creates so much traffic that the internal Harvard network crashes – and Mark gets punished by the board of directors (nice anecdote: there is a facebook 'like' button on <=this article in the Harvard Crimson, from 2003 :))

This catches the attention of the Winklevoss twins; two other students who had an idea for a kind of social networking site that helps Harvard students 'socialize'. They approach Mark with their idea and asks him to program it for them. He agrees, and while working on it he realizes the potential and upgrades it in his mind to create a different website he calls 'The Facebook'. He doesn't notify the Winklevoss twins about his new project, and basically stalls the work on theirs.

Now the audience asks themselves: is Mark an asshole? Did he really stole their idea? Or did their idea was just a catalyzator for something he already thought about before? These kinds of questions are asked by the audience in several places during the plot of the movie – and never gets fully "resolved" which is also a nice aspect of the movie. But,

From this point in the movie and up until its ending – nothing stops Mark and thefacebook – from becoming a popular success. Nothing. It's all straight uphill from there (with no downhills) -  thereby eliminating the film's dramatic engine and turning him into an 'informative account' of the events that led to the popularization of Facebook – and this would have been actually probably more interesting to see as a documentary film.

The only possible obstacle to the success of Facebook is a lawsuit by the Winklevoss twins (for 'stealing' their idea) – but they only file it in a late stage, when Facebook already becomes big, and the settlements fee they get is minor compared to the size of facebook. So the movie tries to show why it took them so long to decide to sue (personal intrigues amongst themselves regarding 'self respect') – which, again, falls under the 'informative description of events' category, and not under the 'dramatic' one. Also, it shows a strange sequence of the brothers competing in a rowing contest – in slow motion with strange sound effects and editing not similar to any other part of the movie – a sequence that doesn't really seem to serve any purpose…

There is, though, the character of Eduardo Saverin – the roommate and friend of Mark, who at an early stage in the movie, Mark approaches with the idea of Facebook and asks him for economic help, while also giving him the job title of "Chief Financial Officer" for TheFacebook. In a late stage in the movie – when Facebook becomes big, Eduardo discovers that Mark, with the influence of Sean Parker (a side character based on the inventor of Napster – who at some point in the plot connects with Mark and advises him on Facebook) – had "scammed" him, when Eduardo signed a contract that allows the company to greatly reduce his share of the company upon future investments from other sources – and thereby decreasing his share of the company to less than 1%. 
Eduardo sues Mark.

Now that is interesting. There's your story;
What if… it was a movie about this Eduardo guy, a Harvard student, who gets told about an idea for a website from his friend Mark – and he helps him get the site going only to be later betrayed by him after he connects with this Sean Parker guy.
What if the whole movie was from the point of view of Eduardo? And not of that of Mark, who is really, in cinematic terms, an underdeveloped character who actually should have been a side character instead of the protagonist – who should have been Eduardo. The scene where Eduardo goes to the house in California – and we discover that he waited a long time in the airport in the rain, because Mark was supposed to pick him up - that was a good scene – and it was actually presented from Eduardo's point of view – which again should have been the view of the entire movie. The scene with Eduardo's jealous girlfriend burning down the scarf he bought for her and yelling at him for keeping his Facebook relationship status on 'single' - Also… a great scene!
But, unfortunately the movie really doesn't put that much of an emphasis at Eduardo's side of the story, which, again, should have been the main story here.

I liked the very last scene in the movie though; a nice way for the movie to 'snap back' into his main theme (the one that was instanced in the first scene of the movie).

As I mentioned, the film did manage to do a good job at characterizing the characters. Look, for example, at Mark Zuckerberg's real life Facebook profile – in his 'interests' section: 

Eliminating Desire, Minimalism, Making Things, Breaking Things.

It makes sense after watching the movie, no? :)

Also, most of the technical sides of the movie are really great. The acting is great, the directing is excellent, the dialogues are interesting and the shots are good.

As a side note to this review, I'd like to add this quote, made by Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law school professor, taken from Wikipedia:
"Harvard law school, professor Lawrence Lessing wrote in The New Republic that Sorkin’s screenplay doesn’t acknowledge the ‘real villain’ of the story. Lessig wrote: “The total and absolute absurdity of the world where the engines of a federal lawsuit get cranked up to adjudicate the hurt feelings (because ‘our idea was stolen!’) of entitled Harvard undergraduates is completely missed by Sorkin. We can’t know enough from the film to know whether there was actually any substantial legal claim here. Sorkin has been upfront about the fact that there are fabrications aplenty lacing the story. But from the story as told, we certainly know enough to know that any legal system that would allow these kids to extort $65 million from the most successful business this century should be ashamed of itself. Did Zuckerberg breach his contract? Maybe, for which the damages are more like $650, not $65 million. Did he steal a trade secret? Absolutely not. Did he steal any other 'property'? Absolutely not—the code for Facebook was his, and the ‘idea’ of a social network is not a patent. It wasn’t justice that gave the twins $65 million; it was the fear of a random and inefficient system of law. That system is a tax on innovation and creativity. That tax is the real villain here, not the innovator it burdened."