From the Archives |Week 31 : 2001: A Space Odyssey
For Neil Armstrong:
I frequently catch myself looking up at the stars at night. I will sit quietly on my porch and look up at the sky, soaking in its beauty. Sometimes if there is a tree or something obstructing my view I will get out of my seat and walk until I come to a position where I can look up at the sky from all directions and see nothing but stars, clouds and the moon. I think of those stars dotting the landscape of space. I realize that each star is another solar system's sun, and each solar system could have an earth. I sit begin to contemplate things on a metaphysical level. To me, looking at the stars is a type of prayer. I ask- "what is my place in this universe?” Cosmically speaking, I am a ant among ants. I look at the sky and I wonder what's up there. I have never seen a painting, film, or photograph that is more beautiful than the Kansas night sky I have looked upon so frequently since I was a child. It is a thing of beauty. I get the impression that Stanley Kubrick may have felt the same way.
Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film that understands the questions that drive us and explores them in a manner that is unparalleled in the history of the cinema. It is not a movie as much as a full blown experience. In fact, as millions of people (my significant other included) can attest, even trying to watch 2001 in a way one watches any other movie will simply lead to frustration and annoyance. People expect dialogue, plot, humor and resolution in their movies. The want a narrative that they are familiar with and that they understand. Kubrick's film is an experience more like watching a ballet or opera than actually sitting down and watching a movie. It is a movie that takes work, concentration, and patience. You soak in its images in all of their beauty and think about what is on the screen. Eventually the picture grips you on a subconscious level and speaks to you in the same way any great art does- personally. Once you get the message that Kubrick is trying to give, you can't necessarily verbalize it- you just feel it and are in awe.
I have referred this film to countless friends and loved ones. The first question I get any time I recommend a movie is almost always the same.
"What is it about?"
Most of the time I can give a pretty simple synopsis of what a movie is about and why they should watch it. I can't do this with 2001. I simply smile and say “it's about everything.”
A lot of people don't like 2001. Hell, a lot of people flat out hate it. I get it. People expect easy entertainment that they can watch while playing on their laptops or texting their friends. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I know that if I was expecting one kind of movie and I popped it in and it began with 20 minutes of silence and monkey's screaming, I might get upset too. This is a two and a half hour movie with less than 40 minutes of dialogue. There are a lot of moments where viewers may scream “what the hell is going on?” Other moments are so slow and deliberate that they may put some to sleep. These are not criticisms of the film but an observation of how viewers handle it. In my opinion this observation best explains why Stanley Kubrick is arguably the greatest filmmaker of all time. He was bold and uncompromising in his vision. He told stories in ways that were unique and completely 100% his own. All of his work does nothing short of examining the very nature of our humanity. He was a genius that, with a legendary partnership with the studio's that financed him from Dr. Strangelove on, had complete and total creative control of his pictures. Executive's did not edit Kubrick's work, they didn't suggest the scripts be rewritten or alter the content of the film just because of the feedback of test audiences. The studio executive's understood that Kubrick was not a commercial filmmaker, but an artist painting masterpieces using film as canvas. Stanley Kubrick never gave a flying shit whether or not you “got” his work and for that he deserves a lot of credit.
Before writing this review I thought a lot about what I wanted to say in it. In some of my prior reviews great amounts of time were spent discussing the plot of the movie. I am not going to give you a report of what happens in the movie, you can watch it yourself. I will only say that the film begins with humankind's first step of evolution and ends with an artistic expression of what our next step is. It features one of the greatest villains in screen history with HAL 9000 (brilliantly voiced by Douglas Rain) and possibly the most influential and technically accurate special effects in the history of the movies. I will point out that when real astronauts have been asked what the moon looked liked several have responded with “like in 2001” even though this picture was released a full year before Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon. I suppose I will also say that in true spaceflight actions are slow, deliberate and taken with great caution, therefore several long scenes of silence (such as the pod sequences) are slow for a reason.
I refuse to mention anything about the end of the movie, which may be one of the most dazzling and spectacular experiences of my film going life, because I simply cannot put those experiences into words. Nor will I comment on the concluding appearances of astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) as he evolves in the bedroom at the end of the proverbial rainbow, or the star child that forms thereafter. I shall not explain the black vertical monolith that appears at key moments of the film.
The final line of dialogue in 2001 (which comes about 30 minutes prior to the end of the picture) tells you all you need to know:
“Except for a single, very powerful radio emission aimed at Jupiter, the four million-year-old black monolith has remained completely inert, its origin and purpose still a total mystery.”
In Arthur C. Clarke's strongly inferior novel he explains the monolith to be extraterrestrial in nature, but this commonly known fact does not matter in relationship to the film. The film acts on its own. It shows what it shows and nothing more. Kubrick rejects Clarke's cookie cutter explanations and intentionally leaves the monolith ambiguous. Maybe to you, the monolith is the coming of God. Maybe it is simply a symbol of intelligence, or the driving force of the universe. The beauty of the picture- the transcendent quality that makes it perhaps the greatest film ever made, comes from it's ambiguity. The monolith is whatever you want it to be.
Asking for an explanation to the monolith (or the entirety of 2001 for that matter) is the equivalent of asking why the Mona Lisa appears to be smiling. I take comfort in the fact that Da Vinci never showed us what was off in the distance because it makes the possibilities endless. I don't need to know what she is smiling at, or what Kubrick was really trying to say with the monolith. I know what my interpretation of the film is. That's all that matters. In my opinion, the message is a positive one- a prayer for humanity and a hope, even a call, for evolution. As the star child approaches our earth it looks at us from above with a sense of wonder. The star child questions our planet's place in the universe and asks: what is next? I stand on my lawn quietly at night, gazing up at the stars and their unimaginable beauty, and question the same thing.
Review and Analysis by Shaun Henisey
Cast and Credits:
Dave Bowman: Keir Dullea
Frank Poole: Gary Lockwood
Dr. Haywood Floyd: William Sylvester
Hal 9000 (voice): Douglas Rain
Metro-Goldwyn Mayer presents a film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick. Based on the story "The Sentinel" by Arthur C. Clarke
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. Photographed in 70mm Cinerama by Geoffrey Unsworth.
Featuring Special Photographic Effects by Douglas Trumbull and Stanley Kubrick
Running Time: 141 minutes. Rated G. This film is acceptable for all audiences.
Week 55: The Social Network
Who would want to watch a movie about Facebook?
I firmly believe that The Social Network is the motion picture that best observes the reality of the 21st century. This movie should not be good. It is a film about a website. It contains no action or romance. The entire picture is virtually two hours of nonstop dialogue. Yet it is a masterpiece- absolutely spellbinding from start to finish. This is not a movie about a stupid page where people maintain imaginary farms, but a film that explores the human themes of success, failure, greed, insecurity and betrayal, all the while being an exceptional historical portrait of the period. It is also bitingly smart, funny and entertaining as hell.
Director David Fincher’s picture tells the tale of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the creator and CEO of Facebook. The movie is by and large a creation myth. Zuckerberg often seems to be suffering from Asperger’s syndrome. He is certainly a genius but lacks any form of common sense. He is socially awkward, rude and excessively arrogant. We come to relate to his character because, deep down, we understand that he is not really a bad guy—just a very ignorant one. He seems oblivious to modern acceptable social conventions. Thus, it is ironic that his invention is perhaps the most significant change in the human social experience since the invention of modern dating.
When the movie begins rock and roll plays over the Columbia Pictures logo before we see the inside of a Harvard bar. We think this is just going to be another “college” movie as the frame centers on Zuckerberg and his date, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). The two are having a few beers and talking. The dialogue is fast and overlapping—the type that only veteran celebrated screenwriter Aaron Sorkin could write. Zuckerberg is obsessed with obtaining entrance to one of the exclusive Harvard Finals clubs. He feels that becoming a member will define him as a person and possibly validate his intellectual supremacy. Erica is not having fun on the date but continues to verbally spar with her partner. While discussing one particular club, Zuckerberg points out that their members primarily row Crew. Erica mentions that she is attracted to guys that row Crew, before asking which club is the easiest to get into. Zuckerberg, whose shattered ego is apparent, becomes almost angrily defensive- accusing Erica of insulting his intelligence as well as his physical stature while simultaneously degrading her education at a “lesser” university. Erica dumps him, giving one of the best lines in the film:
“Mark, you are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
Mark sits quietly, gets up and grabs his backpack as he leaves the bar. The rock music stops. We hear a dissonant pitch in the background as we see Mark begin the long walk back to his dorm. The score is soft and simple- just a copy of lonely piano notes. Mark travels alone, going the opposite direction of all traffic. He is always an outsider- not only socially but intellectually as well. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross tells the story perfectly. It has to be lonely being a genius.
It is this sense of isolation and resentment that will drive the rest of the picture. If this movie even is remotely true to history then that failed date may have been one of the most important nights in the evolution of the human social experience. It is at this moment, roughly ten minutes in, that the movie first took a hold of me. I remember viewing It the first time- thinking it would just be a trivial little movie about a website fad. By the opening credits I was mesmerized. This is the kind of movie that is so engrossing, so captivating, that you can’t help but get caught up in it.
Zuckerberg goes home, starts drinking and starts bitching about Erica on the internet. As the night progresses he decides to start comparing Erica to other women, and then other women to each other: creating Facemash.com by breaking into the online facebook’s of the various Harvard dormitories. By the end of the first night of this little endeavor Zuckerberg manages to completely take the Harvard network down. The notoriety of this incident brings him to the attention of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (both “played” by Armie Hammer, with Hammer’s face being digitally superimposed on the actor Josh Pence) and their friend Divya Narendera (Max Minghella). The twins (who, coincidentally, row Crew) want to hire Zuckerberg to launch an exclusive social networking site for Harvard called harvardconnection.com. Inspired by the concept, Zuckerberg agrees to assist but then immediately goes home and convinces his wealthy best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) to finance a website with the purpose of taking the social experience of college online. Over a period of roughly a month of long nights programming, Zuckerberg has created the Facebook- a social webpage that allowed students at Harvard and other Universities to create profiles online, share updates to their friends, and exchange pictures.
These early moments are incredibly intriguing. Zuckerberg, who is clearly socially retarded, understands the most primitive concepts of human interaction. The genius of Facebook lies in its abilities to look into the lives of those we know, meet new friends, and, yes- even find some sex. Zuckerberg says it best:
“'Relationship status'.’Interested in'. This is what drives life at college. Are you having sex or aren't you? It's why people take certain classes and sit where they sit and do what they do, and it's um...center, you know, that's what The Facebook is gonna be about. People are gonna log on because after all the cake and watermelon there's a chance they're actually gonna get laid.”
Of course, the truth here is that this is not only what drives life in college—but everywhere else has well. Facebook proliferates and spreads throughout every major college in the country, attracting the attention of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the former founder and CEO of Napster- that morally dubious file sharing program that launched the “Great Online Piracy Concern” of the late 20th century. Parker has a reputation for being reckless, destructive, and plagued with drug issues. Eduardo sees trouble almost immediately, but Zuckerberg quickly joins forces with Parker and the two make Facebook a global phenomenon. Parker, channeled effortlessly through Timberlake, is everything that Zuckerberg is not—cool, calm, successful and always with arm candy by his side. Zuckerberg gets lost immediately. It is not about the money for him. It is about the prestige; the impression he makes on others. Zuckerberg cares more about what others think about him than about himself or his friends. Betrayal, law suits, and arrests ensue- by the end of the picture we feel that we have watched something with as much gravitas as the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.
I love the work of David Fincher- he is one of our finest directors. His work is not for everybody. There is an eerie coldness to his films that often make them off putting. This type of icy gaze does not work in pictures like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but works perfectly here. Fincher’s direction is much like Zuckerberg’s mind. The camera is constantly floating seamlessly throughout the frame—observing its subjects from a variety of different angles and dimensions in the same manner in which Zuckerberg’s mind must think a thought a second. The synapses fire on all cylinders while the imagery maintains a certain type of removed distance from its characters. While we see a lot, what we see is displayed dispassionately, logically and emotionless: like Zuckerberg.
This film is as much Aaron Sorkin’s as Fincher’s. The Social Network helms one of the finest screenplays I have ever seen. The first time I viewed the film I distinctly remember not having been as captivated by dialogue since Pulp Fiction. This picture is faster paced than many action movies in spite of the fact that there are no car chases or explosives. Like in a Robert Altman film, characters are constantly speaking over each other. Each word is crisp, smart, true and delivered so rapidly that our brains are constantly trying to process the information. Sorkin, who often suffers from a sense of self-parody, gets everything right here. His 2010 Academy Award win for Best Adapted Screenplay is much deserved.
More important than the writing itself is always the delivery. In his film, Fincher has collected perhaps the finest collection of young actors I have ever seen. Eisenberg always has a sense of intellectual aloofness in his roles, but he perfects it with his portrayal of Zuckerberg. The resemblance is uncanny. I cannot picture anyone else playing the role. Garfield and Timberlake are just as spot on. Garfield is able to deliver so much in facial expressions and looks—we sense that he is just trying to be a good friend and do the right thing, but gets in over his head. His final scene with Zuckerberg at the Palo Alto, CA headquarters of Facebook is great acting. We feel Eduardo’s betrayal and witness that deep, searing pain in his eyes- the type of pain that can only come from being stabbed in the back by those you love dearly. Timberlake, who is always a fine actor, plays Parker with the exact right amount of swagger and pithy arrogance. He is smug, flamboyant, and very manipulative. Rooney Mara, a revelation in Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is also extraordinary in her brief ten minute scene as Erica Albright. Armie Hammer is just as wonderful in his dual role as the Winklevoss twins. There is not a bad performance in the movie.
Finally, there is the score. In simply two films- The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I have found my favorite composers of the decade. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails create perfect music in both pictures—specifically The Social Network. In many ways, the score is a main character in the picture. Rarely have I heard a score as modern and yet accessible. I can’t imagine watching the movie without the music—it brings a certain level of majesty to the entire proceedings.
Facebook has changed the way we live our life. We connect now through IM’s instead of phone calls. We don’t need to ask trivial questions like “what did you do over the weekend” because we already know. A hundred years from now, when our ancestors trace our genealogical roots, they will not have to go to a library and fetch microfilm—they will simply be able to see the picture that you took in college performing the keg stand when you were 22, written forever in the ink of the Internet. Businesses thrive and fail on social marketing. A relationship “going public” on Facebook is almost as big of a step as meeting your partner’s parents. People meet and reconnect, but also stalk, obsess and cyber bully. It is easier to be direct, rude, blunt, or emotional on the Internet: where people can’t see your face. I think of the countless people like Zuckerberg, adding a friend and then refreshing their pages until they see approval. Sending messages and wondering if they will be read. We live our lives through not our eyes, but the eyes of millions of lines of binary digitized on LED screens. This is our world now, created by a kid with the emotional maturity of a teenager. Only in America.
Net Worth of Mark Zuckerberg: 13.3 Billion
Age of Mark Zuckerberg (as of April, 2013): 28
Total Number of Facebook Users: 1 Billion
Total Number of Hours Spent on Facebook: 700 Billion
Percent of Facebook users that log in once a day: 50%
Percent of Divorce’s issued in 2012 with the word “Facebook” in the decree: 30 %
Review and Analysis by Shaun Henisey
Cast and Credits:
Mark Zuckerberg: Jesse Eisenberg
Eduardo Saverin: Andrew Garfield
Sean Parker: Justin Timberlake
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss: Armie Hammer
Erica Albright: Rooney Mara
Divya Narendra: Max Minghella
Christy: Brenda Song
Marilyn Delpy: Rashida Jones
Columbia Pictures presents a David Fincher film.
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin based on the novel "The Accidental Billionare's" by Ben Mezrich
Cinematography by Jeff Cronenwetch. Executive Producer: Kevin Spacey. Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Running Time: 121 Minutes. Rated PG-13: For language, partying and some drug use.