Claremont, CA. In today’s Los Angeles Times, Neil Gabler has an insightful piece on the way in which the “gang of friends” has become the dominant social group on American television. This has happened, he points out, at a time when long-term, stable friend groups have become harder and harder to sustain (the aspirations of Facebook creators notwithstanding).
The article, “On TV, It’s Ideal Friends, All The Time,” is worth a read.
It reminds us that American popular culture – in this case, television – sometimes tells us more about our fantasies than our realities, more about what we lack than what we have.
Sometimes art doesn’t imitate life so much as try to compensate for it.
I just want to get this out there right away and put the cards on the table so to speak: When I first heard about it, I had very little faith in this project. I was stupefied, confused by the thought of what attracted all this talent to this seemingly trivial story to begin with? Why would David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin possibly be interested in the story of the founding of Facebook? Surely they could have found something more important, more meaningful to apply their efforts to. After seeing the film, though, I realized that, of course, Fincher and Sorkin knew what they were doing all along. And furthermore that labeling this as “The Facebook movie” is really an insult to what Sorkin and Fincher were trying to and have succeeded in achieving with this film.
First and foremost, I have to take a step back and admire this film as a technical achievement. Despite seeming to be a departure for Fincher in terms of content and subject matter – which it is and then again isn’t – the film is very clearly and undeniably a Fincher film. Re-teaming with his Fight Club director of photography Jeff Cronenweth, Fincher manages to create and capture that really unique look all of his films have. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous – once again, Fincher proves that he is probably getting the best results in digital photography out of any other director working in that medium, and this film, shot on the RED One camera, looks absolutely beautiful, from the framing to the camera movement to the lighting and on to the look and the feel of the depth of field the RED captures.
Sorkin’s script is also an impeccable achievement and showcases, once again just what a genius this man really is. From a structural standpoint it employs a very effective use of a framing device – the Zuckerberg lawsuit depositions, which introduce the various characters and lead into “flashbacks” of the events being discussed. It really lends the film a Rashomon air and intensifies the mystery behind the Zuckerberg character and what exactly transpired in the creation of this phenomenon, Facebook. Sorkin also demonstrates an acute awareness of character construction, and manages to create a loathsome protagonist we hate and are frustrated by but yet we still end up sympathizing with. Most of all, though, it’s a showcase of Sorkin’s impeccable writing style and knack for writing dialogue with a very unique sound and rhythm. I saw Fincher refer to it as “Sorkinese” in an interview, and this is a really good description – it is certainly very unique to Sorkin and the scripts he has written, and it is also certainly a completely unique language – one which normal people in our real world do not speak, but that just sounds great on screen. The rapid-fire, overlapping dialogue remains one of the highlights of the film for me, and the script is certainly a shoo-in for Oscar consideration.
The film is also a rare showcase of pure acting prowess, and features a very interesting and eclectic cast of young actors stepping out of their comfort zones and delivering some truly phenomenal work. The casting of the film is quite a departure for Fincher, who has enough clout to gather the biggest names working in the business. Instead, he opted to go for a cast of relative unknowns or up-and-comers, and really make stars out of them. First and foremost to be mentioned is Jesse Eisenberg, an actor I have personally been a fan of since The Squid and the Whale in 2005 and one whose work I have continued to enjoy since then. However, no matter how good he was in those previous films, none of his previous performances compare to his amazing achievement on this film. Stripping away his signature goofiness and neurosis, Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as a cold, calculated and determined genius who knows what he wants, is very confident and forward-looking and will stop at nothing to get it. His counter in the film is Saverin, played brilliantly by Andrew Garfield, a name we will be hearing a lot more of of in the next few years: Saverin is a far more sympathetic character, more warm and inviting – these traits only increase the impact of the tragedy of Zuckerberg’s betrayal of their friendship.
Many pundits and commentators have designated this to be the “film that defines our generation”, and truly a “product of its time” in the most literal sense of the word. However, I’m not sure I like this designation, especially since once you watch the film, you very quickly realize that this isn’t a story about the founding of Facebook; it’s really a story of friendship, ambition and betrayal, a character study of this fascinating individual whose actions in the film happen to depict the invention of an online social networking site that gets out of hand and puts all of his relationships, especially that with his best friend and business partner, in jeopardy. All of the themes mentioned above are universal and can be applied to a number of fantastic films and works of fiction over the centuries, and that, I think, is the greatest achievement of the film.
I can’t agree. I’m 28 and still very close to both my high school and college “gang of friends,” with each group having about five core members and some peripheral members (recent girlfriends/boyfriends, etc). These friendships are solid and sustained in part with internet communication.
I’m back in my hometown all my high school friends are also back here for the first time in 10 years. We hang out nearly every weekend, but email is our choice medium of communication during most of the week.
The situation is reversed with my college friends. We mostly communicate using an internet message board that we jointly fund, which is great since we only find a way to get together every year or two.
In both cases, small gangs of close friends are very much part of my reality, and the internet helps keep it that way.
Absolutely. Friendship of the Lewisian variety–Oh, you too? I thought I was the only one!–has long since faded from possibility, particularly so with the advent of convenient, efficient and aesthetically drained quasi-relationships. Gabler’s assertion that what we crave now is membership in a larger community–never before possible–that doesn’t require work on our parts and so has become utterly devoid of meaning. The newspapers of the middle ages listed marriages and deaths as the pieces of life that were meaningful–all else was accidental and of little import. Social networking denies us the discovery of true friendship, but also its inconvenience, and it just may be inconvenience that truly informs and enforms friendships. In this way virtual relationships seem to have both robbed us of meaning and taken it upon themselves to try and reestablish it–and I worry that the latter is impossible. To throw statuses, thoughts and photos into the void of fantasy and have them returned to us affirmed, refined and full of meaning–this is the new endeavor. Is virtual reality up to the task?
I don’t know how many times I have had to say to friends with whom I stay in touch via email: email is one-dimensional. Gone are body language, intonation, volume, gesture, eye movement. It’s all words and we don’t handle them well anymore. And some people say things from behind the shelter of their computer screens which, if they said them face to face, would probably earn them a shot in the chops!
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