Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Social Network

The Social Network (2010): Walking out of the theater this past weekend, I turned to my friend Jon and made an observation: "we may have just watched this year's Best Picture winner." Granted, we still have nearly a quarter of the year left on the calendar, but I would not be surprised if The Social Network turned out to be the best film of the year, as well as my personal favorite. From David Fincher's signature direction, to Aaron Sorkin's brilliant screenplay, to the cinematography, acting, and cultural relevance, the film deservedly draws comparisons to Citizen Kane for its remarkable look at a celebrity's internal motivations behind their rise in society.

That's a lot of near-hyperbole for an opening paragraph of a film review. In writing such statements, I suppose I run the risk of unintentionally harming the audience's experience; either you enter with unrealistically high expectations or with a sense of skepticism. In some ways, I don't care. And while I may look back upon this little tome with regret for putting my foot in my mouth, I choose to move ahead, because the idea in my mind is so powerful that it needs to be unleashed in some form or fashion.

I suppose that's not unlike the dilemma of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in The Social Network. A young Harvard computer genius (and a bit of a social pariah), Zuckerberg has the idea to create a sort of online college experience, a way for guys and girls to check each other out, befriend each other, seek relationship. It is an idea that could go somewhere, that could bring Zuckerberg both fame and fortune. His best friend, Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), begins to fund the project, and "the facebook" quickly becomes a viral phenomenon. As the social network increases in membership and rivals begin to become more vocal, Zuckerberg begins a spiral into isolation, resulting in the breakdown of nearly every relationship around him. And while my hyperbolic statements won't lead to relational self-destruction, the idea is the same--we've got an idea and we're moving forward.

So what is the driving motivation behind Zuckerberg's creation of a website that connects people? Perhaps it's the value of relationships? Yet Zuckerberg burns nearly every bridge between himself and others. In talking with a fellow audience member afterwards, she wondered if Zuckerberg could have some form of autism--he's cognitively brilliant but socially abrasive, hurting anyone who comes near. Perhaps the motive is business. Zuckerberg has become the youngest billionaire on the planet through his entrepreneurial efforts. Yet Eduardo even agrees that Mark isn't in it for the money. There's something more going on here. Without wanting to spoil the film, I wonder if the central desire behind Facebook is the desire to be known.

This desire goes beyond just relational connections; it places existential meaning in popularity, in fame, in being considered cool. When I am known, it proves that I do, in fact, exist; it reveals that I have some level of impact in the lives of people around me. When I am recognized, there is something deep within that responds with affirmation and joy. I believe this desire is inherently good, that it stems from humanity's creation in the Garden and our sense of being found in being known by God. When the desire is distorted, we become people who are willing to actually destroy relationship in order to be known. It seems counterintuitive, but I suppose sin has that affect. By the conclusion, Zuckerberg is definitely known--he has achieved a level of cool--but he is alone. And despite our culture's abundance of ways to be known through technology, the longing for true relationship is as strong as ever. We can be both incredibly connected and deeply isolated.

Gratefully, the greatest Social Network in all of history chose to send one of its members to reveal true heavenly community to us all. We can enter into the gracious embrace of this network through the Son, who calls us His friend.


  1. Joel,

    I'm not sure I've said this to you before, but you have tremendous taste. I mean even back at Seabury and through that time when you were tapping out Kid A on the bus to the freshman retreat through your current movie and music choices. Seriously. I know this hyperbole seems sarcastic, but it's not.

    I should start looking to you to see what's good.

    Thanks--it's always a pleasure to engage your insightful thoughts.


  2. Perry, thanks for your kind and encouraging words! Glad you still love Kid A, I'm currently teaching my son to appreciate the wonder of Radiohead.

  3. Wow, Best Picture winner, huh? I can definitely see that happening, but personally I didn't think it was that great. Love all the technical aspects of the film, but I still found the story quite dull. Review coming soon.

  4. I thought the movie was amazing and agree along the lines of what you said about being known. There is still that gap which is mostly filled with (anger, jealousy, perception of what others think of you) which brought Mark back to square one of not only being alone but now having more enemies. Although he came out a billionaire is the backstabbing loneliness worth it?