Monday, October 04, 2010

Fincher, Facebook, Fight Club and Citizen Kane -- Some thoughts on The Social Network

Movie Commentary

The Social Network
directed by David Fincher
screenplay by Aaron Sorkin

I saw The Social Network on Saturday and thought it was excellent. As such, it was nice to see that the movie had a good opening weekend at the box office, earning $23 to "win the weekend."

Since you can read much more insightful reviews in a zillion other places, and I am one who prefers to know as little as possible about the plot details of a movie before seeing it, I won't really write about the film itself or detailing its merits.

But I wanted to share a few thoughts, since in the Facebook age, it's forbidden to have thoughts without letting the world in on them. Hopefully, these aren't quite that trivial.

1. Director David Fincher - Ever since I loved his "Fight Club" in 1999, Fincher has been among my favorite current directors and one of relatively few modern artists in any genre from whom I actively look forward to what will come next. (For Fincher, the American adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is now "on the clock").

I've liked Fincher's films after Fight Club, including Panic Room, Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, as well as Seven and The Game, which preceded it. But while I still consider Fight Club to be his best work, and although The Social Network doesn't quite fit into the quirky, suspenseful style that defined Fincher early on, with a little more time and another viewing or two, I suspect I might perceive it as his high-water mark to date.

Perhaps this is because The Social Network doesn't feel overtly like "a Fincher movie" yet tells a story about computer programming and lawsuits without even seeming slow, tedious or confusing. I think it's almost more impressive when directors make great movies that don't have such clear personal stamps on them or fit clearly into an auteur theory.

I also find it somewhat fascinating that in bringing Fight Club--based on a book by Chuck Palahniuk--to the masses, with its story of an underground club where young men gather for a missing sense of belonging and purpose (albeit by beating each other to a pulp) that grows into a national network of fight clubs, becomes a phenomenon and morphs into a multi-faceted commercial enterprise, in a way Fincher presaged what Facebook would become, and predicted its growth pattern.

And in casting Justin Timberlake in The Social Network to play Napster co-founder, Sean Parker--who becomes a key ally to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in helping him see the site's mammoth potential--Fincher makes the movie version of Parker a good bit more slick, abrasive and largely unlikable than he seems to be in real-life. (This is an excellent Vanity Fair article on the real Parker). As Fincher says in a recent Time interview: "A lot of people said, 'That's not who Sean Parker is.' And I kept fighting for this. It doesn't matter who Sean Parker is; this character of Zuckerberg has to see him as this. He's got to see him as the guy who's got it wired."

For those who know Fight Club, doesn't this make the Mark Zuckerberg-Sean Parker movie relationship somewhat parallel to the Jack (Edward Norton)-Tyler Durden relationship?

2. The Citizen Kane Connection - At first, it may seem silly to put a brand new movie about Facebook in the same sentence as Orson Welles' 1941 masterpiece that many consider the best movie ever made. But after Fincher himself jokingly called The Social Network, "“the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies” in a New York magazine article, a little Googling has revealed that many reviews and commentaries on the new movie have also made the association. While I don't think that The Social Network will be supplanting Citizen Kane atop the AFI 100 list anytime soon (even if its IMDB user composite rating currently bests Kane's), I think it actually is a surprisingly sage comparison.

Although this LA Times blog piece by Patrick Goldstein primarily serves to shrewdly point out a key distinction in how the two films go about fictionalizing real-life figures, it correctly asserts that "the movies have a lot in common, both being wildly ambitious dissections of incredibly powerful but deeply flawed media visionaries." 

Another similarity that I haven't read elsewhere is in how--and I guess I should throw in a SPOILER ALERT for those that don't know anything that happens in The Social Network, or Citizen Kane for that matter--the dissolution of the partnership and friendship of Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin (his college roommate, best friend and Facebook co-founder) is largely akin to that of Charles Foster Kane (a pseudo William Randolph Hearst, played by Welles) and Jedidiah Leland (played by Joseph Cotton; I don't know that he's directly modeled on any one person).

And while it might be too harsh on the 26-year-old Zuckerberg--both the real one and even as depicted in the movie--to say his, like Kane's, is a story of someone who gains the world while losing his soul, both films certainly touch on the unseemly consequences along the road to immense riches.

If the association helps any more of Facebook's 5 billion worldwide users come to know about and see Citizen Kane, that's nothing but a good thing in its own right.


Greg Boyd said...

I loved it too. Fantastic film. I really need to see "Zodiac".

-L- said...

Another interesting comparison to "Citizen Kane" would be with the ending sequences of each movie, where we're shown how the characters could have been making these world-changing actions for the most simple and basic of reasons. And in each case it's handled subtly and gracefully, opening a tiny window into what was motivating the main character.

Kim K said...

You are spot on about Citizen Kane my friend. I was oddly depressed at the end of the movie, while at the same time not wanting it to end. Great articles in Vanity Fair about the Sean Parker (?) guy; there is even a little piece on those goofy twins.