The Social Network ****
2010, PG-13, 121 minutes
Starring Jesse Eisenberg (Mark Zuckerberg), Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin), Justin Timberlake (Sean Parker), Armie Hammer (Cameron Winklevoss / Tyler Winklevoss), Max Minghella (Divya Narendra), Brenda Song (Christy Lee), Rooney Mara (Erica Albright). Produced by Scott Rudin, Kevin Spacey, Aaron Sorkin. Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Cinematography by Jeff Cronenworth. Editing by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall. Written by Aaron Sorkin. Based on the novel The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. Directed by David Fincher.
The Social Network, directed by David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club) and written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), is one of the best films of the year. It might not be the defining film of the decade that Peter Travers called it, but it does absolutely define our current contemporary society in a way that no other film does or has in a long while. There are certain films that define the time and world we live in, that take our contemporary, modern society and presents it in this reflective prism, and The Social Network is one of them; in ten or twenty years people will look back on The Social Network when they want to know what the world was like right at this very moment. It defines the way our youth culture expressively chooses to deal with emotions, people, and the ability of technology to in some cases enhance or possibly devolve the way we treat one another. It’s an observant look at a certain part of youth culture that has been soaked and drenched in the expansive world of technology – texting, the Internet, blogging, email- and how that has either negatively or positively impacted our way of interacting for good.
The film’s story centers around young Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg, in a career defining performance; people who compare him to Michael Cera will cease and desist after watching this performance) who in the film’s opening moments is dumped by his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara, last seen in this year’s remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street). The scene will tell you nearly everything you need to know about the resulting film- in this scene, we get so many things simultaneously: We get to see firsthand how Zuckerberg’s lack of social skills prohibit him from having any sustainable relationship that will eventually lead him to create Facebook, the social networking website that has since become an Internet and societal juggernaut and is the basis for what this film is about, even though it is hardly “just” about the creation of Facebook. Had it just been about Facebook- we would have likely seen a boring, chronological telling of the events leading up to the creation of Facebook, but writer Aaron Sorkin is so much more interested in the societal dynamics of the people involved and what it takes for someone as socially inept as Zuckerberg to create one of the biggest social networking websites that has ever been. We also see Aaron Sorkin’s razor sharp dialogue at play- words that are like daggers that fly so fast sometimes it takes some time just to catch up on what was just said and who said them.
The Social Network is, if anything, about how we all want to be accepted by the people that seem naturally possessed with gifts far beyond our understanding, comprehension, or grasp. Zuckerberg starts off in the film like mostly any other individual: he doesn’t seem to possess any real talents besides the knack of getting on people’s nerves (and admittedly, some pretty impressive computer programming skills). However, it is that innate, humanistic desire to want to be accepted that propels him to create Facebook in the first place, and that is exactly what the film is truly about- the desire to “fit in”. That is why the film’s introductory scene is so important- it establishes everything you’ll need to know to better understand the proceeding events. After Erica promptly dumps Zuckerberg, he creates a website that compares and contrasts the faces of Harvard students and asks you to determine which is the better looking- by doing this, he effectively hacks into Harvard’s main data-frame and completely shuts it down. This gets him some unwarranted attention- some from the classmates who think Zuckerberg is an asshole who intentionally socially denigrated hundreds of students- but also from the school, who take notice of Zuckerberg’s “talent”.
Three other people take notice of Zuckerberg’s computer programming skills thanks to that event- three financially and socially privileged and whip smart Harvard students by the names of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and their business associate Divya Narendra (Max Minghella, last seen in Art School Confidential). They present Zuckerberg with an idea- a social networking website that allows you to connect with other Harvard students and share basic information, like gender, interests, etc. The one thing separating this idea from other social networking websites at the time- “exclusivity”- with the only way to register being if you have a Harvard email address and are thusly a Harvard student. Zuckerberg agrees to their proposal and ventures off and designs what eventually will become “the Facebook”- with the aid of his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, last seen in Never Let Me Go). However, somewhere along the way Zuckerberg ignores the Winklevoss’s and Narendra while developing the Facebook and bringing it online to much success. Zuckerberg essentially takes credit for creating and developing the website, alongside his business partner Saverin, as the two of them take the website and attempt to run with it, while the Winklevoss’s and Narendra slowly come to the realization that Zuckerbeg essentially screwed them over and stole their website.
These events are criss-crossed with two sets of lawsuits that Zuckerberg faces after the creation of Facebook- one from the Winklevoss’s and Narendra – and the other from his best friend, Eduardo Saverin, suing him for $500 million. The rest of the film plays along chronologically while the dispositions for these lawsuits are interspersed with the rest of the film. Zuckerberg and Saverin reach a milestone in the development of Facebook when they attract the attention of Napster founder Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake in the film, who effectively steals the scenes from the rest of the cast). Parker tells Zuckerberg and Saverin just how amazing of an idea they have on their hands, promising them wealth, popularity, and fortune. Saverin is not so impressed with Parker’s theatrics- however Zuckerberg is enamored by what Parker has to offer- the ability to rise up the social ranks and the social order and be accepted by the types of people he desperately, secretly, wishes to be accepted by. While Facebook grows and grows gaining more momentum and more users, Zuckerberg listens to Parker’s instructions- against the advice of Saverin, who is insistent on finding advertisers while he interns in New York- moving the operation to California while Zuckerberg cozies up with Parker. This naturally creates conflict with Saverin, and while Parker’s influence on Zuckerberg increasingly becomes more evident- and Facebook rises in popularity- tensions reach an all-time high while the relationships of the individuals presented reach a crucial breaking point.
The Social Network is not so much interested in the logistics or technicality of how Facebook came together as a website so much as the individuals who were behind its creation, and that is why the film excels. Aaron Sorkin has created and written a crackerjack of a script- one that is 95% people talking in rooms- yet still manages to create something that is immensely entertaining and thrilling. This is a different kind of film for director David Fincher, yet he leaves his touch on the material which is evident and striking. He creates an incredible mood by the settings and color platette, and allows his amazing set of young actors deliver extraordinary performances that essentially carry the film on their bright, young shoulders. Fincher is a known visual virtuoso, but here he takes a step back and allows the characters and the story to take center stage. However, the film is not without some incredibly inventive and visually lush moments- for example, a row boat sequence might be one of the most visually impressive and striking moments of the year. Also, the mood established by Trent Reznor and his collaborating partner Atticus Ross creates a really wonderfully moody atmosphere with their mostly electronic score. It’s unsettling and crazy and dark and even emotionally resonating all at the same time.
The Social Network is one of the best and most entertaining films of the year- impressive for a film with such a young cast that is essentially dialogue and story driven. Also impressive how this could have been your standard adaptation of some socially relevant moment in history that was ripe for award season consideration, but instead Fincher, Sorkin, and the cast create something that is truly everlasting, unique and really something special that speaks volumes on our young, contemporary, technologically-influenced society. It will be a movie that is remembered for years to come as a pivotal cinematic motion picture for understanding what this pinnacle moment in history was all about.