Monday, May 12, 2014

"The Social Network" Revisited

"You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole."

"The Social Network" was one of my first reviews, my tenth if we're going to be picky. As such, it's a horrible mess of a review and I've included the link here (The Social Network) for curious minds. I've seen the film quite a few times and remain a huge fan; but the latest time I was watching it, I was surprised by how much there is going on in the picture.

From moment one, it's clear that Mark Zuckerberg is motivated by something, yet we are never sure what it is. In the infamous first scene when he's talking to his soon to be ex-girlfriend, he mentions final clubs and how great they are because they are "exclusive, and fun, and they lead to a better life." He wants to do something that will capture the attention of the final clubs, something truly noteworthy. His first attempt at this embodies itself in a drunken blogging rage against his now ex-girlfriend as a site that rates girls on their hotness level. After crashing Harvard's system because of overuse, Zuckerberg is placed on the top of a self-made pedestal before being approached by the Winklevoss twins. Now he sees his first glimpses of the life he wanted, and it doesn't interest him so much. He now thinks of himself as superior.

Aaron Sorkin certainly didn't hold back from being as scathing as possible towards Mark Zuckerberg, though while there's so much to hate about him, you find yourself thinking that he probably couldn't have helped himself. He seems so plugged in to his own world that he is immune to other people's feelings. The film is so overt with this thinking and Jesse Eisenberg plays the billionaire with such naivety that we begin to wonder if he doesn't have some anti-social disability. Whatever the reason, Mark's ego grows into a beast and under the pampering influence of Napster founder, Sean Parker (played with paranoia by Justin Timberlake) and he starts to take every piece of advice, including making himself a card that reads: I'm CEO, bitch!

Mark is prepared to fight for Facebook, but no one tries to take it from him. He tries to vault over obstacle after obstacle, but none come his way. The process of turning the network site into a full-fledged mega-structure seems fairly far as programming is concerned. The movie never talks about the technical side, more than is necessary, and focuses more on Mark and his best friend's relationship. Eduardo Saverin (brilliantly played by Andrew Garfield) was the finance side of Facebook's genesis. He thinks that they have to start monetizing the site sometime; but Mark disagrees because that isn't cool. The true struggle of the film is between Saverin and Zuckerberg—friendship versus ego.

For being such a small role in the movie, and receiving low billing for the film, the most pivotal moments of the movie come from Rooney Mara as Mark's ex-girlfriend and Rashida Jones as Marilyn Delpy. These two have the bookends of the movie, and each one says something quite poignant that makes us realize that Mark hasn't changed from the first scene to the last, he's still trying for something to be famous, to gain attention and we don't get to know why. Mark is a chauvinist, according to the film, so what better way than to get to hear the best advice from women?

This is why I love the movie. There is so much good drama here that creeps up on you and attacks you unexpectedly. We see Mark's descent into blind submission and egotism, but we don't expect that betrayal will result from this. After all, Eduardo was Mark's only true friend. He sees their business venture as a furthering of their relationship. They did everything together and Eduardo was the only one who could really understand Mark's peculiar antics. It makes it all the more cruel when Mark rips the rug out from under Eduardo and this results in many court cases.

This is the biggest aspect of the movie that I hadn't noticed before. Eduardo is constantly mentioning his father. He longs for approval; but his dad is a non-present figure of the movie. The Winklevoss brothers also have dealings with their father; but Mark doesn't. In fact, we don't hear mention or see his parents at all. While Eduardo struggles—at one point in the hearings, saying "My father won't even talk to me", it's a small line, but crucial—Mark tries to soar on his own.

Sorkin has almost outdone himself with this screenplay. It's his most insightful and his most perceptive work. Even if you take the movie as a fiction movie, there is so many dynamics to it, that it's almost impossible to absorb it all. One of my favorite moments, is near the end when Marilyn is talking to Mark about why he should settle. She mentions that they have the original comments that Mark made about his ex. Mark tries to justify himself:
Mark: I was drunk, and angry, and stupid...
Marilyn:...and blogging.
Mark: And blogging.
Teeming with references and loaded with quick lines, the script is in a class of its own.

This is the most frustrating part of the film. We want Mark to suffer because he has screwed over people that shouldn't have been screwed over; yet when he settles out of court, does that really satisfy us. No. There is justice, but is there enough? Perhaps not, but that makes the film true.

By the ending of the movie, as Mark has climbed to mega-stardom, he is left in a room alone trying to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend. Why? I think that all Mark wanted was friends, but cyber friends are not the same as real people. For being such an intensely intelligent person, Mark doesn't fit in well. his quest for more friends causes him to lose the only one he's had.

It's all summed up at the very end, by Marilyn:

"You're not an asshole, Mark. You're just trying so hard to be."

As the music is cued and the credits roll, we are left to our own thoughts.
"The Social Network" remains one of the most interesting and diabolically clever movies of recent years.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Book versus Movie: 12 Years a Slave

2013 wasn't a great year for historical accuracy...and by this, of course, I'm referring to "Lee Daniels' The Butler". I went on a not-so-famous diatribe about how horribly manipulative, condescending, and grotesquely fair-tale-esque all the lies in the movie where. From the name of the man to how many sons he to to the fate of the sons—it was a terrible offender.

The other movie that could have felt this way was "12 Years a Slave" which told the "true story" of Solomon Northup.

Steve McQueen is a fantastic director so he knows how to make a movie. The film didn't have the phony feeling that Daniels' movie did...whether it was true or not is another saga. The two movies are very similar. They both deal with racial issues—albeit in drastically different ways—and both are about injustice. Naturally, one has much more suffering in it than the other...that much is expected.

So that's why I haven't picked up the book 12 Years a Slave because I was fearing the worst. Last time I had researched a movie, it turned out to be a complete lie and I liked the film too much to do that. But, I have decided that the film is great even if it is a lie...and I started to read the book anyways.

Not truly existing in its original form, edited, and editorialized, 12 Years a Slave has been preserved as best as it can, even with all the 'inaccuracies" within it. The edition I can across (by Sue Eakin) has about a hundred pages of notes in the back, explaining who is who and where the book takes place, things of this nature. Any time there was research that could be done, these people did it. As such, it feels like an exhaustive work and can be quite tiresome to read.

Bu still, you have to admire the dedication that this group of people had towards making a fully comprehensive edition of Solomon Northup's life and I'm glad that I'm reading this book and not just the diary itself, because it illuminates several facts about the book and, to an extent, the movie that wouldn't have been seen otherwise.

With the book, Solomon—using a ghost writer named David Wilson—paints himself as a man above reproach. He suffers and is put through horrible circumstances; but is intellectually, spiritually, and morally superior to all his captors and owners. He is portrayed as an almost angelic creature, a virginal type person who is tainted with Slavery—referred to as an entity in the book and not just an act.
But Solomon was not a perfect man and the notes take time to point out that he had been arrested several times for assault. He was a drunkard and he often disappeared and reappeared going to places unknown so his absence from his home was not uncommon and that's why people didn't immediately start looking for him.

Yet he was treated brutally, and that much is shown clearly in the movie which takes the book very, very literally; and I find myself having even more respect for John Ridley and Steve McQueen for the movie. When you translate a novel to film, you have edit a lot out...there's just no way to make a comprehensive film that can do a three hundred page novel justice. The same is true for "12 Years a Slave". There are moments that are taken out, like Solomon getting sick and going blind right before he is sold to William Ford. There is also embellishment, namely the amount of grief that Eliza shows when she is separated from her children. The book somewhat glosses over the fact, not taking too much time to spend on Eliza and focusing more on Solomon. But the movie expounds on what the book implies—there is heavy sorrow here.

Still, the shocking thing is how the book lines up almost exactly to the movie, it's a brilliant interpretation of the diary.

But why didn't the movie portray Solomon as the man he actually was—rough around the edges?
Though it could have been much more realistic with Solomon, the movie is based on the diary and not the life of the man. It pays homage to the writing itself. Solomon isn't perfect in the film, but he's as close as any protagonist we've seen in a long time. Just seeing an actor embody the graceful being as seen in the book is enough to humanize him.

Christy Lemire, on a YouTube show called "What the Flick?!" said that she though the film was too gratuitous with its violence. She mentioned a scene in which Solomon hangs from a tree by his neck as punishment for attacked one of his masters. This much is in the book as well, the scene in question has Solomon losing himself to his anger—Slavery has turned him into a resentful person, though this is really the only time we see him lose his temper—and we can all cheer for him because of his attack.
Anyways, the guy come back and seizes Solomon, hoisting him up on a tree before being ordered to stop. He runs off and Solomon is left hanging by his neck, the tips of his toes barely touching the ground. It's a long, static shot and I would say it's the one moment in the movie where McQueen is at his most consistent.

Lemire criticized this moments, but it was in the book! What were they supposed to do? There's a little leeway here, but it's taken from the written word almost verbatim.

The movie has its critics because they all think it too excessive; but I look at the film as a powerful representation of a historical occurrence. Solomon Northup is given his dues...the movie is sensational; but more than that, I consider it to be one of the best examples of a book being made into a book. John Ridley is a master.

I think both the book and the movie are best summed up by part of the final paragraph in Solomon Northup's diary:

"This is no fiction, no exaggeration. If I have failed in anything, it has been presenting to the reader too prominently the bright side of the picture. I doubt not hundreds have been as unfortunate as myself; that hundreds of free citizens have been kidnapped and sold into slavery, and are at this moment wearing out their lives on plantations in Texas and Louisiana. But I forbear....I hope henceforward to lead an upright and though lowly life, and rest at last in the church yard where my father sleeps."

If you had to pick one: Movie