The Social Network: revisited, reemphasised.

05Apr11

I saw The Social Network for the fifth time the other day, and I feel obliged to say a little more, one last time, about this special gift that cinema gave us last year. It’s hard to appreciate history being made at the very time it is being made, even if every critic on the planet showered praise on this masterpiece, magazines like Sight & Sound which normally opt for the arthouse Uncle Boonmee type voted it film of the year, and only a combination of the Academy’s soppiness and The King’s Speech‘s later release date ensured Fincher suffered daylight robbery of the most severe variety since GoodFellaslosses in 1990. And yet I stand firm and proud, and remain convinced, that even if nobody else can see it, time will show The Social Network to be ahead of Mulholland Drive, Lost in Translation, Children of Men and any of the other boldest films of the noughties as the greatest film submitted to celluloid at least so far this century. It is, sincerely, already up there, easily amongst my top ten, and I’m stunned that others have moved on from it so easily.

The key thing about a great film is how many scenes stand out as independent entities, completely distinct but equally superb in their originality. Consider a film like GoodFellas, and think how many sequences feel perfectly crafted and linger long in the memory: the Billy Batts scenario, the ‘Funny How?’ moment, the Spider situation, the three minute tracking shot through the back entrance of the Copacabana, the opening montage of Henry Hill’s entrance into mob life, his cocaine-fuelled final day. Most of these scenes make me want to clap until I remind myself I’m not witnessing a live performance, none more than that three minute tracking shot. Scorsese, a director, becomes an artist here. The music, the movement, the purpose, all combine and cohere indescribably and overpoweringly well.

Few directors are capable of creating moments like this. Wong Kar-wai can do it, as he did multiple times in Chungking Express. Tarantino’s control of the feel of the Jack Rabbit Slim’s scene in Pulp Fiction is another ingenious example. But with The Social Network, David Fincher provides us moment after moment of magnificence right up there with these classics. Think of the Japanese restaurant scene, with Sean Parker controlling the room; think of the way he shows us that Tuesday night at Harvard as Facemash spreads, intersected with strip poker at the Phoenix final club. Montages like this haven’t been seen in the cinema for a long time. The only thing that has come remotely close this year was Aronofsky’s direction of Black Swan‘s final twenty minutes of madness.

I first watched The Social Network as a story about Facebook, and I still, after multiple viewings, have to keep reminding myself of how close the film is to something that has seriously changed our lives in a serious way, without our barely noticing it. But as times goes on, I see it less and less in terms of this crucial connection with reality, and I’m beginning to appreciate it instead as a modern embodiment of the classic Cain and Abel (Mark and Eduardo) battle that it is. But even more important than this, the film begs to be watched as Fincher’s vision, with a huge helping hand from Aaron Sorkin.

I include the latter because of a comment he made in an interview with The Times the other month. He said that it’s irritating as a writer for cinema to be seen as solely a director’s medium, because so many key memories in films derive from their dialogue. I think his claim is undoubtedly a fair one, but when scripts are so often quiet and not the source of quality in a film, it’s easy to overlook the vital contribution they can make when they go right. And Sorkin’s work on The Social Network is clearly an example of the latter situation. His name will, I think, rightly become attached to the film as much as Fincher’s. Not at one moment in the film’s two hours do the lines exchanged fall below a level of intelligence and coolness way above anything else out there right now. For all these reasons, then, I beg you: please appreciate this classic now.

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