More thoughts (inspired by The Social Network)

Friday night brought conversation with friends, ginger beef and fried rice, and a revisiting (for me, anyway) of The Social Network. I was reminded of the cleverness of the script, filled with such great use of language, witty put-downs and flashes of information delivered at a speed that would choke 100MB broadband.

I was also reminded of its inherent coolness. And by coolness I don’t mean its hip cache, though it has plenty of that, I mean that it remains remote. I wouldn’t go so far as to say chilly, but when your lead protagonist is both an evil genius and a lonely outsider, the constant shifting of allegiance is sometimes a little hard to take. For him and against him. He’s the villain and the hero. The real open-hearted character here is Eduardo Saverin, but next to the charismatic Mark Zuckerberg (come on, he does have a certain mania that’s fun to watch) and Sean Parker he seems, well, a non-entity. A dude with good hair who was too trusting of a guy the rest of us could see was enormously self-involved and unworthy of loyalty. Of course, the audience has the advantage of seeing the unfolding lawsuits as we flash-forward, so we know things went bad. We just don’t know why. But Saverin suffers as a result, the person the audience is always one step ahead of.

So this is a film with no one to root for, really. Director David Fincher frames everything in a medium shot, so the kind of claustrophobic intimacy he brought to Jodie Foster’s face in Panic Room we’re not getting this time out. Keeping us at arms distance doesn’t make it any easier to relate or get involved in these characters’ inner lives.

But then, maybe the question is: Do we need to have someone to root for to be involved, for the film to succeed? It seems the achievement of The Social Network is the labyrinthine construction of the script, the dazzling editing and direction, and feeling engaged by a story where you might not like anyone on the screen. Sure, it’s easy to relish Zuckerberg’s lording his intellect over those other douchbags who clearly deserve it, but he’s not likable. As Marylin points out in the office at the very end, every creation myth needs its devil.

I kind of resent that I wish I liked the characters more. I really shouldn’t have to. The filmmakers aren’t asking us to, so why should I need to? I really don’t. And it’s OK if I don’t. I’ll just keep repeating that to myself.

I walked home from Halifax’s south end, listening to the soundtrack from the film on my iPod, scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. I zigged and zagged across waxy sidewalks and parenthetical snowbanks in step to beats, pops and tones free of any trace of humidity. Perfect for this kind of sub-zero evening.

My path took me through Dalhousie University, past the Student Union Building where, for four years, I hosted a weekly radio show on Sunday mornings, The Love & Hate Movie Show on CKDU 88.1FM.

I miss the show sometimes. There was more romance to going on thew radio every Sunday morning, sending your voice out, never knowing how many pairs of ears might be listening. Maybe it was 50, maybe 500, maybe 5,000. (Probably not 5,000.) The buzz of it, the heritage of the tech made me feel like I was participating in a tradition. I felt the same way when I saw For The Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism at Carbon Arc, the Khyber film series on Thursday evening. The documentary reminded me of the cultural significance of writing or speaking with a critical mind about film, the most popular art form of the age. (Or, at least, it was in the 20th Century. Or was that TV?)

Too often I’ve shunned the title of “critic.” I like to be called a film writer. “A critic,” said some wag, “is a eunuch at an orgy.” I don’t want to be a castrato. I want to be in there with the rest of those fuckers. But I needn’t be ashamed of it when I’m not.

The point I’m trying to make here, in a round about way, is that blogging, the internet, it’s far too new to feel any romance about working on it. I miss radio for its mystery. I can tell you this blog had 1,102 visits last month. Hard stats kind of take the fun out of it.

But the internet is still pretty amazing place. As Sean Parker exclaimed, while coked out of his gourd,
we all live on the internet.  

Fincher and Sorkin, in their way, are doing something extraordinarily difficult, trying to quantify cultural impact while its still happening. Telling a story which will certainly have massive historical import so rapidly and with such skill is nothing to sniff at. I guess wanting someone to root for might just be a romantic notion significant to an old fashioned storytelling technique, quantified in communications now archaic.

I’m typing away at a wireless keyboard. Soon I’ll stop, check Facebook and probably go to sleep.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.