Among ‘friends’: Films examine Facebook’s origin, reach

The many layers of Facebook share the spotlight in a pair of films that will leave you wondering how many ways the megasized virtual gathering space changes real lives.

I took in “Catfish” and “The Social Network” back-to-back, which I highly recommend. “Catfish” tells a tale made possible because of Facebook. Having a Facebook profile isn’t a prerequisite for either film, but it helps. And the more you’ve used Facebook to find old friends and meet new ones, the more you’ll relate to the stories.

“The Social Network” is a glimpse of the conception, birth and early childhood of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and his pals are young brainiac geeks at Harvard who know how to put ideas into computer code, resulting in websites that offend some and attract many.

The film’s poster states: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Exactly.

Just like the Internet, the film is nonlinear. It jumps between historical scenes and a civil court case where Zuckerberg is pitted against Harvard rivals who say he promised, then failed, to help start their own social website.

Zuckerberg “gets it.” He understands the value of coolness, self, vanity and being the first one out of the gate. As “The Facebook” explodes across colleges worldwide, he’s paired with another Internet whiz kid who led the disruptive technology revolution.

“Private information is a relic of a time gone by,” the Zuckerberg character says in defense of his actions.

When I got home after watching the film I checked my Facebook settings.

“Catfish” follows the story of Nev Schulman, a photographer who’s “friended” on Facebook by a young girl who turns his photos into paintings. The artists click for the sake of promoting each other’s work, and their conversation spills into other parts of the Internet.

Text messaging, Google Earth and Apple’s iPhone co-star. The New York-based photographer, his filmmaker brother and their friend use the tools of the day to learn more about Abby, an 8-year-old artist from rural Michigan, and her family.

Abby’s 19-year-old sister sister Megan uses the Web to get closer to Nev, who eventually drops by unannounced. It’s all recorded in a mix of hand-held jumpiness and dashboard-mounted steadiness reminiscent of a YouTube production.

The real and virtual worlds collide when Nev and his buddies explore the small Michigan town. The hype (or overhype) surrounding the film’s last 40 minutes is much-debated in online forums. I think it’s a perfect punctuation mark for the expectations many have of the virtual world.

Yes, you’ll learn why the film carries its fitting title. No, I won’t be the spoiler.

My ratings:

■ ”The Social Network” — 3 mouse clicks (Out of 4).

■ ”Catfish” — 3½ mouse clicks.

Share your Internet story with me at agibes@reviewjournal.com.

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