‘True Grit’ vs. ‘The Social Network’

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Someday Mark Zuckerberg’s perfectly parabolic jaw line will crumble and sag until it resembles the craggy, blurred topography of Rooster Cogburn’s. It’s as inevitable as the rise of Facebook — a continuum, not a culture clash.

The films “The Social Network” and “True Grit” are shaping up as the generational flashpoint of the coming Oscar race. If the Facebook biopic wins, critics will wring their hands and talk about the soullessness of the new machine, and if “True Grit” redux carries the day, we’ll hear the familiar lament about the graybeards who run the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Amazing but true: Generations come and generations go and we keep repeating the same goofy, distrustful predictabilities about who knows best, about what matters most, about us and them. Bravado rules the day at either end, but squint and you can see right through it to little glints of self-doubt. Under 30, we occasionally wonder if we can sustain the swagger; over 30, we know we can’t and try to make it look like wisdom. We end up staking out positions that narrow life to a demographic faceoff.


In the process, it’s easy to overcompensate, which is what unnerves me about the niche response to “The Social Network” among people old enough to be Zuckerberg’s parents. I like the movie fine, and you’re welcome to like it too. But there’s a subset of older fans who want us to know — aggressively, emphatically, citing chapter and verse — exactly why “The S.N.” is such a great movie, an important movie, a movie for our times. It’s almost as though they’re afraid that voicing even a single criticism will brand them as onlookers in the technological block party that is modern life.

It reminds me of kids I knew in high school who wore the right clothes or listened to the right music, despite personal misgivings, because the most important thing was to belong. “Your old road is rapidly agin’/Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand,” sang the bard from Minnesota, at a time when he disdained anyone who was the age he is now, “for the times they are a-changin’.” Those of us for whom that was a rallying cry seem a bit reluctant to get out of traffic now that it’s supposed to be our turn to step aside.

Not that we should. Maybe it was a bit excessive to draw such a bold line in the first place, no matter which side of it you’re standing on.

Which brings me to the question: Will the youth cohort even bother to see “True Grit”? I checked my watch when the story hit a significant dramatic intersection, and though I found the pace perfect, people raised on texting and Twitter might well consider it glacial. They may feel the need to ignore it as strenuously as some of the older generation embraces that Facebook flick; they may need to dismiss its elegiac rhythms as old school. Perhaps they should see the movie as a remedial exercise: Brain researchers are starting to wonder if the computer generation will eventually lose its ability to downshift; whether contemplation and coma will someday be synonymous.

Or maybe they should see it on a double bill with “Citizen Kane,” which is, after all, about an earlier generation’s young, brash media mogul, its central narrative flanked front and back by a motivating subplot involving a lost love. Just in case that sounds familiar to anyone who loves “The Social Network.”

“True Grit” has an antecedent too, a far more literal one. It’s what the movies do with their source material — subconscious or overt — that makes the meaningful distinction. “The Social Network” is glossy and gee-whiz fun and fast on its cyber feet, as though the desire for human contact had been invented around the same year as the smart phone. “True Grit” is trail dirty and slow; just galloping too hard can lead to no good. In a Facebook world, there’s precious little time to think. In them thar hills, there’s not much else to do.


I’ve been haunted by “True Grit” for days, thinking about loss and vengeance and family and loneliness and grit and evil and a few far more existential concepts. My mind has been as busy as if I were tweeting the day’s inconsequentials to anyone who happened to be listening, or posting on the Facebook page I tend to ignore. It has been an oddly satisfying preoccupation; I like having something to chew on. To fast-twitch Zuckerbergians, all this might feel lugubrious, even irrelevant, at least for now. But guess what? The cliche is truer than true: You get from Mark to Rooster in the blink of an eye.

Now, maybe I’m reading things wrong; I’ve never won an Oscar poll in my life. But before we consider anointing “The Social Network” as the most meaningful film of the season, make sure you buy a ticket to watch “True Grit” unfold. At a moment in time when everything is instantaneous, it’s the cinematic equivalent of the Slow Food movement, and just as tasty.

Karen Stabiner’s most recent book is the comic novel “Getting In.” She is currently writing a book about restaurant staff meals with chef Michael Romano.