We definitely live in strange times. The debate continues to rage over whether or not social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook and Twitter really bring the world together or actually put walls between us. Does the fact that we can sit at our computers and talk to people from all over the world really make the world a smaller place or doest it make having actual human interaction a rapidly-fading skill?
One of the people that is responsible for more lost work time and, perhaps, building more of those walls around people has to be the world’s youngest billionaire, Mark Zuckerberg. This is the man who created Faceook. Or did he? Well, that question is explored in the new movie, directed by David Fincher, The Social Network.
The movie follows the days when Zuckerberg was at Harvard University. The man is definitely not one who is big on actual human interaction. The movie opens with Zuckerberg at a restaurant with his then-girlfriend. He is obsessing over how to get into one of the clubs that dominate the life at Harvard. He does not impress is girlfriend and she tells him that he can count on spending the rest of his life being very lonely. In revenge, Zuckerberg heads back to his dorm where he creates something called Facesmash. This is a kind of emailed online deal where the faces of undergraduates from around campus are matched up against each other with users determining who is hot and who isn’t. It’s illegal and Zuckerberg ends up on probation, but it also gets him noticed.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as mass of mental walls and psychoses. He manages to have the same stoic expression on his face throughout the movie. Whether or not Zuckerberg is really that walled off from humanity is neither here nor there. This movie is not meant to be realistic and historic. This movie is meant to look at how a genius can become a millionaire and how, during that time, he can make a few enemies along the way.
The movie cuts between the modern times when Zuckerberg is being deposed in two different lawsuits. There are the athletic twins who initially hired him to create something called The Harvard Connection that would, essentially, be a dating site where women could find and date Harvard men. Zuckerber, instead, creates something called The Facebook. They think he stole their idea.
At the same time Zuckerberg is being sued by his seemingly one and only friend and CFO of Facebook, Eduardo Saverin. Saverin floats the initial $1,000 that gets the venture going. However, after Zuckerberg meet Napster creator, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), he moves the company to Silicon Valley, and Eduardo finds himself phased out.
The movie, as directed by Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, manages to make a movie about computer programming one of the best movies of 2010. The dialog positively crackles with energy and wit. Somehow the filmmaker and writer have managed to make men sitting in front of computers writing code interesting.
The movie has been compared by some to Citizen Kane. While I cannot say that this movie will become the enduring classic of Orson Welles’ masterpiece, I can see how the comparisons work. We see Zuckerberg’s story, essentially, in flashback. We see how power can corrupt and how someone with severe emotional issues can harm the people around him who want only to build him up and be his friend. I am sure that every millionaire or billionaire story contains more than a few ruined friendships and shattered hearts and minds in its wake.
If The Social Network is about the creation of one of the biggest online sensations the world has ever known the documentary Catfish shows us how that service can be used and misused. The commercials for this film tell everyone that they should not give away the ending. I don’t necessarily believe that giving away the ending ruins the film, but I will not do that.
The movie shows a photographer from New York City named Nev Schulman. He shares a workspace with his bother, Ariel, and their friend Henry Joost. Ariel and Henry are filmmakers. Nev takes photos of dancers and has success as a photographer. When Nev takes some photos of dancers for a promotion for a dance company, he suddenly receives a painting of one of his photos. What is remarkable is that this painting is from an 8-year-old girl named Abby who lives in Michigan.
Ariel and Henry feel that Abby’s story would be a great topic for a documentary. At first Nev isn’t entirely sure that this is a good idea. Then he relents. Nev finds Abby’s mother, Angela, on Facebook. They become friends. He then becomes friends with Angela’s older daughter, Megan. Megan is a gorgeous blond with lots of photos where she is just barely dressed on her Facebook page. Before long Nev and Megan are chatting online and then talking on the phone. Is she the one for him?
The three men are hired to take photos of a dance company, as well as film it, in Vail, Colorado. When they head out there Nev decides it might be a good idea for them to stop in Michigan on the way back. Some questions have started to be raised about Megan, Abby and the rest of that family. For example, the music Megan is supposedly composing and recording for Nev in minutes might actually be recordings of other people. What is going on?
Well, what happens next is more edge-of-your-seat than you could possibly imagine. The three young men start off appearing a bit “too cool for the room” and like anything that might happen to them online they would be far too savvy to fall for. As they begin to poke around, using the internet to investigate some of the claims Megan, Abby and Angela make, their questions mount Then, when they arrive in Michigan, things suddenly take a surprising turn. It just shows you that real life can be more suspenseful and full of more twists and turns than anything Hollywood can conjure.
I have to admit I felt for Nev. I had my own interesting experience with someone I met online. It turned out very badly and I felt rather stupid for falling for so much of what was told to me. There are several moments where Nev has some of the same expressions on his face and says some of the same things I said when it was happening to me.
Despite the ad campaign that makes this seem like a false documentary like Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project, it is not. This seems to be a very genuine documentary that took them places they did not expect. There is no supernatural element near the end or anything. There are only humans and the things that humans go through has more drama than anything fiction can conjure.
These two movies should be shown back-to-back as double features. Both of then are well-made and exciting. They are the kind of films that make you glad to be a fan of film. Both are remarkable records of our time and raise interesting questions about them. In both cases, these are movies destined to be discussed after they are over and both should end up on Top Ten lists from critics coast to coast.