The Social Network

If I’d reviewed this film when I first saw it, my quest to review all the 2010 Best Picture nominees would be a lot further along. Here we go anyway… Oh yes, and spoiler alerts.

The Social Network's sinister movie poster, featuring Jesse Eisenberg as Mark ZuckerbergThe Social Network is David Fincher’s latest film (Se7en, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and is penned by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60). It chronicles the creation of Facebook (if you don’t know what Facebook is, then you’re probably either reading a printout of this review or you are an alien preparing an invasion and I don’t want to give you any more advantages than you clearly already have). The entire story is an adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, which he wrote relying mainly on Eduardo Saverin (played in the film by Andrew Garfield), Mark Zuckerberg’s best friend at Harvard, who in the present is one of two groups suing Zuckerberg for stealing Facebook. As such, you’d expect the film to be more critical of Zuckerberg, but it’s not. Even still, much has been made about how fictitious the Zuckerberg in the film actually is. Jesse Eisenberg didn’t ever meet Mark Zuckerberg. From all accounts, the awkward, anti-social misanthrope we see in the film is light-years from the warm, funny (and maybe still slightly awkward) Zuckerberg who actually runs Facebook.

Jesse Eisenberg (Mark Zuckerberg), Justin Timberlake (Sean Parker) and Andrew Garfield (Spiderman, I mean Eduado Saverin)Sorkin tells the story in flashbacks cut between deposition hearings with Zuckerberg and either Saverin or the Winklevoss twins – two hulking Harvard rowers who were seniors when sophomore Zuckerberg started the Facebook. Both Saverin and the Winklevoss twins claim that at some point Zuckerberg stole Facebook from them, so we are taken back to Harvard of 2002-2003 to see for ourselves. The twins claim to have came up with the original idea to make Facebook available only to select colleges through a dating website called Harvard Connect they contacted Zuckerberg to build for them. Saverin was the original CFO (and sole financier) of Facebook, and was tricked (though, according to the flim, legally tricked) into signing away his shares by Zuckerberg and Sean Parker (the Napster founder who had wormed his way into the Facebook inner circle).

The story itself is pretty straight forward and fun to watch. Sorkin’s dialogue brings the characters to life. His script keeps the characters from becoming parodies of themselves while allowing us to experience the thrill of watching underdog-nobody-dork Zuckerberg triumph over the nefarious Winklevi who clearly have everything – money, smarts and good looks to spare. But you don’t completely hate the twins and you can’t completely love Zuckerberg. Saverin is the betrayed friend while Parker is the self-destructive cool-kid whose too immature for his own good.

According to the film, Erica Albright should probably get some money too... If she hadn't dumped Zuckerberg, he never would've started the ball rolling on Facebook.As the movie poster  hints, the movie’s central theme is the false intimacy Facebook promises. The film opens with Zuckerberg getting dumped by his girlfriend, Erica Albright, in a bar and going home in a drunken pity party. His drive to become cool led him to put the entire college social experience online in the form of Facebook. The irony is that as the popularity of Facebook grew, Zuckerberg became more and more of a celebrity, but didn’t connect with anyone on a meaninful level. In fact, he grew futher and further apart from his best – and only – friend, Eduardo Saverin. The film ends with Zuckerberg alone in the deposition room refreshing Erica’s Facebook page, waiting to see if she’ll accept his friend request. Mark might have over 1,000,000 friends, but he’s completely alone.

The real question is this, though: is the film a commentary on the false intimacy social networking offers us, or on the false reality film offers? Because the real Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t bear much resemblance to the film at all. The real Mark Zuckerberg has had the same girlfriend since he founded Facebook, and everyone who knows him describes him as a warm, friendly person. So while The Social Network is an interesting parable about the dangers of false intimacy, we would do well to remember that film is just as fickle a mistress.

Bottom Line: It’s a fun, smart film. It’s a great commentary on relationships and remembering what’s important!

Film Review: Toy Story 3

Go see this.  Right now.  Why are you still here?It’s become trite to say Pixar can’t make a bad film.  So it’s probably no surprise to anybody that Toy Story 3 is great.  But words really do not do this film justice.  Pixar has demonstrated that its films are starting to mature (remember UP?), and in this regard, TS3 follows suit.  Andy is off to college, the toys haven’t been played with in years and the question is raised: what happens now?  The toys are adrift – if Andy doesn’t need them anymore, what is their purpose?  What does it mean to move on in our lives?  How do transitions change what it means to be a family or community?  Can we learn to forgive, or will we become angry and bitter?

TS3 dives head-long into these issues.  The toys end up at Sunnyside Daycare; it seems at first to be a toy’s paradise, but dark secrets smolder just beneath the surface.  Can the toys escape and make it back to Andy’s house before he leaves for college?  Do they even want to escape?

Meet the new inhabitant of my nightmares.The story in and of itself is beautiful, gripping, hilarious and tragic.   Were this all the film gave us it would still be an incredible viewing experience.  But we get to travel with the toys as they learn what it means to move on, to change and, yes, to outgrow our childhoods.  We learn how important it is to have a purpose and the incomparable power of a community working together.  We see the beauty of friendship and the promise of redemption.  We laugh till our sides hurt and shriek in horror at Big Baby.

I understand that kids will probably love this movie, but don’t kid yourself.  Pixar made this film for adults.  Not because it’s filled with innuendo (::ahem:: Shrek) but because the toys’ journey is the journey of the child growing up.  The student leaving for college.  The parent saying goodbye.  The mentor passing on a legacy.  These are adult journeys that Pixar has treated with the utmost respect and grace.  And somehow they’ve managed to do so while making you laugh so hard you’ll pee your pants if you’re not careful.

Bottom line: TS3 is enjoyable on every level. Go see it. But brush up on your Spanish first.

Trust me on that last part.

Generosity and Community, but Blunt.

The Mound City Post Office displayed this sign for a few days before the funeral.  The POST OFFICE. This doesn't happen in cities.  Or even big towns, for that matter.This series of posts comprise my reflections on the life of my grandfather John Barnes. The first entry is here.

A few years after John and Helen married, Eastern Kansas was struck by a pretty severe drought that left their small family in dire straights (since John was a farmer).  They were unable to pay their gas bill, but the owner of the station knew John and extended him credit for over a year until they could harvest a good crop and begin to recover from the drought.

When I first heard this story, I was overcome by the generosity of the store owner.  Such an act of kindness is far from commonplace in my culture.  Credit is offered by VISA and MasterCard, not by a local business owner, and we don’t do business with the same persons often enough that they know our names, much less vouch for our honesty and work ethic in so tangible a way.

That singular act of generosity is a window for me into John’s world; he and my grandmother were unfailingly generous as well.  I remember snippets of conversations overheard by my young ears – discussions between my mother and her brothers about some loans Grandma and Grandpa had made.  I never really knew the persons in question nor did I fully grasp what had actually transpired (I was far to busy exploring the barns or swimming in the lake to be troubled by such grownup concerns), but I do remember that they always seemed to give more than most everyone else thought they should.

I also remember when a good friend of theirs was finally dying.  Her husband had long since died, and she had no children to care for her (whether she had never had children or they were not there for some other reason I never knew), so my grandparents cared for her for a long time, visiting her several times every week and helping her to put all her affairs in order.  Small town gossip being what it is, several persons in town began to speculate that they were trying to weasel into her will.  I’ll never forget that my Grandma looked  at me and said, “I don’t know how anyone could think such a thing.  She’s our friend.”  John simply nodded his agreement.

That was John Barnes to me.  He didn’t say much.  And when he did speak, it was straight to the point (for instance, when I got my first tattoo – Hebrew on my left forearm – I knew instantly that he was not thrilled.  He asked me what it said, and when I started to tell him, he cut me off by exclaiming, “It says bulls*** to me.”  That was the first time I ever heard him cuss.)  For most of my life, I’d always taken his gruffness to be a sort of sullen anger – as my mother pointed out in her funeral reflections, he always could throw a good fit.  But in retrospect, I realize that John was just a simple man.  Not intellectually; as my uncle Jim said, “He didn’t say much, but he didn’t miss much either.”

No, I wonder if John’s simplicity was a sort of embodied honesty.  He worked hard.  He loved well.  He lived in a community that respected hard work but that caught you when you fell.  And he didn’t see much point in trying to be anything other than what he knew.

There’s an authenticity there that many of us are missing.  The communities in which we live have become so detached, so disembodied that we now have to seek out those experiences that were part-and-parcel of John’s every-day-life.  And we’re having to learn to be real in a way that he never did.

John wasn’t perfect; far from it.  And that’s the point.  If you knew John, you knew him flaws and all.  He never had a conversation about ‘taking off masks’ or ‘tearing down walls’ in his community.  I’m not sure those conversations would have even made sense to him, so far are they removed from his lived experiences.

It makes me wonder what we have to learn from actual communities actually living in community.  Where your loss is my loss and your win is my win.  I wonder what we can do to begin to reclaim that level of honesty in our lives.  I wonder how we can move back towards an embodied sense of community.

Any thoughts?