Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mulvey, Welles, and the Threatening Female in The Social Network.

I still maintain that the similarities between Citizen Kane (1941) and The Social Network (2010) are vast and profound. To list a few, we can talk reception for a minute. Both films were released to both audience and critical acclaim, receiving scores of Academy Awards, but winning only one (well of the 'big 5', best picture, best director, best actor, best actress (irrelevant) and best screenplay). Herman Mankewicz and Orson Welles for Screenplay, (that award was really for Mank) and Aaron Sorkin for Screenplay. Good thing too because both of the screenplays are more or less flawless and function by the same narrative principles. The narrative is essentially a long flashback, told from the 'present'. In Kane, it's a reporter trying to find out the mystery behind 'rosebud', in Network, it's deliberations over the lawsuit against Zuckerberg by Saverin. Neither won Best Picture and were somewhat overshadowed by less worthy and more audience-pleasing Oscar fodder.
The exact moment where I realized how indelibly similar they are is the scene in the latter when late in the film, Andrew Garfield's character Eduardo Saverin asks his now adversary Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) if he remembers the algorythm he wrote on his dorm window very early on when they were still friends and shared a common goal based on certain principles. This mirrors the scene in the former when Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), alone and humiliated after a losing bid for president is bleeding his newspapers for sensational and unethical means to make copy. He received in the mail, a declaration of principles he wrote in the presence of his best friend Jedadiah Leland (Joseph Cotton), who sent it back to him to remind him how much he has strayed from what he once stood for. The theme of Kane, which Orson Welles once stated as being 'a man who gains the world but loses his soul' can be without question applied to The Social Network as its primary lesson. It's just as relevant today as it was half a century ago.

Christy positions herself as the
primary decision maker of the two.

But lets apply this to Filth Screen. How can we consider either film a projection of deviance, perversion, and sex? I believe it is in how both films similarly portray the female gender and am going to use Mulvey as my primary reference. Let's start with The Social Network and work our way to Citizen Kane. It can be argued that the portrayal of women in this film is outwardly offensive, with the exception of the character of Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) who is the most prominent female counterpart even though she only has about 3 scenes. The other character that influences the narrative is Saverin's first groupie then girlfriend Christy (Brenda Song). She is a highly sexualized student who pounces on Saverin when she finds out that he had a part in inventing Facebook. At first, she is no more than a folly, but quickly takes the reigns and manipulates the fates of everyone involved in Facebook. She dresses stylishly yet provocatively and more or less castrates Saverin (figuratively speaking). She starts to control and manipulate Saverin's judgements and attitudes. This emasculation culminates when she visits Saverin in his hotel room in New York, posing a very prominent threat, both physically and mentally. Juxtaposed to Garfield, Song's character symbolizes power and as Mulvey would put it 'fetishisms' that translate as the male's fear of castration. She wears long leather boots, a tight fitting shirt, and is all around excellently put together. Saverin is in his boxer shorts, with disheveled hair, and a generally unkempt appearance. She overwhelms him and thereby decimates his power as a male. He tries to distract her with a gift; a peace offering, which she in turn lights on fire, throws into a garbage can and leaves his room, thereby completely dissipating his male 'dominant' nature. In this conflict, she assumes the role of the powerful male, while he becomes the powerless begging woman-like entity.
note the visual symbolism in this
still. the distance between the two,
Kane standing like a statue illuminated
in light, while Susan sits like a child in
the shadows of the foreground.

We can apply this to Citizen Kane in how Kane interacts and antagonizes his second wife Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore). Welles used props just as David Fincher did to convey the relationship between the two. In the beginning Susan is very diminutive and sweet, this being visually represented by the dainty puzzle pieces of those horrid puzzles Susan always works on. This also articulates that Susan is rather feeble minded considering she occupies her time with childish games. Charles Foster Kane is always shot from a low angle looking up so that he seems extremely tall and dominant, while Susan is usually sitting on the floor and shot at a low angle as to accentuate her inferiority. Both women are portrayed as negative influences on their male counterparts. They are those who bother and betray the trajectory of the male. When Susan has her confluence of emasculation scene, it is when she leaves Kane and moves out. She appears perfectly calm and thus in control of the situation. She has castrated Kane in that he is no longer able to control her decisions. He becomes so vulnerable that he even begs for her to stay saying, 'Susan, please don't go. You can't do this to me'. At this point Susan becomes the ultimate castration symbol as a woman who is able to make her own decision, unbridled by the imposing dominant male. She articulates this by retorting; 'I see, it's you this is being done to, it's not me at all'.
The rest of the women in both films are more or less irrelevant, from the hung over Stanford student in her underwear who 'slept ON Sean Parker' to Kane's first wife Emily Monroe Norton who is just too proper to tell her husband what she thinks of him. In Citizen Kane, the key female character starts out 'proper' and becomes a castration symbol, while in The Social Network, the key female character starts out deviant and progresses to be the ultimate emasculating influence.
Though we could talk about the relationship between Mark Zuckerberg and his former girlfriend Erica Albright, and see it as similar to that of Susan Alexander and Charles Foster Kane, she much more symbolizes the 'modern female threat'. She is independent, opinionated, and unforgiving. She is able to supress Zuckerberg's smart-ass egomaniacal banter and eventually puts him in his place when the last scene of the film shows Zuckerberg alone on his computer sending a friend request to Erica, who's picture of her smiling with friends out of frame mocks his solitude. In that both films end identically because they leave the main character striving to regain something they lost in their journey for absolute success. Kane whispers rosebud; Zuckerberg keeps refreshing the page, desperate to see if Erica accepts his request. In a way, both men, as powerful and ego-driven as they appear, are still obsessed with retaining a part of their past which they didn't realize provided them with a serenity they were never able to get back.

I'll leave you with the 'Declaration of Principles' scene from Citizen Kane. Beautifully shot and performed, with a sense of impending irony that foreshadows the eventual tragic fate of Charles Foster Kane.

1 comment:

Vera Ryžik said...
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