Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg as Shylock: "The Social Network"

"The Social Network" is supposed to be a very new film about very new themes. Those familiar with stereotyeps of Jews will recognize one very old theme, though, mentioned in my review, below.

In "Social Network," Jesse Eisenberg blossoms into an Academy-Award-worthy actor. His performance as Facebook-founder Mark Zuckerberg is, by turns, clammy, cold, vacant, snarky, and mean, as it should be. If this were a better film, I'd watch it again just to savor Eisenberg's performance.

Zuckerberg's/Eisenberg's perfect foils, Cameron and Tyler, the Winklevoss twins, are both played by Armie Hammer, and his performance is also noteworthy. The Winklevoss twins were Harvard students and Olympic athletes from old, WASP money. Actor Armie Hammer is himself from old money. He plays the Winklevoss twins without irony – just, here I am, tall, gorgeous, blond, athletic, brilliant, rich, a superman product of WASP breeding. Given how the politically correct cultural elite of the US has demonized its WASP founders, it's amazing that the twins are not portrayed as bad guys here. They're not good guys, they're just really lucky genetic freaks / Aryan Gods. They are also shown to value old fashioned concepts like honor in business.

That a nerdy, super-smart, manipulative, romantically unsuccessful Jewish kid, Zuckerberg, requires establishment WASP princes and ubermenschen like the Winklevosses to sponsor him, and that the Jewish kid eventually manages, through his triumphant sneakiness and cleverness and litigation, to screw the WASP princes over, is a timeworn tale treated many times before, significantly in Lion Feuchtwanger's "Jud Suss." Given how many times storytellers have gone to this well, given the explosive and indeed deadly stereotypes at play, I wish that director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin had ventured anything probing or original here, but they do not.

"The Social Network" is every bit like the subjects it treats. The film is desperately needy, and it works too hard. The film is very loud. Characters often exchange key dialogue in clubs with loud music in the background. The dialogue features, every few seconds, a sarcastic retort.

Every scene shouts at the viewer: SOME PEOPLE IN THE WORLD ARE MUCH SMARTER THAN YOU AND THEY ATTEND EXCLUSIVE PARTIES AND MAKE MONEY YOU CAN'T EVEN DREAM OF. And snort coke off hard-bellied coeds and bungee jump into built-in swimming pools and are serviced by crazed groupies in the stalls of men's rooms. Then they betray each other, and their lives are not always fully emotionally satisfying. You know, I got all that the first time the movie told me, and I really didn't need it repeated over and over and over and over again. The final scene of "The Social Network" is unbelievably cheap. If anyone tells you he was moved by that final scene, that person needs to get out more. It's a blatant, failed, attempt at a "rosebud" scene.

I liked the film at first, but it really doesn't have anything new to say that I didn't know before I went in, and I was really eager for it to finish up. What, besides Dutch angles and noir cinematography, separates a film like "The Social Network" from a masterpiece, also about ambition, its rewards and costs, like "Sweet Smell of Success" or "Citizen Kane"? I think those who made those classics managed distance between themselves and their subjects. Orson Welles did not fall under Hearst's spell.

Fincher and Sorkin appear to be very much in thrall to the smarts, power, and money they want to skewer, but never really do. "Look at this man! He's much smarter than you! He's much richer than you! And pity him because his social life is not as good as yours!" They shout.

But then they don't give you any reason to care about this film except its zombie dedication to money and power. "The Social Network" says nothing about the power of facebook, or how it's changing society, or even if it is. Scenes exploring those questions would not be as cool as scenes of snorting coke off a blond teenager's belly, or watching one rich man screw over another.

Finally, there's a miracle story here that no one making the film is interested in pursuing, but that shines through, in spite of the film's lust for decadent wealth. Mark Zuckerberg really is smarter than you or I. That's a very wonderful thing. It's also a wonderful thing that he managed to find his way to 21st century Harvard. Had Zuckerberg been born in a mud hut in any number of locales and centuries, his abundant gift at manipulating zeros and ones would have been wasted, or even a curse. That Zuckerberg's gift was allowed to flower in capitalist America is a much bigger story than the pettiness, excess and spite the filmmakers insist on focusing on. Zuckerberg's gift, like Gates' and Jobs', etc, will live on long after he and his cofounders and fellow travelers and everyone who envied these guys or wished them dead is forgotten.  


  1. Armie Hammer's wealth comes from his great-grandfather, Armand HAmmer, who very obviously was Jewish, not a WASP.

  2. Armie Hammer has both Christian and Jewish ancestry and he attended both Grace Christian Academy and LA Baptist High School.

    Anonymous, do you have any substantive thoughts to offer? Those would be most welcome. And please use a name next time. Thank you.


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