A sort of wordy title, as well as an incorrect one (I mean, we’re very much into 2011 by this point), but seeing as how I’ve not written a review for either of 2010s masterpieces (my opinion, of course) I thought this would be an interesting way to do it because they’re rather different movies.
On one hand we have The Social Network – the most revered film of the year with its director as its main detractor (if you don’t know what I mean, the curmudgeonly Fincher has slighted his own film on plenty occasions). It’s a story about communication, but not particularly how our current generation does so as this isn’t delved into all that much. It has its flaws — the lack of explanation as to how an idea like Facebook could be as profitable as it manages to be (an especially important matter for those unfamiliar with the technology of today) and the all too understood diatribe that spills from the mouth of Mark’s spited ex in the opening scene, sort of a Shakespearean interlude without the rhyme or artistry — but on a whole this is one refined film with as polished a script and cryptic a direction that cinema has seen in recent years. The theme is a transcendent one – it plays on the idea that friendship can’t be bought and the easy corruption of the very determined – but the film itself is prone to depreciation in any country that isn’t English-speaking. Imagine how the dialogue of this film will translate into subtitles overseas? It won’t be too pretty and a lot of Sorkin’s magic will be lost. In fact I’d say a large percentage of the film’s greatness will be lost in translation and all that will remain completely authentic are the palpable emotions of the cast. Eisenberg’s performance will suffer the most as his expressions are minimalistic and the real feeling — the exact specifications of this calculated man — beneath the scorned squints are detailed through his use of language and small ticks. People reading subtitles are prone to miss out on the extremely subtle nuances and even if they can multitask the subtitles and the frame perfectly, the shorthanded dialogue will do more to abscond Mark’s genuine feeling than clue the viewer into it. All that will be fully be communicated to, lets say, French audiences that don’t speak much English will be the misc-en-scene of Fincher, the stark and subversive score by Reznor and Ross, and the big acting moments by Garfield and lets say Timberlake because he goes all out all the time. The jumpy plot, I imagine, will grow tiresome for those who aren’t fully in tune with the wit and it will be a far lesser appreciated film because of its lack of communication with non-English speakers. That’s pretty ironic.
On the other hand there’s The Illusionist which will face none of those setbacks, yet possesses all of the dedication of The Social Network. The attention to detail in Sylvain Chomet’s direction is somewhat astonishing given the medium he’s chosen to tell the story – animation – where a lot of filmmakers don’t like to do much beyond creating beautiful images and impressionable main characters. Here there is not a single character that isn’t given as much detail as the protagonist, and even more fascinating is the astonishing visual design of it all. From the ugly rooms where the illusionist finds residence to lucrative performance centers to the small speedboat filled with pragmatic sheep that he takes to cross the sea, it’s simply brilliant and evident in its design. Language, too, plays a non-factor regardless of age or ethnicity because this truly is a film for all ages. Its bereft of language minus the occasional “oui” or “bonjour” which even children will be able to understand in context and the melancholic tale is filled with real humor (a finger biting rabbit, a flamboyantly witless boy band) that anyone can find a laugh in. It is targeted for an older audience, to be sure, but this is still remains one of the most transcendental films ever made. The sorrowful theme, too, is of great substance and will certainly hit older and more unfulfilled people on a gut level. Hell, I’m nineteen and found myself near tears on several occasions because of how much I could sympathize with the protagonist. He’s being replaced by the entire world – it’s depressing.
In contrast, this is not at all what The Social Network prides itself on. It can be depressing – especially when we come to experience Eduardo’s manipulation – but the protagonist isn’t one you’ll really sympathize with unless you’re greatly embittered and even then sympathy is a stretch. The better term to use is appreciation. A lot like the anti-villains now ingrained in cinema – Daniel Plainview, Citizen Kane, Lonesome Rhodes – Mark Zuckerberg shares an insatiable ambition, a reviled temper and an idea of self-preservation that through time has become a global contempt. He isn’t a bad person, but a demonstrably and unrelentingly selfish one. He’ll risk anyone’s neck for his own personal gain and it is in this way that we — or a good percentage of people — feel close to him because we can understand that kind of feral desire. That unimpeded want, no need, to max out our potential and ideas and become the most successful me that I can be. But he isn’t like us in that he puts this megalomanical fantasy into action on a daily basis and over time has made it his personality. This unremitting perniciousness is now a person and… it’s sad. He has nobody because he’s tried so hard to achieve what we all want to achieve, but just had the proper motivation (re: an ever-present resented feeling) to act on those desires. He’s a hedonist, but also a misanthrope, and when someone exceeds a certain amount of distrust for everyone, one can only feel sorry for the guy. Sure, we retain a resentment for him and still feel that energy when he succeeds in inching himself just a little bit further to his peak, but through our own humanity we’re able to discern what a monster his psychology has made him and resultantly feel bad for him. This despite publicly reviling his ex-girlfriend on the internet and using his momentarily impassioned resentment of her to launch an internet game where pictures of two women are juxtaposed and you pick the winner. Remember, I didn’t say he was entirely sympathetic.
Contrarily chauvinism is one of the few things of which the illusionist is not equipped. If you seek his pockets, you’ll find an endless rope of handkerchiefs; if you search his hat, you’ll discover an aggressive and chubby bunny rabbit and other peculiarities; if you search within his shirt, flowers and wineglasses; but if you search his heart you’ll only find a great humanitarian and his hope that he won’t be irrevocably replaced in the world he cherishes. His characterization is sort of simplistic and meant to pluck your heartstrings – he tries his best, but fails at the hands of advances in entertainment. Rock concerts, the cinema and even jukeboxes sublimate his value. It is only until he’s able to earn the affections of a young Irish woman does he feel a restoration of purpose. She’s young, uneducated and because of his expert slight of hand she mistakes him for a real magician. One who can turn a snowy day to a sunny one; one who can offer her new shoes by simply turning his jacket inside out; one who can give her all she wants and more. Unfortunately some wealth is needed in order to keep the young woman under his magical spell and finding it impossible to find work as a real performer he undertakes jobs that publicly humiliate him or further validate his uselessness. Rendering all of these tricky ideas sincere is Chomet’s sometimes sober, sometimes whimsical vision. I use the word tricky because filmmakers often give into the temptations to make their story further emotional. In films such as The Illusionist, they might seek to overly humiliate their protagonist or put him in more comically peculiar situations that we laugh at but later feel bad about. It’s also important to remark on the amount of restraint Chomet used to make The Illusionist as unsentimental as possible. The man character’s plight is that he has become outsourced – who in this economic climate can’t relate to that? It’s a melancholic movie made with honest intentions and plays on a viewer as such.
Contrastively The Social Network doesn’t aspire to obtain such a mood. David Fincher’s direction is brooding and contentious like the film’s protagonist. However, like The Illusionist it’s an honest production through and through. The only incongruity may be the exaggerated abuse Eduardo took and though it is public that this film is more fiction than real, it does feel somewhat manipulative to make such an earnest person the fall guy – always has and always will. Still with the verbosity, seductive shots and ominous score, all feels real. The single advantage this movie has over The Illusionist are the performances – of which The Illusionist has none. Jesse Eisenberg’s rancor contrasts beautifully with Andrew Garfield’s purity and Arnie Hammer allows us to care for the Winklevoss twins by demonstrating different takes on hurt egos more eloquently than you’d figure two rich jocks could. There is much more to be said about Eisenberg and Garfield – like how the former can chill you to core and cause your hairs to stand up on end with a perfectly worded diatribe and how the latter can force you to tear up when he feels torn apart – but I’m not the person to do so, at least not in the post.
I wish there were more to say about The Illusionist — oh, I did forget to mention the perfect (and I mean perfect) score that Sylvain Chomet composed for the film and given that the film plays almost as a silent one it is a priceless asset — but it is cinema at its most minimal. With The Social Network, I could sit here for a day and crank out a 5,000 word essay on all the complexities and wonders it holds. But therein lies the magic of cinema and the point of this post – long or short, dialogue or none, actors or animation cinema can reach our heart or consume our minds in immeasurable and invaluable ways.