THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010
On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history... but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.
Release Date: 1 October 2010
We’re probably going to be writing about Facebook forever. For the next generation at least. It has become the symbol of 21st century interpersonal communication and the first generation to grow up fully in the information age. And that also means, fairly or not, it’s also the symbol of everything that’s wrong with modern interpersonal communication as well (and by extension, the information age).
While in reality new ideas like Facebook are often the product of a huge variety of decisions and actions, when it comes to symbolizing things we like to try and reduce them to the easiest to understand terms and that’s doubly so in a film that only has 120 minutes to get its point across. The quickest short hand we have is human beings and how they act (because we observe it every minute of every day of our lives) so it makes sense then that easiest way to understand something is to understand the person (or people) who created it. If creation is an act of will then the created would/should be a reflection of the personality that made it. Which means any story about Facebook is going to end up being a story about its idiosyncratic creator, Mark Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenberg).
The most interesting thing about “The Social Network,” director David Fincher’s adaptation of ‘The Accidental Billionaire’ about the creation of Facebook is that tries to do both at once – focus on Zuckerberg’s relationship to his creation AND the outside elements that influenced Facebook at the same time – with varying degrees of success.
Zuckerberg is undeniably at the heart of Facebook and thus of “The Social Network” which begins during his sophomore year at Harvard when a bad break up (perhaps the first has ever known, the film implies) leads him to take over the university’s computer network, which gets the attention of not just the school’s administrative board but also a small collective trying to start their own social networking service for Harvard students.
If that introductory paragraph sounds sprawling, it gives you some sense of how intricate and almost accidental an act creation is. It may take will to get started, but after that it takes an awful lot of events and people falling together in just the right order. In Zuckerberg’s case, this includes a pair of identical twin rowing stars (Josh Pence), the founder of Napster (Justin Timberlake) and his best friend (Andrew Garfield), all fighting and squabbling to be part of something big.
Told in a flashback style through the lens of depositions occurring in two simultaneous lawsuits for the profits from Facebook, “The Social Network” attempts to unwind all of these disparate threads and show how they connect together through the lens that is Zuckerberg. It’s to Fincher and his screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin’s, immense credit that they succeed, laying out the steps that lead to the idea coalescing in Zuckerberg’s head and then the fight to capitalize on that idea.
Which isn’t to say it’s any sort of stuffy board drama or historical reenactment. “The Social Network” is history as only Hollywood can do it, with major life-changing events condensed to single conversations and major revelations arising in the midst of innocuous, banal exchanges. And all of it told in whip-cracking, rapid fire Sorkin dialog that no one actually speaks in but we all wish we did.
But that’s okay, because within that falseness is a certain amount of truth, not so much about what Zuckerberg himself is about as about film-Zuckerberg. And as sprawling as the narrative is, for the most part it always come back to him.
In the movie version, anyway. When it comes to drama, the tragic flaw usually trumps everything.
But it won’t matter because Fincher and Sorkin and the cast will keep you glued to your seat for the film’s entire two hour running time, especially when Justin Timberlake arrives. Zuckerberg’s best friend and initial business partner is probably the only person in the film to appreciate Zuckerberg as he is, which means he must be cast aside in favor of the man (Timberlake) who represents everything Zuckerberg seems to want to be.
Fincher’s artisans are as good as they’ve ever been as well, particularly Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography and a fantastic score from Trent Rezor that is never familiar but fits its materially perfectly.
Ironically, as the drama ramps up to its most intense point, the effect it has on its characters tapers off to its least importance, mainly because Eduardo takes so much of the lead late in the film that Zuckerberg actually begins to fade into the background and we’re left wondering what any of this actually means to him.
Which wouldn’t be as big a problem if the filmmakers hadn’t started down this road with the unwritten idea that not only is everything in the film but everything relating to Facebook at all comes down to what Facebook means to Zuckerberg. Without that, as fast as the plot moves around, it stops telling us anything.
That’s not anywhere near as bad or as much of a let down as it sounds, mainly because “The Social Network” is so engrossing. It inspires so much goodwill you don’t even notice how heavy handed the films central dramatic irony could be – that the greatest tool for communication in the modern age was created by someone who has no idea how to relate to other people.
Ultimately that decision may be the only thing keeping “The Social Network” from being an out and out masterpiece, though it is very, very good. It tells us a lot about what makes Mark Zuckerberg tick (the movie version anyway) but it doesn’t tell us much about people. That’s also something of a niggle in an otherwise excellent film, one which certainly has the possibility to be the best of the year.