Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Social Network

We all have those humiliations seared into our memories. The time a joke told at our expense made the whole class laugh. Being picked last for the team or not at all. Being stood up for a date.

And we imagined revenge. Not the binding and gagging and tossing over a cliff kind of revenge (okay, I’ve thought of that too) but the French proverb “Success is the best revenge” type. We dream of achieving such
incredible success that those who treated us poorly will deeply regret it and the whole world will see us for the phenomenal individuals we are.

Say, you found a company with a very popular product that is valued around the world and in the process become a multibillionaire. Then surely you would have the respect of one and all. Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, the
co-founder of Facebook about whom a major film has just been released that portrays him as a …. let’s use the polite word… jerk.

“The Social Network”, written by Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) and directed by David Fincher (“Se7en”), follows Zuckerberg from his early days at Harvard, pulling rude computer pranks, through his rise to become one of the most powerful CEOs in the world. And the film strongly implies that his motivation for technological and corporate innovation come from such slights as the girl who broke up with him and the elite university clubs that ignored him.

Zuckerberg is portrayed as a brilliant geek sorely lacking in social skills, deceptive and manipulative in his rise to fortune. He seems at times to be the embodiment of Matthew 16:26 (“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”) except at times it’s unclear if he had a soul to begin with.

Much of the story is told in the form of flashbacks as the film follows legal proceedings of lawsuits filed by rivals and also his best friend, yet it should always be kept in mind that this is a fictionalized version of the events. Much of the history told in the story is not buried in those very lawsuits with very strict nondisclosure agreements.

An interesting thing about the film is that some viewers will see the film as a success story and others will see it as a tragedy. Zuckerberg (portrayed quite ably by “Zombieland”’s Jesse Eisenberg) did achieve something very special in the creation of Facebook. Though a recent some consider it a gimmicky time-waster, it is also arguably the most innovative tool for communication since the Internet itself, created by a man before he hit his mid twenties.

On the other hand, some view Zuckerberg’s falling out with his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), as cautionary tale against putting self interest first. (This theme is suggested in the film’s tagline, “You don’t make 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”)

And you know, kids, you’re both right. This film is about a flawed guy who achieves some amazing things. If this world is all there is, then it’s worth cutting some ethical corners when the stakes are so high. But if there is a God watching us and wanting the best for us and an eternity waiting after this life, then something very vital has been left out of the equation.

Now you may still be saying, “Why should I see this film? I don’t even go on Facebook!” Well, you don’t have to be an astronaut to watch “The Right Stuff”. And the reasons you should see this film include rich, funny dialogue, sharp performances and some interesting moral questions to ponder. In Facebook parlance, I think it’s worth clicking “Confirm” rather than “Ignore”.

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