Monday, November 15, 2010
The Social Network
Social Network is one of the best movies of the year. (I haven't watched every single movie released this year - but I can still make such statements, because, one can perceive greatness when one sees it.) Seriously, it is a great movie - go watch it.
It tells the story of the formation of Facebook. Starts when Mark Zuckerberg after being dumped by his girlfriend in a Cambridge bar, leaves his drink unfinished, jogs his way through the night wearing a GAP hoodie and his backpack, to reach his dorm room in Harvard to have some more beers and start blogging furiously about the cross-currents of thoughts running in his head - he makes scathingly insulting cracks at his ex-girlfriend, and in the process of emptying his mind on the cyberspace comes up with an idea for a website that compares and rates Harvard girls based on their appearance.
He completes coding and setting-up the website that same night and sends the link to all Harvard students. The traffic is so heavy on this site, it brings down the university network at 4.00 in the morning. For this, he gets noticed, and is offered the job of joining a team of students (two of them, brothers, with the last name Winklevoss) who are setting-up a social networking site at Harvard called Harvard Connections. He runs with the idea on his own, partners with his friend Eduardo for the money and sets-up Facebook.
The Harvard Connections team sues him for stealing their idea for the website. While the two sides sit across a posh table and go through lengthy, acrimonious depositions, the movie unfolds in the background. Mark and his friend Eduardo get Facebook going (complete with the subtitle of "A Mark Zuckerberg Production"), first exclusively for Harvard students and then expand it to other universities. The site grows spectacularly - and lets just say, things get interesting.
This is a semi-fictional film - the broad outlines are drawn from what is public information. Mark comes across as a socially inept, uber-talented nerd. He writes computer programs like be was born to write computer programs, with manic energy and drive and phenomenal stamina (36 hours coding sessions, anyone?). And there is an entire sub-section of students/programmers who derive their mojo from zoning out the rest of the world, wearing a head-phone to musically cue their brains and have an orgy with machines and … code.
Watch Mark in any social setting - he stands out (not always in a good way, nevertheless). Without exception, he is the most under-dressed guy in any room. Even when there is a feet of snow outside, he roams in his shorts and flippers. The conversations he has with people (who are not his friends or whom he likes) are like playing hopscotch in a landmine field - you never know when things are going to blow up. The first scene where Mark chats with his girlfriend in bar is a masterpiece of dialogue writing - the actors speak at breakneck pace, not just speak, think and dodge and dance with words. Issues crop up like a punching wall and Mark furiously talks, diverts, talks more until he has unwillingly traumatized his girlfriend in every which way possible. His mind works so fast, he is sort of befuddled that it has not led him to the right end. Thinking fast is great, but some pause, some compassion could help.
The film also subtly raises issues like conformity and its role in society building. Parents, family, society everyone who could influence you when you are being formed, tries to make you to conform to things. The more you conform, the better you are for. People sometime confuse discipline with conformity. Discipline to some extent is good. But most of us don't stop until we are way way into the super-safe, super-under-exiting zone of passivity and acceptance. In a world populated by mostly conformists, the non-conformists rule. Boundaries are meaningless to them. Mark is one such example.
A room full of men and women in suits trying to get a penny from a guy wearing a ill-fitting shirt, unkempt hair and bathroom flippers. That says something.
This is a beautifully crafted film. Watch the rowing competition held in England where the Winklevosses lose by a whisker. Spectacularly constructed - the cinematography, the editing, the sound effects, the choice of music - it is slightly eerie, it is odd, it is confusing, it is an experience -just breathtaking. Another scene that is superbly done is the scene where Sean Parker (the guy who created Napster) talks to Mark seated in a loud club about how big businesses are built, and how to dream big - the tension of those words, their implications - you can barely sit still watching the scene.
It gets pretty much everything right. The characters, their priorities, the acting, the world of start-ups, the atmosphere, the college experience. The movie is funny, it is gripping as only the best thrillers can be, it is smart, it is perceptive, it doesn't underestimate the audience's capabilities and it transports you. I don't know how you feel about Facebook - I have still not made up my mind - it is nice to see my old friends on Facebook - but, still…, I don't know if Facebook is a good thing or bad. But, I am pretty sure of one thing - that this is a story that deserves to be told, and deserves to be watched.