About 15 minutes ago I finally managed to finish XCOM: Enemy Unknown. This was my... fifth attempt? My first play through was interrupted by some rather unlucky encounters with sectopods and a bad choice of save points. Each attempt after that was plagued by bad luck, soldiers dying in the first few encounters, bad building decisions, whatever. I put it down for a while out of frustration, and started a new run earlier this year in an attempt to clear my 2012 backlog. Plus it was winning Game of the Year awards all over the place, so it seemed like it would be worth it.
Little did I know I would be treated to the most white-knuckled climactic ending I've ever experienced in a video game. I honestly have a hard time believing it wasn't staged to end this way, so I'll go through the whole set up and the final encounter just to show how fucking balls-out crazy this was.
First of all, I started with the tutorial mission, which sets up your first encounter with the alien collective that is attempting to invade Earth and enslave humanity. By design every member of the squad you're controlling dies, and the sole survivor becomes your first specialized unit. It's a good way to start the game, and if you're having issues in the beginning, I highly encourage leaving the tutorial on.
So my first decorated XCOM soldier sees all of his friends murdered shortly after first contact. In the game each soldier gets a nickname after a certain amount of experience. They're assigned randomly, but like most of your soldier's characteristics you can edit it. In this case, I called him "Avenger". It seemed fitting.
Later, in the midst of intercepting UFOs, thwarting alien terror campaigns, and assisting the various nations of the world, a female soldier joins my op team with the same last name as my go-to heavy soldier, Avenger. They're from different countries, so I start to think that maybe she's his daughter, previously estranged, but following in his footsteps by working her way into the XCOM team. Eventually she is just as decorated as her old man and they both get to the highest rank of Colonel.
This is one of my favourite parts of XCOM: Enemy Unkown, it drops lots of opportunities for emergent narrative. The only story that exists is humanity's desperate attempt to keep up with the alien threat. The units in the game are blank slates, and by changing their names or physical characteristics you can make any backstory for them you'd like. Part of why I quit playing the first time was because some of my favourite units had been killed and I had no way to get them back.
In the later stages of the game you discover that some members of your team may have psionic abilities, which would level the increasingly unbalanced conflict for control of the planet. After I set up the psionic lab, one of the first test subjects is Avenger, and 10 days later he is the first to exhibit signs of the psionic Gift. As the war progresses he becomes my most adept psionic soldier in the team.
At this point, I'm at the final encounter of the game. We have captured a psionic device, some kind of node the aliens have been using to coordinate the invasion from orbit above the earth. The XCOM scientists, who have spent the last year passing up hundreds of potential nobel prizes in an effort to turn the alien's technology into things we can use to capture or kill them rather than cure every known disease, tell me that if we utilize our latest discoveries in psionic technology, and our most gifted psionic, we could use this to track down the alien leadership.
Guess who's my volunteer.
Avenger, now wielding incredible psionic power, leads the best of my soldiers (including his daughter) in an assault on the alien mothership. After facing several waves of enemies, the six person squad breaches the inner sanctum, containing 2 powerful psionic aliens, 2 well armed and armored honor guards and the Big Bad alien hierarch himself.
The alien hierarch also happens to be a skilled psionic, as he obliterates 3 of my soldiers with one psychic blast on his first turn. Avenger uses the same power to kill the honor guards, but can't see anyone else other than the hierarch. My finest sniper, a Canadian named Jill "Vampire" Davis, climbs to higher ground and manages to score a critical hit on the hierarch, reducing it to 6 health. She dies on the next turn, and Avenger's daughter "Whiskey" is mind-controlled by one of the ethereal aliens, and with tears and confusion in her eyes, turns her gun on her father.
Avenger is critically wounded, there are 3 aliens left, 2 of them still at full health, and the only other survivor's will is not her own. The aliens have the high ground, there's nowhere for Avenger to go. He has a 35% chance to use his psionic mind flay ability that will do 5 damage if it hits, but the alien hierarch has 6 health remaining. I don't even know if killing him will end the game. But that's what I'm banking on.
Avenger's heavy plasma gun also has a 35% chance to hit, and will do enough damage to kill the hierarch if it does. I take a deep breathe and hit the button. He levels his gun at the alien leader. The units don't talk much, except to acknowledge orders or report that they're totally flanked and how that's really not okay. But as he locks eyes with the ancient alien, the two of them floating in an alien fortress hovering over the Earth, I imagine him saying,
"This is for my friends, you son of a bitch."
The camera pans around the two dramatically as his gun belches hot green plasma. It's a hit! The alien dies, the screen fades to black. I'm cheering, but it's not over. The hierarch's death has made the psionically controlled ship go out of control, Avenger can see what's happening, there is so much energy in this space ship that as it collapses in on itself it will pull the whole planet apart. It's too close, and no one else can control it.
Whiskey is calling for him to get out and get back to the transport ship, her mind freed from the hierarch's grasp. Avenger turns and yells, "GO!" pushing her through the entryway using a psionic blast, sealing the door behind her. As the XCOM transport leaves, Avenger uses the alien controls to raise the ship, pulling it up into space where it safely detonates. Burning pieces of wreckage fall to Earth as the transport heads back to XCOM HQ, carrying the only survivor of the final assault that saved the earth, Avenger's daughter. Just like her father had done when all of this started, ready to continue the fight in the face of overwhelming losses.
It was unbelievably perfect. I could not believe it wasn't staged that way, but obviously it wasn't. Avenger had to survive from the beginning of the game to the very end. The new unit I got halfway through the game had to have the same last name to set up that familial connection. Avenger had to test positive for the Gift, and be the first to help make that discovery. He had to advance to the level to become the volunteer that located the alien mothership, survive to the end along with his daughter, and get that final 1 in 3 shot to kill the alien leader.
It was unbelievably perfect.
The few students in the front row roused quickly from their mid afternoon naps, sighing as their bodies almost immediately sagged again. The morning’s physical training had been just as exhausting as Timothy had expected, and like his briefly startled companions he was in no mood for Professor Vale’s long, raspy speeches and sneaky, whip-like cane.
“Lessons, lessons!” he repeated, banging his cane on any nearby resonant surface. “Today we review villains.” More sounds of exasperation. More raps of the cane on desks and the dusty blackboard. “Villains, as every young adventurer must know, come in four distinct types. The first are of course the greedy,” which he wrote in bold letters on the board using a flaking hunk of chalk. “Those who are motivated to evil for want of wealth, knowledge, or power. Timothy!” Tim blinked and his back shot up straight as his name was called, his body fearing Vale’s cane before his mind had time to process what was happening.
“Sir!” Timothy blurted.
“Some examples, please.”
Tim reminded himself not to roll his eyes and instead recited the text he had memorized years ago.
“The greedy cover villains such as thieves, burglars, and guilds thereof. Organized criminals, necromancers, litches, and last but not least dragons.”
“Correct,” Vale’s cane shot up in the air, it’s point landing just underneath the words he had written: ‘The Greedy’.
“And we must not forget wizards, sorcerers, and mages, as well as scholars, and erstwhile bards. Man’s hunger for knowledge can be just as nefarious and all-consuming as his passion for wealth and power over his fellow sentient beings. We must be on guard for all types of greed, hoarding, and secret keeping. A cache of books can poison a person just as sure as a vault of gold.”
Tim felt annoyed. He had said necromancers and litches, he thought that had covered it. Sorcerers and mages weren’t always villains, were they? And certainly not bards. Robert was majoring in song, and was a whizz with a wand too. Tim looked to his left to peer bleary-eyed at his friend sitting next to him.
Rob was no villain.
“The second class of villain are the vengeful,” Vale continued and wrote ‘Revenge’ just below ‘The Greedy’ on the blackboard. “Examples?” Vale asked as he turned to his somnambulant audience. A yawning silence, saved from the perforation of Vale’s cane on the ankle of an unsuspecting student by Robert’s answer.
“The wronged, either real or imagined. Any who believe they have moral justification in seeking vengeance and reprobation in wrongs committed against themselves, their property, or their loved ones. Examples include but are not limited to the undead: ghosts, witches, ghouls, vampires, wights, and zombies.”
Tim smiled inside. Rob had been quoting from the text as well, the same dog-eared, moth eaten tome they shared in their first year. It made Tim happy to know that he wasn’t the only one who was bored with this and didn’t mind showing it.
“Good, but be careful. Any being who seeks lethal or unsavory or illegal means to establish what they personally believe is fair is capable of falling into this category. Due to the long life of various undead beings, they most typically fall into this category. Next?”
It took the class a moment to realize that Professor Vale was asking for the next classification as he stood at the board, chalk held inches from the black paint, just below ‘Revenge’.
“Chaos,” Timothy said, tired of waiting.
“Let someone else have a chance, Master Leeroy. You there, Lady Hollander, say it another way.” Sabrina Hollander slowly inclined her head up from her desk to look at Vale and said simply,
“The insane.” The professor cleared his throat and began writing ‘Chaos’ on the board.
“That’s right,” he said, “those who wish to create discord and unease in the world. With no regard for the laws of man or of any decent moral law. They burn the world. They are psychopaths and the criminally insane. Any race may fall here, though likely they are immortals, or those cursed with long life and have spent too long amongst the laws and ethics of civilization. They grow tired of the world, and the Sickness beings to set in.” Vale became quiet for a moment, and no one in the room spoke.
“And finally,” he continued eventually, “the fourth and final classification of villain. One that most adventurers will never see, and by far the most immoral, the most infernal. Those who will never cease to justify themselves, and win over others to their cause. These are the villains that attempt to save the world,” Vale said as he wrote ‘Heroes’ on the board, at the bottom of the list.
"As I uttered these inspiring words the idea came like a flash of lightning and in an instant the truth was revealed."
The inspiring words he is referred to come from a passage of Goethe's Faust, which at that point Tesla had memorized, along with several other pieces of poetry and probably almost every creative thought he had ever had. It took me a while to verify the quote, and even remember where it came from:
The glow retreats, done is the day of toil;
It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring;
Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil
Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!
A glorious dream! though now the glories fade.
Alas! the wings that lift the mind no aid
Of wings to lift the body can bequeath me.
That passage came to Tesla as he was walking through a park with a friend. He had been ruminating on the problem of the AC motor, something that had been explained to him was, at the very least impractical, and at the very most impossible. But at that moment, he saw it all, everything he would ned to make his dream into something real. All he had to do was make the parts, assemble them, and turn it on, and it would work. Because that was how his mind worked, he could assemble whole inventions in his imagination, test them, and see them work. He did not dream, he predicted.
I don't know whay I wanted to say that. I think I just wanted people to know that a piece of poetry in Faust, in a way, gave us the present age, and how that man's mind worked. There's a lot people should know about him. Because he was interesting, and we should turn our minds towards interesting people. They can teach us a lot about ourselves, and how far we can go. What our limits are, and what they aren't.
Tonight I didn't go to a party because I wanted to write. I felt bad about that because I missed out on seeing someone that wanted to see me. But I need to write, and it's okay to make these sacrifices.
The last time my Grandmother visited Vancouver, years ago, she haggled with the a manager at Sears over the price of a pair of gloves. She had talked to the customer service person, who had patiently and then with mounting confusion, explained to her that the gloves were a certain price. My Grandmother explained to her, and then later to the manager, that this was all well and good, but the gloves simply weren't worth what they were asking, and she would be happy to pay what she thought they were actually worth.
It can't have been a difficult negotiation. After living through two World Wars, after walking out of a bombed out building with her children in tow, after staring down armed soldiers in Franco's Spain, it's obvious that at some point she had sat down with Fate, and explained to them that while it was all well and good that most people only lived to a certain age, but that simply wasn't what life was worth to her. Perhaps it was when she was growing up in India, a little girl holding court with Death as tiger cubs played around their feet. I can see her demurely sipping tea, and explaining with perfect diction to the something in the dark sweltering hood that she never planned to give anyone more or less than what they were worth.
She walked away from this life on her own terms, with an existence longer and fuller than most of us could hope for.
She spent the last few years of her life in a nursing home, and we were told that she died whilst napping. I wonder, if I was in that situation, would anyone not die peacefully, whilst napping after tea or in the middle of the night? If she died in agony, choking, or after a massive heart attack, would I really make the call and say, "I'm sorry Mr. Elliott, but after a prolonged struggle, wherein several medical professionals attempted for almost 20 minutes to keep your panicking relative around for a bit longer, giving her injections and CPR, we were unable to save her." Why not just say they died in their sleep?
Unlikely, and probably unfeasible, but it's where my mind goes.
Her name was Pearl, and she was the one who introduced me to Omar Khayyam. I discovered a copy of the Rubaiyyat in her bookshelf and she let me keep it. Even when I had to remind her what I was doing with my life every day she could quote quatrains to me.
"There was a door to which I had no key,
There was a veil past which I could not see.
Some talked a little while of thee and me, it seemed,
And then no more of me or thee."
I still have that book, it sings among 3 other copies of the Rubaiyyat. Khayyam is one of my favourite poets, and there is more than a little bit of 11th century Persian trivia in my head because of my love for that poet, and not to mention a few quatrains that I can recite. If nothing else, I will always owe her for that.
I had an aunt who died a few years ago. I didn't know her very well, but she was a poet and wrote a piece about my grandmother that does a good job of summarizing her life.
By Susan Chilcott
The sun is soft and not yet warm,
The hum perhaps, was bees,
The years a great kaleidoscope
The rug tucked around the knees
And far away the peacocks cry
Stirring the mists of time,
From dung baked walls, a Mullah calls
In Bellary, home of mine.
Have I seen, or do I dream
The saffron sari'd girl,
The bangle chink, the water gourd
Now in my past they swirl
The Ayah's eyes, a fathom deep,
Did she not have a name?
Those arms that rocked the child to sleep
That played each childhood game.
I smell the scent of hot dry earth,
I feel the heat of day
Have I no kohl upon my eyes,
India is in my blood to stay
And shrill once more the jarring call
Takes flight my mind with me
Kashmir slips in my dreaming eye,
Prayer wheels in far Lamasery
Again, again, I hear that cry
And Stanley Park I see,
Was I not there, with Grandson fair?
To feed those birds with me.
Or was I in America
Deep in forest green
Where ticks and things torment the flesh
And white-tailed deer are seen.
Or was that the forest further north,
As north as one could be,
Where once a Sachen Indian
Stood looking down on me
Did I really see a bear?
Slashing a luckless tree,
Mouse quiet, watching lest he turn
To test those claws on me.
And now how I hate those evil men
Who stole my babes from me?
Heil Hitlering their jackboot way
Up to the very sea.
Did I not drink a bitter ale?
When from my breast they tore
My babies to another place
To live throughout that war.
All those years lost, who can reclaim
Those memories are not mine
Two childhoods stolen from my life.
My pearls before those swine.
Can I know that call again?
From bird to royal plume
Wrest from my soul the phantoms sad,
Those memories of doom.
The sun is soft and not yet warm,
Bestir myself I must
For all we have are memories
Before we turn to dust.
I once met a man, an old friend of my fathers, who had met Karl Popper. Anxiously I asked what he was like, and instead of describing to me his one brief and awkward visit, he pointed me to a book of his poems. When I asked for me, he said he didn't have more to say than what was in the poem.
I was annoyed by that. I wanted details, I didn't want to stumble through his metaphors, I just wanted to know what the guy was like.
Now I know. Sometimes poems are easier. She lived to be 103 years old. What else is there to say.
Seriously though, Greendale for life.
2. Worst Thing: probably Kanye
3. Best Thing: Also probably Kanye, or Dungeons & Dragons.
4. Best Hug: First episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
5. Best Moment: -REDACTED-
6. Best Moment not Covered by an NDA or Personal Insecurity: Getting to know someone and becoming almost immediately infatuated with them. I cherish everything about that process, and I missed it.
7. Something You're Proud of: Getting a job that could very well be the first step in my dream career, or dream job, or dream sandwich. They make pretty good sandwiches there. Really all that it did was make real a few impulses and ideas that were mere fantasy for me up until now. Now I get it.
8. Something You aren't Proud of: I didn't write enough, but I never write enough, so same net loss really, which cancels itself out, right? Also I'm still bad at math.
9. Something Else You're Proud of: Teaching people older than me about religion.
10. Seriously 2011 was a mixed year. I spent a significant portion of it either unemployed or working in jobs I hated, made all the more significant by being hired as at a temporary job that has turned out to be one of the highlights of my entire life. I spent part of the year in a relationship with a remarkable and intelligent woman with whom I couldn't quite connect, and I regret that--the not connecting part, not the rest, that was pretty awesome and I miss it: Yep.
Lately, that's how I start my writing. When I sit down to Get Something Done, whether it be a column for TC&TC or something for D&D, the first thing I do is get honest with myself and outright ask,
"What are you going to be doing?"
It helps to get things moving, to focus my mind on the question that I'm trying to answer and weed out any other worries and distracting thoughts. So I 'spose in this, one of many efforts to get me and my head to Shut Up And Write, it may help to start in the traditional way. At least it will get a theme going. Themes are important. At least it's not "sex between people of varying heights, can Britain take it?" That wouldn't be a good theme.
So, what do I want to talk about?
I would hate to admit that it was money, but if I'm going to take a tally of the things I don't have anymore, that would certainly be one of a few. No money, so no way to buy food. I'm going through whatever remains in my fridge and in my shelves. Most of it has gone bad, and what is still edible only remains because I couldn't bring myself to eat it in the first place. Not much to eat means not much energy, means not much of a sunny disposition.
Which all makes it harder to write and look for work.
At this point I could invoke the metaphor of a snake eating it's own tail, but I'm not that desperate for imagery. Not yet.
Several good opportunities have passed me by because of this slump. Good gigs, jobs where I could be writing. Heck, I could even be making my own opportunities right now. Live that life, dream that dream.
I resolved to do just that, not too long ago. I was tired of just signing up for whatever would pay my bills, I was frustrated because no matter what I was doing, I never seemed to be able to get my act together and find myself a career- a job that I wanted and wanted to do well, that I could do well. That thought, just being able to tell myself that this is what I was going to do, made me happy.
But I have no money. No money for food, or rent, or bills, or PAX. So I don't have that luxury.
So here I am back at the beginning, wondering what I'm missing, and wondering how long I will last this time before I give up. Again.
I love the Assassin's Creed Franchise. There, I said it. No, I don't love it in the way that I got the DS and PSP spinoffs, I don't dress up like Altair for PAX and I don't own an Assassin's Creed II hoodie (though it wasn't for lack of trying). What I enjoy is the way they play around with history. The stories take place around genuine historical events, the characters were mostly real people and they were built using real portraits and historical accounts, as were the cities. They use these settings and characters to tell a rather unique story that blends myth, symbolism, and history.
That's AWESOME. Granted the first game was a bit tedious in a few ways, but the gameplay felt new and I never tired of running around in the 12th century stabbing templars. It also dealt with one of my favourite topics- the Hashashin. I wrote a paper about this strange Islamic sect before the game came out, and was stunned to see so much of their myths in the game. No, they didn't cut off their fingers to prove their loyalty, but according to Marco Polo they did jump off towers and were tempted to serve the "Old Man on the Mountain" by a garden full of young virgins.
Anyway, history boner.
AC II was more of the same, but better. The missions and side missions weren't as repetitive, the gameplay was a bit more complex, and there was a lot more game there to enjoy. It was still steeped in history, this time dealing with the Medici family in Italy, the Pazi Conspiracy, and even people Like Machiavelli, Leonardo DaVinci, and the Borgia family. But I found it hard to care about Ezio, the new protagonist. I also learned to dread the 2012 cut scenes and missions. I don't know what happened, but your supporting cast looked terrible and sounded like a bunch of whiny teenagers trying to escape from the crusty old dean. In the original AC I found the "modern" scenes really fleshed out the plot and the relationship between the characters. In AC II they felt like punishment for having fun.
And now we come to AC: Brotherhood, and once again it feels like the same thing but better, a lot better. I finished AC II a few days before I started playing Brotherhood and I could immediately notice a difference in the presentation. The characters always looked a bit dark and unfinished in AC II, but in Brotherhood everything looks a lot crisper and cleaner. There is still the occasional "popping in" of the background, but other then that this game can look intense.
I'm not going to be able to do this game justice just by talking about it so do me a favour. Go to the Pantheon. No, no, not the real one. If you own Brotherhood and haven't seen it yet, go there, it's near the center of Rome. Even if you have seen it already, go back and take a look. Take in the courtyard, the dead leaves constantly falling around you and blowing in the wind. Now walk between those giant pillars into the church proper. Listen to the sounds outside echoed and amplified within the giant dome. Just take a moment and take it all in.
If that doesn't move you, then sorry, I guess this review won't help you. Also, if you can look at that, and then look at the original Mario Bros. games, consider the evolution required to reach this point, and then tell me that this is "just a game" and "will never be art" then I can't help you either.
So back on track- Brotherhood picks up immediately after the close of AC II, which can be worrying for a game that could seem like it was shoe-horned into a trilogy. There was a lot of worry that this was just an attempt to generate more revenue before the close of the calendar year, rather than actually trying to provide some substance. I can safely say that Ubisoft have produced something that is worth your money, it is the best of the franchise.
In the closing hours of AC II I felt well... bored. I was rapidly losing sight of why I cared about Ezio and his quest for vengeance against the templars- mostly because there was just so much stuff to do that wasn't really related to the antagonists themselves. I swear I had a mission to assassinate someone because he was having lots of portraits made of himself in order to "skew history." Seriously, I was being paid to murder a guy for being narcissistic. The Assassin tombs were a neat way to get some platforming in between bloody assassinations, but they also felt like filler.
In Brotherhood everything is more focused. Everything you do is about Rome, rebuilding it and winning it back from the influence of the Borgia- and all the gameplay elements are baked into that. The Assassin tombs are now lairs for the Cult of Romulus and integral to the overall story. Your sights are pretty much always on the Borgia family, a corrupt bunch of incestuous, arsenic enthusiasts torn right out of the history of Rome and the papacy.
There are also these missions which act like little vignettes, going back into the timeline you went through in AC II that serve to fill out Ezio's character. Flashbacks, I have found, are rarely done well in video games. They feel forced, awkward, sometimes completely unnecessary. This is not the case here.
The last thing I want to talk about in this weird and poorly arranged review is the new multiplayer element. Basically it is a typical death match scenario- you are given a contract to kill a certain player model, and other players are given contracts on you. The level is populated with copies of your model and other player models, and so the whole point is to track down your target while avoiding your own assassin. You get skills and perks as you gain levels, such is the New Multiplayer Commandment sent down from us from on High (Call of Duty). So these, along with a not very accurate compass, are your only way to tell which person in the crowd of NPCs is your target.
That and your own wits. And it's fantastic.
You get more points for sneaking up and your target and murdering them without their knowing. But that can, in the familiar hyperbole of the younger generation, TAKE FOREVER. And often in the time it takes to sneak up to your prey, moving from crowd to crowd, judging angles, distances and wind speed, someone else will come along and stab your target. So typically there are two kinds of players in this game. There are the ones who try for the subtle and often genuinely surprising takedown, taking their time to get kills that will net them a strong return on their nefarious investment, and the the ones who run around on the rooftops like it's some kind of reboot of the Running Man.
I usually handle these ADHD addled villains by selecting my hidden gun and casually picking them off from a safe distance. I then turn and peer cautiously in the distance, ready to accept my next bounty with poise and professionalism. It's usually about then that someone casually moves through the crowd and pops me like a pez machine.
This all assumes that I have actually managed to make it into a game, which is a sincere and honest problem. Waiting for a connection can, no lie, take upwards of fifteen minutes, which is a deal breaker these days, and sometimes won't even happen at all. This is especially disconcerting when trying to play with a few friends, since after you set up a group and fail to immediately find a game, which WILL happen, you have to set it all up again. It's all a huge pain in the ass, and I hope they fix it soon.
That said, it's pretty much the only blemish on this otherwise excellent video game. The ending especially left me shocked and wanting more, which is saying something since the finales to Assassin's Creed and AC II are absolute crap.
- Current Location:The Monk and Tipster
The movie opens with a very unflattering look at the protagonist, Mark Zuckerberg, a young man with an incredibly nimble mind and absolutely no social graces. No one in the movie ever says the word 'asperger's' but it's there, lurking and never used, because this is Aaron fucking Sorkin we're talking about here, and he would sooner die telling you something rather than showing it to you.
Let's back up.
Months and months ago I was informed that a movie was coming out about the creation of Facebook. It would be directed by David Fincher (cool) the soundtrack would be assembled by Trent Reznor (awesome) and Atticus Ross (also awesome) and it was going to be written by Aaron Sorkin (totally boss). In the late 90's and early 2000's Sorkin was writing the best stuff on TV (in my completely unbiased and increasingly bracketed opinion) with Sports Night, The West Wing, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. If you don't believe me, take a look for yourself. Or in a nutshell-
Honestly it didn't matter much to me who was doing the score and who was directing, Sorkin's name is enough to get me in the door every time.
So, back to the beginning of the movie, as Mark's girlfriend storms off, fed up with his aparent inability to say anything nice or even coherent, we are given a question to ponder throughout the rest of the film. Is Mark Zuckerberg an asshole? As we are taken on this journey we are given many glimpses into what probably happened in the early days of this internet start-up: backstabbing, sins of omission, outright lies, money, the works. There is plenty of reason to doubt whether what we are seeing is an accurate portrayal of what happened, but as Sorkin has said, "I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling." The point isn't whether or not these things actually happened, the point is to tell a good story, a convincing a story, a story that will inspire people to figure out what really happened, to argue about it, to have a dialogue.
Anyway, we get all the way to the last scene of the film before the word 'asshole' is leveraged against our admittedly anti-heroic Zuckerberg. But this time it's less an accusation and more a piece of advice, almost an apology. "You aren't an asshole Mark, you're just trying so hard to be one." And he has, for the length of the film he is wanting to be part of that in crowd, part of exclusive organizations at Harvard, the stuff that past US presidents were members of. He thinks it's a key to "a better life." But in that last scene, after he has enough money to buy most of Harvard, after he has been friends and business partners with people like Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, and after he has, by all accounts "made it" all he can think about is that one girl, at the very beginning, the one who said he was an asshole and meant it. As a brief synopsis of what would happen after the events of the movie is superimposed on the screen, we see Mark patiently hitting 'refresh' over and over, uncharacteristically still, hoping that the one that got away will accept his friend request. None of the money or fame matters in the end, he just wants that connection, something genuine.
The real mark Zuckerberg has said that he didn't invent Facebook to get accepted into the clubs at Harvard, and I think on final analysis that the fictional Mark in The Social Network didn't want that either. What he wants is to create something that will get him recognition, not necessarily into the popular crowd. But what he ends up doing is (it could be argued) creating something just as hearltess and impersonal as the vain and inconsequential hook-ups we see being made at exclusive parties by the "in crowd" at Harvard. He isn't an asshole, he's just trying so hard to be one.
Stephen Fry once said Oscar Wilde's short stories were more parables, and I think that's true for Sorkin as well. It always seems like he his trying to get us to think about something, to build us up, rather than simply entertain. I really like that.
"... can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?"
- Current Location:The Monk and Tipster
- Current Mood:productive
- Current Music:The Social Network soundtrack