The Social Network
You don’t get to $500 million without making a great movie
Back when the news broke about “that Facebook movie” being put into production, the reaction was particularly lukewarm. People asked, “What story is there about an Internet website that would last for two hours?” As it turns out, there was in fact a compelling story waiting to be told about the genesis and eventual popularity boom of Facebook, catching the attention of quite a few big names. With actor Kevin Spacey producing the film, Aaron Sorkin (famous for writing A Few Good Men) penning the screenplay, and acclaimed director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, and Benjamin Button) helming the film, suddenly buzz began to gradually build in the months before its release. And then the critics began chiming in their thoughts, endlessly praising the film and bringing its Rotten Tomatoes score to its current standing at an extraordinary 97%. How did this movie that was surrounded by so much skepticism become one of the most well-received movies of the year, and does it live up to the massive hype?
Plot Synopsis: After his girlfriend Erica dumps him because of his incredible arrogance, Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard sophomore obsessed with the social clubs that he wants to be a part of, returns to his dorm and fumes his anger into creating a website called Facemash. Facemash takes pictures from campus directories of the girls and lets students rank them based on their hotness. Because of heavy traffic, the site crashes Harvard's server and catches the attention of Divya Narenda and twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss. The three approach Mark with an idea for a new networking site, The Harvard Connection. He agrees to take part in the task, but doesn’t follow up with them. Joined by his best friend Eduardo Saverin, Mark blows off Narenda and the Winklevoss' and launches his version, The Facebook. The site catches on quick, adding users and schools with startling speed, which only the Winklevoss’ of its existence. Narenda and them believe that Zuckerberg ripped them off and eventually decide to take legal action against him.
I feel pretty confident in saying that The Social Network is just about on par with this years other great movies such as Inception and Toy Story 3. And while Inception’s greatest asset was its originality and Toy Story 3 was an emotional powerhouse, The Social Network’s secret weapon is its writer, Aaron Sorkin. The back-and-forth dialogue between the characters moves at the pace of a screwball comedy, with insults and vicious wit arriving at 100 mph. Before you can absorb what just transpired, the film is already on to the next scene. Sorkin captures the zeitgeist feel of the current generation, a collection of ideals that support self-made entrepreneurs and emotional disconnect through technology. In one of her few scenes, Erica lays it out to Mark, “You write your snide bullshit from a dark room, because that’s what the angry do nowadays.” In that one line of dialogue, she essentially summarizes not only Mark as an individual, but also an entire generation of teenagers and young adults who would rather converse or spew venom at each other from the safety of a computer (or phone) screen rather than face-to-face.
The structure of the film is also quite unique, and takes about 5-10 minutes to get used to, alternating between flashbacks of Mark creating the website and scenes depicting the legal battles that ensued between him and his collaborators. Because of the lack of linear storytelling, there are some intentional holes in the plot that create a grey area of morals and actions that where we must choose which side we believe. Did Mark really “steal” Facebook or are the Winklevoss twins simply absorbed in their own sense of entitlement? While a tale with very little action and lots of scenes staring at a computer may sound somewhat boring, Fincher keeps the audience invested throughout, even when they don’t understand any of the computer jargon being spoken. Part of this is due not only to the whip-crack pacing, but to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ rather unusual, yet engaging music score. Not surprisingly, it reminds one of the Dust Brothers’ score for Fincher’s previous “generation film,” Fight Club, evoking a similar concoction of thumping techno and eerie electronic sounds.
Fincher and Sorkin don’t ask us to sympathize with Zuckerberg, and instead are willing to allow Jesse Eisenberg to portray the man as a self-centered, egotistical, genius with very little social skills and maybe a hint of ADHD. Eisenberg breaks out of his “Michael Cera clone” persona here, forgoing his stuttering mumble mouth traits and adopting a more confident and assertive façade where Mark will dance around any argument someone may have, but only if he actually cares what they had to say. Whether or not this cinema incarnation of him is entirely based on the real guy or audiences can stand watching a person stab everyone in the back for personal gain for two swift hours, the fact is that Mark Zuckerberg is a very fascinating character in his motivations and unspoken emotions, much like the similarly unlikable Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood.
Balancing things out in comparison to Zuckerberg is his only friend Eduardo, played by Andrew Garfield, who is probably the closest we get to a sympathetic person in this story. But as we soon learn, even he has some flaws and shortsightedness that ultimately causes the rift in their friendship. Of course, Zuckerberg’s questionable actions do play a large part in that too. Napster creator Sean Parker may be a more antagonistic character than Mark, but Justin Timberlake’s easy charisma allows us to look past the sliminess because he brings such a spark of energy to the film after he comes onto the scene. The dynamic between two Armie Hammers (using computer effects to put Hammer’s face on Josh Pence’s body) as the Winklevoss’ provides many humorous moments and Rooney Mara (as Erica) makes quite an impact in just her few scenes, showing that her dreadfully dull turn in A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) was most likely just a fluke. The Social Network is one of those movies that are easy to dismiss on first glance, but incredibly rewarding on further examination. It’s a fascinating character study, a compelling rise-and-fall drama full of deception and backstabbing, and even a subtle commentary on “social” technology and how it affects our people and culture.