24 December 2010

Review: The Social Network

Genre: Drama

As not only a cinephile whose eager anticipation led me to attend a local screening of this film as soon as it was possible but also an alumnus of Harvard College from the years directly in which this film is set, I too would have thought that responding in a post to this film would have been a more pressing matter on my blogging mind than it apparently has become; not only has it been months since the film was released and I first saw it in theaters, but has it also been pages and pages of text since the film was still just a fantastic trailer on YouTube. Joining in this prolix conversation amongst the film-critical world at this late a stage, I am nonetheless challenged, for I have in all the text that I have seen not read yet any critical thought of the film as dedicated or incisive as I would like to accomplish here, in my own writing. Globally, it seems, the film is exceedingly well-praised, now the star on top of so many reviewers end-of-year cine-appreciative trees - and so mote it be: A capable and rich fiction, penned by the lover of gun-slung dialogue Mr. Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher's The Social Network is not only a marked improvement on the director's previous film (the still somehow puzzling The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [2008]), but also truly one of the best films of the year. However, here - unlike so many of my fellow reviewers, critics, and otherwise aficionados of film - I will diverge from the itinerary of the film's strengths, to inspect more closely its weaknesses and detractings.
While The Social Network excels in score, production-design, acting, directing, writing, and editing, it lacks sorely in structure and impact, positioning itself idly astride the wobbly pillars contemporary culture and perennial drama - not to mention the oddly hesitant cinematography. That the film is at heart yet another betrayal play of the same catalogue as the story of Cain and Abel and Julius Caesar is painfully obvious; dissecting and reinterpreting the nuances of complex and at least initially contrafactory human relationships is now as much a signature of Mr. Sorkin's oeuvre, which includes The American President (1995) and A Few Good Men (1992), as are the legal environments in which these relationships tend to occur (see also The West Wing [1996-2002]). However, being so anchored in the gravitas of a centuries' old plot-line, the film as a work necessarily takes onto itself the onus of transcending rather than reiterating the markers of its story. (Compare here The Social Network with Il Gattopardo [The Leopard, 1963], Brokeback Mountain [2005], or Black Swan [2010].) That Mr. Sorkin and Mr. Fincher knew this provision in their project is also patently clear; embracing the fictive aspects of the true story on which the play is based at the expense of an adherent's quest for veracity forms a dramatic arc, complete with tight opening and closing, that is bent away from the natural flow of events in life. (Compare here The Social Network with Lady Sings the Blues [1972], The Aviator [2004], or Milk [2008].) Contending with the onus via dramaturgy, Fincher and Sorkin compose action only tangentially dedicated to the events from which they drew, really just a common framework through which to reënact the elements of a canonical play, and serve only the trappings of contemporary culture - however immediately grabbing these trappings may be - as the dressings à la novelty and philosophical expansion. The question for the viewer then becomes, Is the invocation of a current social phenomenon firm enough complementary grounding to stabilize the high standing of such a hybrid, bipedal creation like this film? For me at least, the answer is 'no'. Despite the hard work that evidently went into creating The Social Network, the telling of its tale is only, from start to finish, a resituating that - purposefully or not - repudiates transcending its mold by make (i. e., concomitant address of the philosophical implications of youth in power, of the evolving dynamics of men in relationships, or even of the manifestation of a second world in the internet) or measure (i. e., boundary-pushing exposure of an unexplored facet of the tale; cf. Brokeback Mountain [2004, see here]). Leaving such richness untouched, the film contents itself with simply being a well executed restaging of events endemic in our culture and, so, almost predictable by their nature; with simply having only a spread of celebrity as a calling card. Meaning to bestride the past and the present, the film wastes too much energy in reticulating splines.

Grade: A-.

P. S. Mr. Fincher, a little more experiential accuracy wouldn't have hurt. Exhibit A: It does not take that long to run to Kirkland from the Square....

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