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When we think of a biopic, we usually think of a film that captures a triumphant moment in history when an individual has had a significant influence. Although David Fincher's The Social Network captures a significant moment in history when Mark Zuckerberg created one of the most influential and popular entities of the 21st century, this film is anything but a celebration. For Fincher, it seems the creation of Facebook shouldn't be documented as an account of a brilliant genius but rather a egotistical genius who created the famous social media from the most shallowest motivations.
From the opening five minutes, Aaron Sorkin's script does an incredible job at revealing the psyche of Zuckerberg. The brilliance of this opening scene is that perfectly captures the fundamentals of this character within the space of five minutes. In having a conversation with his girlfriend, Zuckerberg's condescending nature, egotism and awkward social skills are painfully apparent. Essentially, he's highly narcissistic and wants to be recognized or considered significant; however, Zuckerberg's crucial flaw is that he believes that being significant will make girls more interested in him but ironically, it's this emphasis on being significant/narcissistic that will lead to only more loneliness. Evident from the way that Sorkin has created Zuckerberg, this is anything but a celebration of brilliance, but rather a study in the traits of toxic masculinity such as narcissism, pride and misogyny.
In one of the most disturbing scenes of the film, Zuckerberg is dumped by his girlfriend when it becomes obviously apparent that he is a grade A asshole and of course, Zuckerberg reacts in a way that seems logical for a male who shares parallels to the traits of toxic masculinity; he reacts by demeaning the female who has taken a shot at his pride. Basically, he creates a humiliating blog post about his ex and a website that compares the 'hotness' of women to farm animals as some weird, misogynist revenge tactic for his girlfriend breaking up with him. Not only is this disturbing because it shows the demeaning power of social media but also that one of the most important tools of the 21st century was born out of a night of misogyny. It's also raising the important point of how we view these so called 'brilliant' men. Yes, Zuckerberg is intellectually brilliant but his motivations are misogynistic and shallow. In typical Fincher fashion, The Social Network isn't your typical celebratory biopic, it's a film that rather investigate character qualities that are dark, subversive and unlikable.
From a technical standpoint, there's so much to marvel about The Social Network. It could be the most perfect synchronization between script, editing and music. The fast cut editing utilized by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall is perfect for handling Sorkin's typical rapid-fire dialogue. in the scene mentioned above when Zuckerberg is creating a site that eventually crashes the Harvard system, the use of internal monologue provides the audience with insight to frantic and chaotic mind of a genius. As the frantic dialogue is moving at a rapid pace to capture the quickness of Zuckerberg's intelligence, the editing is just as frantic as the internal dialogue; constantly switching between Zuckerberg's monitor, various dorms rooms and a fraternity party while all being synced to Trent Renzor and Atticus Ross' "In Motion." Despite being heavy on dialogue, the movie is never boring due to the editing as Sorkin's script constantly switches between three different timelines. As the title of Renzor and Ross' track suggests, everything in this film is constantly in motion. Its also refreshing see the use of fast cut editing utilized in an intelligent manner rather than how its typically used in generic action films.
In a majority of Fincher films, the director is always subversive, challenging genre conventions and The Social Network is no exception. When we think of films that involve American colleges and fraternities, we usually think of feel good superficial comedies that romanticize college life and its clear Fincher is deconstructing these genre conventions by uses his dark aesthetic in a genre that is traditionally optimistic and romanticized. Fincher, a director known for his disturbing thrillers such as Seven and Zodiac, uses the exact same aesthetic he would in those thrillers for The Social Network. Virtually every shot -- from the dorms, to the toilets, to basically any internal shot within the college -- is covered within a gloomy and disturbing palette. The aesthetic choice makes perfect sense as Fincher isn't representing college life as a positive and romanticized notion but rather a disturbing area riddled with toxic masculinity, narcissism and misogyny. Besides the aesthetics, the use of music from Trent Renzor and Atticus Ross greatly contributes to the overall atmosphere. Not only do they somehow translate through music the process of programming and the feeling of an idea coming to fruition ("Intriguing Possibilities") but also create a sound that is subtly disturbing and music that perfectly matches the visual aesthetic.
From the script, to the characters, actors, music, editing and direction, virtually all aspects of The Social Network are brilliant. Despite this, the fundamental thing that makes The Social Network live on as a classic is that at the heart of the narrative is a story of greed. In many ways, it's a 21st century adaptation of Citizen Kane as just like Charles Kane, Mark Zuckerberg rises to fame and fortune but loses everything along the way, including the only friend that cared for him. In the end, Zuckerberg doesn't have many redeeming features besides a minimal sense of remorse and Fincher ends on an ambiguous note. As we see during the final scene, Zuckerberg sends a friend request to his previous girlfriend but the film ends before we see if the friend request is accepted. As the credits roll, the audience are left to ponder whether or not Zuckerberg deserves another chance to rectify his past relationship. I feel like Fincher would take the cynical route but for a more optimistic person like myself, hopefully Zuckerberg can put his ego and pride aside and attempt to be a decent person.
In 1975, Laura Mulvey released her famous/infamous paper on the male gaze in cinema. In essence, Mulvey suggested that cinema relates to the Freudian concept of scopophilia, which is the act of gaining sexual pleasure by looking upon someone. For Mulvey, since the film business is largely dominated by men, the act of cinema relates to closely to this Freudian concept as movies, especially during the classical period, presented women as nothing but sexual objects under the male gaze. Thus, cinema for Mulvey was a medium for men to experience scopophilia as women were represented simply for the pleasure of males. Although the inception of this idea was in the 1970s, Mulvey's theory still has relevance as we are still constantly seeing how females are presented in this manner. However, would what happen if this concept was imagined in a different way? What would happen if the male gaze was turned into a disconcerting nightmare? What would happen if these desirable women actually lead to unimaginable fears? Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin answers all these questions by flipping the traditional idea of the male gaze on it heads and turning it into a frightening, unforgettable cinematic vision.
In subverting Mulvey's idea, the casting of Scarlett Johansson was genius. When you think of the history of cinema, especially from the 90s to recent blockbusters, the way that Scarlett Johansson has been presented over the years epitomizes Mulvey's notion of women and their relationship to the male gaze. For instance, in the famous opening shot of Lost in Translation, the very first thing that we see is Johansson's behind through invisible panties. Despite not being intentionally sexual, it wouldn't be a hyperbole to say that this individual frame would of featured in the sexual fantasies of many older and younger men. Moreover, who could forget the "money shot" of the first Avengers where a low angle is clearly used to show off Johnasson's ass-sets in black tights. Given the examples, the genius of Glazer's film is that it takes the way that Johansson has been historically represented under the male gaze and turns into something completely sinister.
Glazer's experiment with this classical concept is largely contributed from the plot. Even though a lot of the narrative details are open for viewer interpretation, it's apparent that an alien life form (Johansson), which uses human bodies as a host to cover its alien features, has been sent from another planet to murder young, single males. As the narrative progresses, the alien lures its victims, by using the attractiveness of its human exterior, to its other-worldly 'house' and banishes them to what seems to be a black void. Through these passages, the male gaze is well and truly present as we watch Johansson get undressed for our scopophilia pleasure; however, the fundamental difference here in comparison to the previous ways that Johansson has been viewed under the male gaze is that what was once pleasure, is now horrific. Rather than the female body simply existing for scopophilia reasons, the very thing we once desired, at least from a heterosexual point of view, has been turned to something terrifying; something that can lead to our own demise. This is the genius of Under the Skin is that it takes a body that the world has fantasied about. A body that has undeniably been the subject of many sexual fantasies and taints it, turning what was once somebody that we associate with sexual pleasure into a unsettling vision of how desire and death are explicitly linked.
Considering that Under the Skin shares many connections to Mulvey's theory and that one of Mulvey's key examples was Alfred Hitchcock, then it is not surprising that Glazer's sci-fi is very similar to Hitchcock directional style. In particular, the way that Hitchcock could create an unnerving atmosphere with the use of voyeurism. Time and time again, Hitchcock would take places that we associate with safety such as schools, public areas, the bathroom and place them under the voyeuristic gaze of the villain. By doing this, Hitchcock instantly associates fear with places that we usually think of as being safe havens. This was the creative power of Hitchcock's horror because as an audience, we associate fear with these relatable contexts in our own life, thinking that they are under the watchful eyes of a voyeuristic murderer. For instance, after watching Psycho, there's no way that you can possibly have a shower without thinking someone is watching. Just like Hitchcock's films, Glazer continuously positions the camera from the perspective of the alien in public places; places where we should feel safe but due to the voyeuristic gaze of the villain, the atmosphere is unbearable and riddled with anxiety. Apart from the voyeuristic gaze, Mica Levi score is a masterpiece of disconcerting anxiety; the musical equivalent of an axe screeching against a cold, hard metal sheet. With slow drum patterns and overpowering violins that would break any glass surface, Levi's score achieves it's purpose. And when the voyeuristic elements combine with Levi's music, Under the Skin truly lives up to its title.
Like all sci-fi, the setting and location is essential to the subject matter. Since the content of the Under the Skin is highly disturbing, brutal and just an overall feeling of coldness, the choice of the Scotland's urban areas and beautiful coastlines perfectly matches the brutality of the films content. Even though some of these locations are astonishing and Glazer captures some beautiful natural moments, the overall atmosphere that these images create is the feeling of something that is bone-chilling; a coldness so brutal that it'll cut through any warmth. As suggested, this scenery matches the internal state of the alien during the first half of the film. Before she goes on her journey of self-discovery, she has no empathy or sympathy for humans, just a cold, mute being that will kill humans without any hesitation. For example, this relationship between the natural landscape and the being is captured in one of the most dour scenes ever committed to the celluloid.
From the distance, the alien watches what is both a human folly/human tragedy as it witnesses both the drowning of a dog and a mother after they are caught in a rip. As the father desperately tries to swim out to save both of them while their child lays on the beach screaming, an onlooker swims out to save the father who will also drown if he has no assistance. After saving the father, the onlooker lays on the beach, desperately attempting to get his breath back. While this is all going on, the being picks up a rock and violently bashes the onlookers head in, seemingly murdering him just after he saved the father. Concurrently, the father begins swimming back out to sea in some desperate bid to bring back his wife and although his fate may never be shown, it's a certainty that he died along with the rest of his family. If this wasn't depressing enough, the final shot of this passage is the baby on the beach. Left alone, screaming and stranded as the tide slowly comes up, obviously eluding to its eventual death. Essentially, this whole passage serves as a metaphor for the beings apathy; it's emotional mute state and the natural location, which is the the cold, brutal coastline of Scotland, flawlessly matches the otherness and coldness of the central antagonist.
There might not be any explicit violence or any potential, devastating worldly outcomes that we may see in other sci-fi films; nevertheless, Under the Skin may be one of the most disturbing sci-fi's ever created which it is achieves through all the things that make great horror: intelligent direction, unforgettable imagery and a unrelenting, nerve-racking score.
Yes, "Lawrence of Arabia" epitomizes cinema's ability to transcend the screen, but the main reason that you will keep revisiting David Lean's classic will not be solely contributed from the beautiful imagery, but rather from the enigmatic protagonist; a character that is highly flawed and represents the collective and misconceived celebration of historical figures.
Unique in its study of sexuality, Kubrick's cautionary tale and exploration of the subversion of true human intimacy from sexual desires is fascinating and disturbing.
With the combination of a hilarious script and the auteurs usual stylistic flare, Scorsese's tale of a computer programmers slow descent into madness perfectly captures the absurd nature of New York's nightlife. A truly bizarre odyssey and one of Scorsese's best.