An American Parable.

29Jul11

I have seen The Social Network seven times now, and I’m still astounded by how I remain hungry for more viewings, eager to immerse myself once again in the richness of the world it portrays. I still insist it was the best film of 2010, and, There Will Be Blood aside, it might well be the best film since the 90s. I also don’t accept in the slightest that this is just a ‘moment’ which resonates with my generation in particular, and this is a point worth dwelling on. I think the film will persist for some time, for reasons to now be explored.

I did initially perceive the film, then, in a way that was hospitable to this sort of criticism: it’s about the founding of a website that has quietly integrated itself into our lives to an extent we should stop and appreciate, and the moments and lines that stood out in the film were the opening scene, with its array of communication problems; the final scene, and its disturbingly honest and representative screen-staring; the scene where Mark’s friend asks him if a girl is single, and he sarcastically replies that people don’t go around with signs indicative of their relationship status, before sprinting off to edit Facebook’s HTML; when the Winklevosses realise Mark had been lying to them – or, more accurately, their email accounts. Together, these moments that are so telling about the way we’ve come to contact one another, came to constitute my impression of the film, and it’s easy to suggest that if social networking goes the same way as any other modern craze – or, conversely, if it becomes so natural that people cannot comprehend life without it – either way, the film’s hip humour and power could disintegrate.

One vital reason that this is nonsense, of course, is the fact that a film’s showing a world we cannot relate to is no indication whatsoever that it won’t be totally enthralling – how else to explain our obsession with the world of crime that few movie-goers will barely get anywhere near to? Then when you add in the fact that as a piece of art the film is just flawless, possessing one of the most distinctive and coherent mise-en-scènes that we’ve seen in years, The Social Network‘s status is starting to look safe as a viable candidate to stand the tests of time.

There’s one final consideration, though, that I think will ensure its greatness. If you recall the night club scene, you’ll remember that after a lengthy story about the founder of Victoria’s Secret that sold out a year too soon and committed suicide, Mark, perplexed, asks if it was intended as a parable. I think the whole film is a parable. I think it is best seen as one huge gushing love-letter to America as an idea, and as the nation of innovation, liberty, prosperity. And this holds true whether it was Fincher’s conscious intention or not. Perhaps you can only see the film in this way if you’re not American, but I suspect if you’re a citizen you get the equally wonderful sensation of pride instead. It’s simply impossible not to watch these undergraduates carve out a vision that has reached over 500 million people without knowing they’re adding themselves to a long line of innovators stretching from Howard Hughes to Bill Gates. You know it could only have happened in America. You know Harvard looks like a university where the air is just that little bit fresher and freer to breathe, and you know Sean Parker could never be British, and nowhere else in the world could twenty-something nobodies drop out of college and be made billionaires in a matter of years.

For me, at least, I think this is the final source of the film’s almost magical appeal: awe at a world and lifestyle we’re lucky just to watch and be aware of, even if it’s impossibly distant. As Eduardo casually hops from Manhattan to California, The Social Network grows into a 2 hour paean to the USA. Ironically unoriginal, but something tells me that if people remain sane, this will continue to engross and inspire for a long time to come.

 

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