11 January 2011
In my complaints about films not being ambitious enough this year, I kept mentally leaving The Social Network on the fence. It had been three months since I'd last seen it and I couldn't decide from memory how to categorize it. There was no question that Fincher and Sorkin and everyone involved had delivered a pretty amazingly solid film, but would it qualify as "ambitious"? Does it stand out in a year of low-aiming solid work, or is it another of the same?
I don't know. I'm still on the fence. But I'm leaning toward this being more ambitious than average. The problem, I suppose, is the ways in which it's ambitious: it tells a story that didn't need, really, to be told, and a story that should, in theory, be pretty low-key and boring, and it makes it feel like a story that simply must be told and is never for a single frame boring. In fact it's easily one of the most cerebrally engaging films of the year, if not the most. But if there are various ways to pierce your audience -- emotional, cerebral, visceral, spiritual (short-hand for poetic and abstract, speaking to the "soul"), among possibly others -- The Social Network never gets much legwork out of anything but cerebral. I mean, I sympathize to a surprising degree with an unambiguously unsympathetic lead character, but I can't call this an emotional story. A couple of scenes (Eduardo's ousting and Mark realizing Sean is the fuck-up he'd been warned about come to mind) strike an emotional chord, but this isn't a movie about feelings. It's a movie about the pregnancy of ideas so powerful that some of that energy spills over momentarily into emotional or visceral places -- it's still about ideas. But I seem to have wandered off course here.
The point is, it's ambitious in its hard-hitting low-key approach to something we realize not only impacts us all, everywhere, but that sums up the zeitgeist of the times with acidic poignancy. We have always been, all of us, a little bit Mark Zuckerberg, and after the proliferation of Facebook and other sites and interfaces like it, we are a lot Mark Zuckerberg. Detachment of that sort, somewhere between Asperger's syndrome and sociopathic behavior, has become par for the course. We are all either laser-beam focused or completely ADHD, and often, simultaneously, both. So the film is ambitious in that through simple drama and clever energetic exposition, it shows us something in us we don't normally acknowledge. And damn if it's not beautiful, well acted, delicately and sharply written, with almost no missteps at all (Rashida Jones's character's line at the end that Mark "isn't really an asshole, but he tries so hard to be" rings even more untrue to the character and the themes of the story on second viewing, and it rubs me wrong for being an attempt at trite summation; so it's not completely without misstep). So okay, call it subtly ambitious. It's still neck-and-neck for what I consider the best American film of the year.
I don't have a lot more to say, actually. It deserves more viewings, but it's so good at making its own cases I almost feel like I don't need to add anything to it. Or maybe it's just got so many layers to digest that I've got to spend more time working through those layers before I discover anything that feels new or novel and worth discussing. It's such a clockwork masterpiece, and I still think it makes a perfect double-feature with Zodiac as the 21st century example of the intellectual procedural film. It never insults you, but it keeps pushing you forward relentlessly, with what happens next.
And on a side note that has nothing to do with anything, it's also got the classiest physical packaging and menu screens of any Blu-Ray I own, so that's something. Really beautiful and understated.