Tag: friendship

Movies

What can we learn from The Social Network in 2022? And what could it have done better?

Pros

  • dialogue cuts back and forth well
  • Honest, memorable message about social media and loneliness
  • Realistic legal scenes
  • Quick, witty dialogue and cuts
  • overall, this movie is about the importance of friendship and not just on social media

Cons

  • Female characters are poorly developed: they are either crazy, objectified, or just there to call men out for their bad behavior

“You betrayed me and I know that you’ll never feel sorry for the way I hurt.” Olivia Rodrigo sings in her song Traitor. Our culture is fascinated by betrayal. From Judas to Brutus to Benedict Arnold, betrayal sticks out as one of the worst things that a person can do to another. That’s because we never betray our enemies. It’s always our friends, the people we are supposed to love and care about us. Friends are supposed to be on our side, and we need to be there for them.

Even if we’re not always in contact, friendship is a bond, a statement of connection and promise of loyalty, an idea that we will look out for each other and each other’s best interests even if we’re not physically present. Betrayal fascinates us because it feels so horrible. It is used and discussed in fiction so often, and whether it is written well or poorly. It is no wonder that the top 10 anime betrayals have become a meme.

The words of hurt and betrayal are what captivates so many of us when we watch The Social Network. The movie contains one of the biggest betrayals of all movie history. When we think of betrayal, it is usually between two people: the betrayer and the victim. Betrayal often isn’t thought of as a group, or by a corporation. Even Ceasar addresses Brutus with “et tu Brute” and doesn’t even talk about the rest of the Romans who joined him.

I wanted to watch The Social Network because it talks about Facebook; I have a like-hate relationship with Facebook and social media in general. I have an account, and it helps me stay in touch with family and friends who live far away, but it is also involved in politics, data collection controversies, and more. When this movie came out, no one was fully aware of what Facebook was fully capable of, and impact it has on our mental health, our relationships with others, and about our view of facts and information. It seems like Facebook users are a victim more Eduardo the billionaire. Even though it missed quite a few critiques of Facebook, The Social Network is regarded as a good movie in 2022. I would agree. It has a fantastic beginning.

It all begins with a conversation between Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg, and his girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) about final clubs. He is obsessed with joining a college group associated with college elites. When she asks why he wants to join, he says:

“Because they’re exclusive, and fun and lead to a better life”

So, what exactly is this “better life” that Mark wants so badly? Well, we see a Phoenix club meeting occur shortly after. The film shows a group of women getting out of a bus to go to this party. The party gets started, and we see women dancing on tables in underwear, 2 girls kissing, and playing poker with guys. I wonder if these women enjoy this. Personally, this scene makes me uncomfortable. The Phoenix club is all about men’s desires and it gives them a sense of power, of enjoying the pleasure that would not be possible without their wealth. The whole scene feels over the top.

Throughout the movie, students are in the background and most people are drinking and stuff. Women are there. It seems that a “better life” is being part of a group that only the rich can join. He also wants fun, at least, he says he does, he only has one friend and doesn’t get out much. Fair enough. But overall, Mark’s life at the Phoenix club is status-based and the status is determined by wealth and privilege. He also isn’t concerned with building relationships within the group. He just wants to be on the inside and not standing alone.

But Mark doesn’t realize what he has already. He has a best friend that cares about him and a girlfriend who wanted to get dinner with him—until he lets desire for these clubs take over his life.

Overall, Mark’s desires feel shallow. His angry blog post about Erica talks about her looks because all he cares about is appearances. He might prefer a Harvard girlfriend to a girl who goes to BU, simply because Harvard sounds better. He demands her attention because, to him, he is more important because he is a Harvard student. Mark also never really cares for Erica as an individual, and she can’t take it anymore. I can’t blame her. Mark sucks, almost as much as the guys on the bus.

After Erica dumps him, Mark doesn’t admit to doing anything wrong in the relationship, gets drunk, and impulsively creates a site ranking women based on their school profile pictures. I just want to say that school profile pictures are some of the most awkward photos ever. They take a picture of their day 1 bewildered freshman self, and the guys take less than five seconds to decide who is “hotter.” So, right away, Mark’s first project refuses to dive below the surface, creates a judgmental atmosphere, violates the privacy of others, and encourages people to compare each other to their peers. Sounds familiar.

So, what about these networks are actually good? Throughout the film, the movie questions his ideals of a “better life” based on status. Zuckerberg hangs out with Sean and has people over to drink, but these things never seem to make Mark happy. He barely ever pays attention either, he’s always on his laptop. Still, he ends up choosing all this over the one friend that truly cares about him.

Mark also gives up on the Phoenix Clubs when he realizes that he can control the social system and create his own network. He loves feeling control, which he lost when his girlfriend dumped him. If he can’t get what he wants through groups in real life, he will create a digital one.

The network is meant to connect college students together, and it gives people who aren’t outgoing and aren’t in the loop an opportunity to join. Zuckerberg in particular talks about how Facebook’s relationship status feature can tell a guy if a girl is single. This social network allows us to have knowledge of others without ever talking to them or building a relationship.

By giving away our relationship status, we are giving up privacy, of allowing strangers to reach us that we may or may not want to hear from. We can talk to people and send requests to those we’re too scared to reach out to in real life. We are given a false notion that we know someone; it feels like a breach of privacy, even if we willingly tell them our personal information. Yet, today, we do it all the time. I do it. But looking on the outside, it is scary. The movie shows it all started with someone who felt like an outsider and wanted to get in.

Zuckerberg, with his technical talent and ruthless business sense, is determined he can make his own success. He can do it, and he can do it himself, well . . . almost. Zuckerberg can’t afford to pay for everything, so he asks his friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) to be his chief financial officer. He is Eduardo’s best friend. They say this several times. He seems like he cares for Eduardo, even if he doesn’t always show it.

Out of the two, Eduardo is emotionally supportive and kind. He doesn’t see his friendship with Zuckerberg as a purely business arrangement. He wants to make sure he’s doing okay too.

“If there’s something wrong, you can tell me. I’m here for you.”

I would argue that Mark’s relationship with Eduardo is the most heartbreaking part of this movie. Despite his desire to fit in with the Phoenix Club, Mark is quiet and introverted. Even when Sean has people over while they work on Facebook, Mark is on his computer rather than socializing. The Winklevoss brothers see him as a means to an end, and Sean only talks about business and parties with Mark. His parents and family aren’t even mentioned, and we don’t know anything about his home life. Eduardo is one friend who truly cares for him and his well-being. Erica might have cared for him in the past, but he lost her.

Mark is naturally disconnected from others, and when he does interact with others he rarely sees his friendships as options for emotional support. I think that he ignores Eduardo’s “I’m here for you” because he doesn’t realize that he has emotional needs that can’t be solved with money, power, and material success. In Mark’s mind, the way to fix his insecurities and difficulties connecting with other people is to be in the Phoenix Club. The club is later replaced by Facebook, which he can control better. He doesn’t need to rely on anyone for validation with Facebook.

Mark seems to be chasing the American Dream. He believes that with enough work, he can achieve his dreams. He doesn’t just want to join a club in Harvard, he wants to join the best one. He doesn’t fit into a group-fine–he’ll create his own. He just needs to prove himself, and all will be good.

The environment he lives in provides little opportunity to grow. The Social Network looks at a certain group the Harvard elites. These people only care about partying and money. He rarely, if ever, gets a outside perspective Even Eduardo mostly goes along with Harvard culture.

When he is talking to Erica earlier, it is clear he thinks the world works through these social power dynamics. He tells Erica she can meet people she wouldn’t normally meet through the Phoenix clubs. He genuinely thinks he’s doing her a favor. When he accuses her of sleeping with the doorman Bubby, it seems like he honestly believes that she did, and that’s why they’re allowed at the club. His comments are incredibly sexist, and Mark seems to genuinely believe them. The movie seems to say that that’s just the way he and the people who started Facebook were. The screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, defended claims that the movie was misogynistic.

“I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s. They’re very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now. The women they surround themselves with aren’t women who challenge them (and frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere near them.)”

Aaron Sorkin

Mark never considers that Erica could meet elites on her own merit. If a woman does have any power in this movie, it is presumed that it is because of her sexual appeal to men. So, they are left out of the business. Throughout the movie, women are either background characters or characters who exist to call out the men’s behavior. Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) appears intelligent and witty, but Mark doesn’t seem to care about her. He doesn’t listen. Even after she argues with him, he never apologizes.

The writers achieve what they’re trying to do. We, the audiance, rarely escape the Harvard perspective, except with Erica. She calls him out in one of the most iconic movie openings of all time. Mara is a fantastic actress and her acting carries this scene and Eisenberg is great at playing a self-centered and clearly oblivious Mark. One of my favorite lines is:

“Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster”

It sure seems like it. Although I’m not getting any endorphins from this guy. He is painful to watch.

Mark genuinely believes these false notions of success, and they are almost his downfall, but they’re actually not. While he loses his best friend and the only one who cared about him, Mark is making billions of dollars from Facebook. He is the youngest billionaire in the world. But is he happy?

Erica Albright

The final scene of The Social Network shows Mark requesting Erica Albright as his Facebook friend and waiting for the results. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I wondered why Mark wants to reach out to Erica. She is his ex-girlfriend and he seems to still have feelings for her. The creators intentionally never show Mark approach any other girls. Even in the scene where he and Eduardo meet Chrissy and her friend in the bathroom, we only see Eduardo and Chrissy together.

I have a few theories why. While much of the movie relies on male relationships to drive the plot forward, it is the female characters, rather than the female characters that call Mark for his selfishness. He comes to appreciate them a little, in the end. He likes Erica because she “had a nice face.” Still, of course, his feelings for him are focused on himself. She is a presence that makes him feel good and perhaps makes him feel like a better person than he is. But he never actually tries to ask for forgiveness or tries to be better himself. The same with Rashida Jones’ Marylin Delpy. She calls him out and rejects him when he asks her out, but she also has pity for him.

But, I’m not sure it is fair to say that Mark likes women who call him out on his bad behavior. I’m not sure he possesses enough self-awareness, but he does care for her. Erica is perhaps the only person left in his life, and he wants to hold onto someone familiar. He also puts a desire for self-improvement onto a woman. At least, the movie shows that it is not Erica’s job to make him better, as she never responds to his request. The ending also sums up Facebook. It is a program where people can send messages to people they recognize. A familiar face makes us feel less alone.

Is The Social Network a good criticism for Facebook?

I would argue that The Social Network isn’t a great criticism of Facebook. The loneliness that the app creates is accurate, but I would argue that it is more harmful to its users than to Zuckerberg. While Mark is staring at his computer alone, he is also alone and a billionaire.

Does it matter if he’s happy right now? He is rich. He could maybe date or interact with “women who don’t really challenge him”, like the writers say. I also feel like that statement is a bit sexist. He is still in power. He isn’t a powerless guy begging for his ex. I feel like the movie missed something here. They seem to ignore the consequences of Mark’s power on the general public.

He can start over. Mark can get a new girlfriend, and make other friends. I’ve always found it a weak argument when movie says “all the billionaires and rich people are secretly miserable and lonely inside because they have no true friends.” Plenty of millionaires and billionaires have friends, marry and have kids, and do not spend their nights alone.

And even if perhaps Zuckerberg is missing out, he still likes the power of owning his own company and creating a program that millions of people use. I also do wonder why the film ends with Zuckerberg himself alone. He is the only one who appears to suffer from Facebook. Erica Albright, it seems, is doing fine. The movie ignores the problems that Facebook creates for anyone else.

I looked at the screenplay for this scene, and I found a few lines that drew my attention:

“Mark smiles. She’s on Facebook”

“Mark is settling into his chair. He’ll wait all night if he has to.”

Mark’s actions don’t make sense; Erica clearly doesn’t want to talk to him. She has told him in real life, but he doesn’t listen. He thinks somehow she will be more attainable online, perhaps because she joined his app, but he is not the center of her universe. Facebook is a vast network and just because you can reach out to someone doesn’t mean you should.

If we want to criticize the real Mark Zuckerberg, it is difficult to do so in this movie, because the last scene portrays him as a sad, friendless, victim of his own creation. The story is beautiful in that way. It fits as a villain origin story, but what about everyone else? The movie ignores that Zuckerberg still wields a great amount of power. He owns this company– he makes everyone else see the world the way he does–as a social club. He also holds that he deserves what he has, the company rights, Erica’s attention, and the most shares in his company.

The Social Network‘s betrayal isn’t just about Eduardo. The company of Facebook betrayed its users when they gave away their data. It also leaves us with “co-comparison” to quote Olivia Rodrigo again.

Gender and The Social Network

Women are usually decorations. They exist at parties and drink. Sean lets girls into his and Mark’s house to drink alcohol and women are constantly just hanging around. The first scene of the Phoenix Club–the club Mark desperately wants to join–objectifies and sexualizes women for the men around them. Mark, however, doesn’t have a ton of women he knows in real life.

Erica is the first woman to criticize Mark (that we know of) but after that, she only appears when Mark chases after her. Her lack of development makes sense to the storyline– Erica is living her own life– and Mark is no longer a part of it. Neither Mark nor the audience know much about her. We at least, recognize that fact.

Another character is Brenda Song’s Chrissy, Eduardo’s girlfriend for some of the movie. She is the one to set a scarf Eduardo gave her on fire. I don’t particularly like scarves, but it is still a nice gift. It’s not necessarily a reason to be angry, it is not a bad gift. She is portrayed as the crazy girlfriend. She does whatever she wants, and she gets jealous easily. But Eduardo also deserves the blame for their relationship.

Should he have changed his status to-in-a-relationship on Facebook? Probably. I feel like this is a case of bad communication. If Facebook relationship status was important to her, perhaps they could’ve talked about it before. If he really didn’t know, he could have asked Mark of all things. And if Eduardo doesn’t like the relationship, why does he stay?

He tells Mark Chrissy is a “psycho” but stays with her, but never tries to work on the relationship. He almost detaches himself from the relationship, and he ignores her like she’s a problem rather than a person. I also found an article from The Business Insider that talks about women in The Social Network. The movie’s treatment of women feels disappointing, to say in the least.

I wasn’t that surprised that Sorkin defended the movie’s sexism years later. The men are meant to be misogynists, and we see it from their point of view, it isn’t nice to see, but it is what it is under their logic. Christy herself also seems like an exaggerated character. If women are more sexual, they are judged in this movie, but women who “know better” and break up with these guys like Erica are seen as wise and witty. Both of them are pawns in these men’s power plays. Eduardo just has better social skills than Mark. It doesn’t make Eduardo a better person or mean he respects women or cares about them more.

And the thing is, in a real-life story Zuckerberg didn’t go about setting the pieces for a revenge fantasy ploy. He was dating Priscilla Chan, who is now his wife. What about problematic men who are married and in power. Is their power only worthy of critique if they are overtly and obviously misogynistic.

Sexist nerds in media aren’t anything new. I just wonder how the movie would have gone if they ventured to explore Zuckerberg’s relationship with Chan. How does one balance a girlfriend and working long hours for what the movie showed as a primarily male-dominated industry? And why did the movie portray the industry all men? Women worked for the founding of Facebook. Why not include them as well? How did his friendship with Eduardo play out when he had his wife by his side? I’m not sure how the movie could have conveyed this, but it is important to remember that powerful men get married. Women are a part of these stories, and it feels lazy, and frankly, offensive not to not include them.

To reduce Mark to a revengeful, sexist nerd is to diminish real-life men in power. To reduce them to unlikable nerds is to pity them. And by focusing on pity, we miss how much power they hold, and thus avoid valid critiques of their actions. I’m not sure the movie goes that far. It clearly shows Mark is in the wrong not just because of his sexism, but because he is a betrayer. To harm your friend while working with them is one of the worst parts.

Mark betrays Eduardo not because of anger or a desire to get even. Eduardo asks Mark:

“Is it because I got into the Phoenix?”

Though Eduardo was kind to Mark and a good friend, Mark just feels jealous of him. The biggest tragedy of the movie is Mark’s misunderstanding of human relationships. He isn’t open to connecting emotionally with others, to him it is all business. But as we see at the end with the friend request to Erica–connection is something Mark desperately craves–even if he doesn’t know how.

He thinks that these groups will bring him a better life than he has, but it is there–right in front of him. If you watch the scene, you hear Eduardo’s voice as he says he dressed for both a business meeting and a party. Eduardo cared about Mark. There is an idea in life that if we earn things, if we work hard for what we want we’ll finally get somewhere better, but there are people right in front of us.

Social media creates a fake-closeness. If you have someone on social media, you might see them in a group and feel unhappy that you’re are not part of the in-crowd. Social possibilities seem to extend, but instead, they bend inward. Mark sticks with us at the end, because he represents all of us, reaching for connection. I just wish Mark had realized he had two people that cared about him.

Overall, The Social Network is still iconic and hits hard more than ten years later. The messages of social media and isolation felt too real. I also read that the law stuff was pretty accurate to real life. A current critique of Facebook would no doubt look differently, but the way the movie showed the harms of status and power stay with us. Also, it holds a message is helpful for all time: don’t stab your friends in the back–if that wasn’t obvious.

Other than that though, this movie played out like a lawsuit between people with far more money than most of us can imagine. In the end, Eduardo turned out okay. But Facebook? I’m not so sure.

Iconic Lines

The entire last scene is so iconic, and I could include it all, but I’ll add a few favorite lines.

“Sorry, my Prada’s at the cleaners along with my hoodie and my ******* flip flops you pretentious douchebag…”

Apparently, Zuckerberg did dress like movie Mark in college: in gap hoodies and flip flops.

“I was drunk, angry, and stupid.”

“And blogging”

“And blogging”

Mark and Marilyn

Life tip: Never blog drunk or else you may eventually become a lonely billionaire who accuses their best friend of animal cruelty for keeping a chicken in their room for a week to get into a club that rejected you.

Have you seen The Social Network? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.


                
                            
Books

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: A Beautiful, Honest, and Hilarious Story That Argues That Human Connection Is An Antidote to Loneliness

Trigger Warning: this book discusses self-harm, suicide, depression, and alcoholism.

Pros

  • Features a hilarious and intriguing main character
  • Eleanor keeps her individuality while learning to love others and care for their needs and her own
  • Keeps the reader hooked, even in slower plotlines
  • Lovable side characters
  • Good message of love and human connectivity
  • Well written take on introverts, trauma, mental health (depression, alcoholism), and the effects of self-isolation

CONS

  • I didn’t see many cons
  • Makeover scene: the message seemed to promote spending money for looks
  • Overemphasis on social rituals

Over the summer, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I was looking at the book as an Easter gift my mom bought for me to read at the beach. I actually started reading before I went to the beach, which is surprising. I’m an English major, so usually after finals, the last thing I want to do is stare at paper for hours and absorb words. I usually feel hesitant to read again after finals, but the cover drew me in.

My copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has an eye-catching bright blue and orange design, and it features our heroine with her arms crossed over her. She’s almost insisting to us that she is completely fine after all. I read the back and was intrigued too. What sort of character is this? Then I read that Reese Witherspoon recommended this book, so I was encouraged. I have never read a Reese Witherspoon-approved novel before, but I trust her taste. I was right to do so. 

Eleanor Oliphant is a nearly thirty-year-old woman who has never been particularly social. She works in an office, she does crossword puzzles, and she lives a rather boring life. But when I read her perspective, I found that I was not, for even a second, bored.

Getting inside Eleanor’s head was going through a funhouse, you never know what you will see next and everything you see comes out of nowhere and is intensely amusing. I hardly put the book down. Eleanor’s wit is often unintentional but fantastic.

She has no idea how funny and unusual she is because she grew up isolated from most people. After her mother went away, Eleanor was shuffled between foster homes. She never had stability or comfort and her abusive mother regularly calls her every single Wednesday to insult her. This mother is terrifying. Every phone call is emotionally abusive. I never met a woman like this and I never hope to. Eleanor did not have friends growing up either, so she is very unskilled regarding understanding and following social norms. For example, in one scene she goes to a dance. Eleanor is trying to learn how to dance and interact with people at a party, but she has never danced before.

“Free-form jigging, communal shapes in the air; Dancing was easy!…YMCA! YMCA! Arms in the air, mimicking the letters – what a marvelous idea! Who knew that dancing could be so logical? …From my limited exposure to popular music, people did seem to sing about umbrellas and firstarting and Emily Bronte novels, so, I supposed, why not a gender-and faith-based youth organization?”

Eleanor on dancing

She describes the world the way someone unfamiliar with it would. Rather than being cast off as an odd recluse or weirdo, her differences make her unique and lovable. Her perspective is honest and looks at human life in ways I haven’t considered before. The social rituals that we go through make little sense on the outside, and she can see the beauty and humor in them.

Eleanor’s keen sense of humor keeps the book interesting, even though there are often scenes where not much happens. The simple experience of shopping at a grocery store is wonderful and hilarious to witness. There was also very little filler. All the scenes, big and small, impact the plot. Part of Eleanor’s journey is her goal to meet a man she has seen once in person. To Eleanor, he is intellectually fascinating, extremely handsome, and a genuine person. He is also a semi-famous musician. She is ambitious, so I will give her that.

If we look at side characters, almost everyone is equally lovely. Eleanor runs into particular trouble when she and the IT guy, Raymond, end up saving a stranger’s life together. The unexpected event leads them on an adventure that neither expected.

Raymond is such a delightful character. He is not someone Eleanor would ever choose to associate with, his wardrobe consists of graphic tees and jogging shoes, which Eleanor remarks are primarily worn by people who never set foot in a gym. He spends most weekends playing video games until dawn, and he lacks table manners. Eleanor grew up learning to imitate high society and about the importance of putting a fork in the right place at all times. They make quite the pair.

The man that they save, Sammy, is also delightful. He is a kind man who introduces them to his family. The story is one of found families. Family is foraged from love, rather than blood. Though blood and love often coexist. Raymond’s mother also makes an appearance, and she is lovely.

The novel tells us that the meaning of life and reason to live is human connection. The relationships that Eleanor develops encourage and help her when she is miserable. I found this message to be both uplifting and a little lacking.

The show also mentions human rituals as a meaningful aspect of life, and Eleanor gushes over her makeover and gets her nails done. These rituals require a deal of wealth and material success; Eleanor can easily afford to get her hair, nails, and toes done because she can afford to drop over a hundred dollars. Her experiences at the hair and nail salons felt a little romanticized. I enjoy getting my nails done and my hair cut as much as the next person, but they do not feel like the meaningful rituals that connect me and create an intimacy between myself and the people who perform them for me. If these are are a primary way to happiness, only those with the money can afford these luxuries. The novel also ignores that the people who do her hairdo work to eat and provide for themselves. They may be tired after a long day and just want to go home. It is an act of service, I suppose, but it feels a little shallow. The nail stylist does not necessarily want to interact with Eleanor or help her look good or whatever. The novel shows that the people don’t always care, but Eleanor’s romanticization makes it feel like we should agree with her.

Outside of material good, the novel does mention the beauty of nature a little. There is one particular scene where Eleanor and Raymond are walking outdoors, and they look at the beauty of the sunset. That moment is fleeting but beautiful. A case for the good in nature rather than hair products is probably preferable if we seek a moral center.

The message seems to be a humanist one. Humanism is a philosophy that affirms human importance rather than the importance of the divine. The novel does not offer religion or spirituality as a way to find meaning, grace, or purpose. Eleanor doesn’t believe, nor does anyone else.

A humanist method of seeing the world can have problems. I loved this book, but it is also interesting to pay attention to the views it promotes. Otherwise, honestly, I don’t have a lot of critiques for this book. It was well written, and the humor and scenes of connection between people were beyond beautiful.

However, there are other aspects to life than human beings: the appreciation of nature, a desire to learn about religion, and care for animals. Eleanor does get a pet cat, so she does connect with animals and a being other than humans. The cat was adorable. I was a bit skeptical at a couple of parts of the novel, though. Human connection is also not so perfect and pure at times. The novel is not open to religion or other ideas as an aid or solution, so the cure relies on humans and our ability to care for each other.

I will say the novel felt a little idealistic at times. Her coworkers, for instance, who disliked her before, throw a party for her. It feels a bit off. It was nice to see the people she works with putting her needs before their prejudices. They saw that she was struggling and were empathetic, even if she was a little odd. We must look out and care for each other. W.H. Auden says that “we must love one another or die.” That is brutal, but it is the reality of both life and this book. Without love for each other, life is simply worth living.

Look, Eleanor has her hobbies. She does her crossword puzzles and her daily rituals. Eleanor completes many tasks that the CDC would recommend for a healthy life: seeing people at work five days a week, going outside on walks, reading regularly, eating regular meals, and a well-balanced diet. Eleanor is also a professional success; she is a good employee, she works hard, and keeps her job. She doesn’t take sick days, she returns back from the weekends with her stress forgotten; she never lets her personal life affect the job. She attended university, and she keeps her brain active with puzzles…I could go on. But even if she didn’t live with trauma and depression, I don’t think Eleanor would be happy and satified with this alone. 

I think the point is that none of us should be. Gail Honeyman said of the book:

“Eleanor Oliphant isn’t me, or anyone I know [but] of course I’ve felt loneliness-everyone does.”

Gail Honeyman

The novel addresses the loneliness inside us and that everyone needs somebody. We need others and we need to be there for others when they are around and when they are alive. After all, we don’t live forever. The novel reminds us of that. I think this novel could show life as absolutely perfect if not for the fact that it ends.

The sections about death were tragic. Eleanor has no hope for an afterlife or anything beyond. It is sad, but the novel shows that death is part of life for all of us. Eleanor accepts death as a fact of life and still celebrates all the joys of living. Eleanor Oliphant’s world is filled with life. There are people on the bus and friends all around, there are parties and dancing and going to coffee with friends–those moments make life worth living for Eleanor. Her friendships and interactions with others are well-written and funny. To get on a less morbid topic, let’s talk about makeovers.

One of Eleanor’s decisions to get her crush, the musician, to like her is to get a makeover. I rarely like makeover scenes in movies, because they usually start with a protagonist who is happy with their appearance and then changes so that a love interest finds them attractive and so they can fit in with the popular kids. Eleanor’s makeover also made it seem like she had to change to be accepted by her coworkers. She keeps her sense of humor, but why does she have to get a makeover? This feels like a Disney movie. Eleanor is an adult, she shouldn’t have to change her appearance, which was nice. She took care of her appearance, so it is not like she was careless and sloppy or anything.

I also wish she’d stayed in touch with Sammy, the man whose life she saved’s family more. I would have liked to see her and Laura become friends, it seemed like a no-brainer. To pair a person who is more focused on appearances with a friend who doesn’t care at all could be entertaining. It would have been nice to have two close friends. Both could learn from each other, and Laura seemed pretty chill from what we know about her. They could learn from each other and support each other; after all, they both knew Sammy.

Otherwise, I found the novel uplifting. The message is that when you feel down and lonely, spending time with others is of great benefit. Eleanor learns this and also builds a friendship with Raymond. She doesn’t have to do life alone. She has a friend, and she also starts going to a counselor. The positive portrayal of seeking help was nice. Sometimes you need help in a professional setting as well.

It was also nice to watch Eleanor remain true to herself. She still likes crossword puzzles and has her quirky sense of humor, and no one expects or demands her to change. She also learns to accept others for who they are and to reserve judgment before knowing someone.

I cannot say enough how much I loved Raymond and their relationship. He is incredibly sweet and caring. His outgoing dorkiness and kindness are a perfect match for her blunt and nerdy eccentricity.

When I first read the description, I was expecting a romance between Eleanor and the IT guy (Raymond) to be the main plot, and I was pleasantly surprised when it was not the case. So many stories show the socially isolated and damaged characters finding a love interest that shows them how to live life to the fullest. Realistically, it is probably Eleanor needs time to work on herself and then start dating someone. Unfortunately, this is rarely true in a ton of books I see.

Like those romance covers that talk about a “bad boy” with a troubled past who finds a woman to love, and then she fixes him, and everything is okay, that is stupid. Eleanor thinks finding a guy will help her and she chases the hottest one she can find, but he is a terrible person. He also doesn’t care about a stranger he’s never met. He is a selfish idiot. I don’t get why any other results could have occurred if we look at the situation realistically. 

Confession: I have never read one of these bad-boy romance books, but I feel like I see them everywhere.

Honeyman’s decision to focus on Eleanor’s growth as a character is truly refreshing. There is a hint that something romantic might happen with them in the end, but it feels right. They have become friends first. Maybe dating could work out for them, maybe it wouldn’t, but the book gives us hope that their friendship will continue no matter what. She has a solid friendship and learns that isolation is not the answer.

Eleanor initially believes she is strong for being alone. She is independent, she doesn’t need anybody.

“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself.”

Eleanor

Is there a case that sometimes we need to be alone? Absolutely. Learning to enjoy quiet and solitude is an important life skill. It is a good thing to be able to spend a Friday night alone without plans and enjoy spending time by yourself. Friends sometimes have plans, and sometimes people are busy when you are free. You can learn from spending part of your day alone, but should we do this all the time? Absolutely not. After all, we do live in a community; life wasn’t meant to be lived alone. Humans are social creatures.

So, thinking of our need for others, I ask is Eleanor Completely Fine? The answer is no. No one is fine; nobody is perfectly happy alone. We all need alone time. Some need alone time more than others. That is why many introverts relate to this book; it is about being alone and how we like being alone, just not all the time. We all need other humans and to live in a community with each other. When we’re struggling, staying by ourselves isn’t always the answer.

It wasn’t the answer for Eleanor. Spending time with others gets us out of our heads, we can see how others live, how they experience life, and we can learn from them and care about them as they do for us. We need friends, and sometimes we need professional help to sort ourselves out.

Eleanor is a character who rejects using socially acceptable language. She is blunt and doesn’t think to stop and think before speaking. The word filter has probably never crossed her mind. Falsities are not Eleanor Oliphant, but she does tell one lie in particular. Eleanor is a woman with a giant vocabulary. Eleanor possesses extensive knowledge of words and language, but this one social norm cannot escape her, as it does for most of us. It is in conversation, under a burden of pain, that Eleanor grasps for one of the most overused expressions in the English language. When people ask how she is doing Eleanor Oliphant replies: “I am fine.”

If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

Eleanor Oliphant

To say this broke my heart would be an understatement. I want to reach out to Eleanor and, luckily, she has someone who does, and says to her. To quote Five Seconds of Summer, Eleanor, you are not fine; you’re really not fine at all, and that is okay. You don’t have to be, right now. You are not alone.

Have you read or heard of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine or have you read any novels with an odd protagonist and a human-centered message? I have a feeling there are more Eleanors to come, and I’m curious to see what they look like. There is also a movie coming out, which I am both excited and nervous about. As always, let me know down in the comments below.

Shows

Absurdity, Anxiety, and Friendship in Tuca and Bertie

Dirt: Imagineering architecture in Tuca & Bertie and My Favorite Shapes -  by Dirt - Dirt

A spoiler-free review of Tuca and Bertie Season One

If I were to describe the last 2 years, or maybe even the last 5 years in one word, I might go with surreal. Often life just doesn’t make sense. I don’t know why things happen the way they do. A worldwide pandemic is an event that only a movie like Contagion or the Simpsons could predict, and we’re still grappling with all this uncertainty.

Life can just be weird and events sometimes don’t make sense; I often wonder where I fit into it all, but nevertheless, here I am, embracing the absurd parts. Of course, other times, I get so wrapped up in habit and routine that life feels boring and predictable. I want silliness, oddness, and just to laugh again.

From snake busses, purple jaguars, careless plant teenagers, to bouncing boobs on buildings, Tuca and Bertie is a goofy show. If you’ve ever felt a craving for some more oddity, with some adult content, or if you’re just looking for a well-written animated sitcom, Netflix and Adult Swim have something for you.

Tuca and Bertie takes place in a world way more surreal than ours, it’s with a catchy theme song that juxtaposes their names. Tuca and Bertie are zany and bold as they wave their arms wildly to a catchy bop. Their theme song slaps, there, I said it. They’re both dancing around and doing their thing as they navigate the fun, stressful, and just plain absurd parts of life together.

The theme song is really fun, but to tell you the truth, the show gets dark. It’s not too sad, and it’s so good, I promise.

I discovered Tuca and Bertie partially by surprise. I had just completed the last episode of Bojack Horseman and felt completely wrecked. I’ll have more thoughts on this in other reviews, but basically, I simultaneously felt like I both never wanted to see anything that could make me feel things again and to dive into a new show to help me get over Bojack Horseman. I kind of wanted more Bojack too. Netflix kindly displayed a new program that seemed perfect. Tuca and Bertie were written and produced by Lisa Hanawalt, the animator of Bojack Horseman.

I found Tuca and Bertie more fun than Bojack, it deals with difficult topics at times, but Hanawalt’s show is nowhere near as bleak. Their world is bright and colorful and though Tuca and Bertie are so zany, their lives feel grounded and accessible. For me, it’s partially because the show is written from a female perspective. In adult cartoons and television generally, there aren’t a lot of narratives like Tuca and Bertie.

Creator Lisa Hanawalt said in an interview:

“I wasn’t consciously thinking, “How do I make this more relatable to women?” I was just writing stories from my own life, stories from my friends’ lives and things that I specifically haven’t seen in adult animation before. Like, that feeling when a plumber is in your apartment and you don’t know if he’s going to attack you or not. That’s really common for women.”

Lisa Hanawalt

Tuca and Bertie isn’t a tale of the lives of Hollywood celebrities, they’re real people, well, birds, learning about themselves and their place in the world. In comparison with characters from a lot of adult animation shows, the characters in Tuca and Bertie seem pretty put together on the surface.

Typical of TV best friends, Tuca and Bertie are classic polar opposites. Tuca, played by Tiffany Haddish is fun, free-spirited, resourceful. She’s “friend, hero, connoisseur of snacks, confident but relatable, wearer of short shorts.” She sounds like the cool girl that I’d want to be friends with but would be a bit intimidated to approach her. But once that first conversation started, by her making a snarky comment and me bursting out into uncontrollable laughter, we would know this friendship was going to be one for the long haul.

Once a Tuca is in your life, she and all her belongings become utterly intertwined with your apartment and your heart. Tuca is confident and kind, and as you get to know her, you see she’s got insecurities as well. Tuca begins the show as a recovering alcoholic and fears being alone. She’s given a lot of depth and even if you’ve never been the life of the party, you’ll feel for her as the show goes on.

Bertie, voiced by Ali Wong, is the total opposite, she’s a total introvert who admires Tuca’s ease with talking to people. She’s equally awesome. She’s introduced as a “professional amateur chef, people pleaser, fuss bucket”, which sounds like she could be a little stuffy, but early on, we learn that Bertie’s behaviors stem from her anxiety. Bertie’s kind of living the dream that many of us crave in our twenties, she’s got a nice apartment with a supportive partner, an awesome best friend, and a job as a senior operations analyst for a magazine.

Tuca e Bertie: perché è molto più di una commedia sull ...

That being said, Bertie’s anxiety often dominates her life. Television is just beginning to show characters with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and Bertie is one of the few characters that portray anxiety well. She is hardworking and passionate, but her thoughts can spiral, and she makes mistakes and feels isolated and alone at times. She’s also super kind, a total introvert, and a lover of romantic period dramas– I can totally relate to that last part, I could rewatch BBC’s Prude and Prejudice all day, and some of her experiences with anxiety as well.

I’ll say it now, Hanawalt is fantastic at writing self-aware humor. Hanawalt makes jokes in scenes portraying Bertie’s anxiety without mocking or discrediting the character’s or anyone else’s experiences. Bertie is totally hilarious, and the show mocks anxiety itself, because it makes no sense at times. Anxiety isn’t an overreaction or done for attention, in fact, these feelings are often the last way an anxious person wants to feel, but here they are right in the middle of the work, a date, or the grocery store. Luckily, she has friends to be there during the worst moments.

Tuca, Bertie, and Bertie’s lovable boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yuen), have a fun and complex dynamic together. Friendship is weird sometimes, especially as we grow up, relationships shift in some ways and stay the same in others. We put value into our relationships with others while juggling life, work, and for some, romantic relationships that also require our energy and time. Friendship isn’t always dancing and rainbows and the show digs into the complexities of our relationships with one another, the role of a friend, and all the uncertainty and stress we experience as we figure out what we mean to each other.

The background is totally wack, the jokes are unapologetically bawdy at times, but it never felt gross or offensive. The style is fun and Hanawalt uses the drawing style to show some side commentary on the characters and effects.

Needless to say, Tuca and Bertie is a great show that explores complex and dark themes with care and humor. It made me laugh and grow to care for these two silly birds. On days when things felt totally surreal, I’d watch this show and feel a little less alone.

I’d recommend Tuca and Bertie to anyone who doesn’t mind adult humor. The show also references to anxiety, sexual assault, and harassment.

If you’re curious about learning more about the show’s creator Lisa Hanawalt and her perspective writing the show, I found an interview of hers on the first season

About me

The Perusing Muse is a site where I look to culture as a means of understanding life and analyze what it says about living a meaningful one. In less overly philosophical mission terms, I analyze shows, books, movies, and comics that I like and talk about why I love them so much.