Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thoughts on the Two Facebook Movies: The Social Network and Catfish

Meghan of Medieval Bookworm recently raised the question of how much history historical fiction needs. Meghan is very knowledgeable about history and inaccuracies and liberties taken with history bother her.

I've spent some time thinking about this as well. I'm less likely to know when history has been altered in a novel, but I do think I prefer for things to be as accurate as possible. Otherwise, why not just write a completely fictional story? I suppose there's some room for changes. But the real issue for me, I think, is that it's a bit like gossip. Once the seed has been planted that the story went this way, even when I learn the truth, the story that was impressed into my mind is hard to unlearn. It colors the way I see things, it's always a shadow of doubt cast over reality.

This is why The Social Network fails in my opinion. Did I like the movie? Very much. I admired it a lot, until I read about how inaccurate it was, how much it revised the story and timeline and characters to achieve it's point. The Social Network certainly tells us some of the history of Facebook, but it revolves around the character of Mark Zuckerberg being socially maladjusted, obsessed with status, and well, quite frankly, an asshole. I'm not here to advocate he was a saint, but a little more accuracy, please, when you're going to use someone's real name? When you are purporting to tell their story? When you're making your film a part of the public record of the story?

But to tell the story the filmmakers wanted to tell, they altered the character of Zuckerberg and also the history it would seem. They had a specific agenda in mind, a story to tell about the changing nature of status. In fact, I found this commentary by John Hagel (thanks to whoever tweeted it) to be very insightful. For example, the way the film treats women IS appalling. Having said all of this, I really enjoyed watching it, there were funny parts, and interesting parts and there is definitely a lot to talk about. It's not that I think you shouldn't see the movie, I just think it's worth knowing what's fact and what's not.

Additionally, I did find the relationship between Eduardo and Mark and what happens to be emotionally resonant. If you have ever worked with others to build something and end up finding yourself deceived and cut out--well that's a painful experience. And while I've never experienced anything on the scale of what the movie suggests happened, I have in smaller doses. It made me really sad.

Did you see The Social Network? What did you think?

Now this week I went to see another Facebook movie only I didn't know it was a Facebook movie at the time. In fact, it was one of those times I had no idea at all what the movie was...even that it was a documentary! And I have to tell you that was the VERY BEST WAY to approach this movie. If you haven't seen Catfish and want to, I highly recommend not reading any further. It's best gone into blind. However, I feel the need to talk about this movie (in a lot of spoilery detail) that completely blindsided me this week.

Catfish is the story of Yaniv Schulman, a photographer in New York. One day, he receives a painting of one of his pictures from an 8 year old girl named Abby. The painting is rather brilliant and eventually Yaniv, Nev, strikes up a friendship with Abby and family via Facebook. I have to admit I loved this part. This is the generation I'm a part of, albeit on the older end, the one that thinks it's perfectly normal to make friends wherever they might real life, via Facebook, etc. I find it perfectly normal to chat via telephone and online with friends I've met because of life and friends I've met online. This is so rarely depicted in media in a way that is normal that I enjoyed it. Also, Nev is very easy on the eyes and it was hard not to like him and his filmmaking friends.

As fate would have it, Angela, Abby's mom, has a 19 year old daughter Megan who is rather gorgeous from her pictures. Nev and Megan end up in a more romantic sort of relationship. Nev tries several times to meet the family but things don't work out. One night when online with them, he realizes something isn't quite right--in other words, he catches them in a lie. This leads to more careful investigation of all the things they've told him and more lies are uncovered. It's then decided that they'll show up in Michigan and surprise the family.

More lies unravel until they finally meet Angela face to face. I'm not sure what I was expecting here, but to be honest, my heart sort of broke. Angela turned out to be a woman in a hard circumstance in her life and a compulsive liar. She had constructed 15 identities on Facebook to create the world of the lie of a relationship she'd had with Nev. She was the painter, not her daughter. She was every single one of the false identities. This entire section was unbearably uncomfortable. Nev seemed kind, he gently confronted her for the truth. And she told him some of it. In the film's most heartwrenching scene, she explains that when she married her husband she knew she was sacrificing her life because of his two severely mentally handicapped sons. She just hadn't realized how much. This Facebook identity she constructed was a sort of escape, a sort of taking back what she'd lost.

I had a friend in the sixth grade who lied all the time. She was adorable and very cute but I never knew what the truth was. It was so sad because we all liked her just the way she was for who she was...we didn't need to hear impressive stories to sway us. As lie after lie was uncovered in this movie, I thought of her and of that human need to construct an identity and reality different than the one we're really in.

I've read a few reviews for Catfish--apparently the marketing campaign sold it as a thriller and it's not. I can only imagine that it would be extremely disappointing to watch this thinking you were going to get a thriller and instead get a pretty quiet movie about an unraveling Facebook friendship. Additionally, yes there are questions. In fact, I had to look up and see if this was a "fake" documentary. The filmmakers claim it's true.

But I was so affected by this movie. I felt like I'd been through quite an emotional experience. Not because I doubt any of my online friends are who they say they are...I've met most of them in real life, actually. But because I felt such sympathy for Angela, even though she used her family members (such as her daughter Abby), as a woman who was sorely disappointed with her life. What she did was wrong, very wrong. But I could see a little bit of the why. I tweeted right after watching that this might be my favorite movie of the year. I take that back now, I think my favorite movies of the year are still The Kids Are All Right and Toy Story 3. But I did really love it for the exploration of identity, online identity and friendship, and for breaking my heart a little. :)

I would love your thoughts on either of these movies. What's the best movie you've seen recently?


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