Dec 14, 2010
The Social Network isn't the zeitgeisty generation-defining film that idiots on the internet hold it up to be, but that's okay, because the movie actually makes no attempt to even be that. The Social Network is merely about the big, dramatic fight that took place behind something that changed the internet, and thus changed the world. The movie is not about that change, which is probably a good thing.
Written by West Wing creator and crack-cocaine connoisseur Aaron Sorkin and directed by the wizard perfectionist David Fincher, The Social Network is a cleverly structured legal drama, the wheelhouse that put Sorkin on the map with A Few Good Men, although this film makes an attempt to be more grounded in reality. Here we center around Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and circumstances that caused the creation of Facebook, and how said circumstances led to a massive legal battle between him, his best friend Eduardo Saverin (future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield), and a pair of big-shot Harvard mensches, The Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer playing both roles via movie magic). The film opens with some of Sorkin's trademark cocaine-fueled machine-gun verbal sparring before depicting the drunken, misogynist origin for the idea of stalking people online, with Zuckerberg, powered by fridge full of Beck's beer, creating a site that compares pictures of women at Harvard called FaceMash in a montage cut to diamond-like perfection, with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross providing the right tone of blips, bloops and hums to compliment the rapid-fire coding and hacking. It sets the tone for what is to follow.
The Social Network is crafted like a clock on a script level, little bits of dialogue here and there have itty bitty payoffs in small places that you might not catch if you aren't paying attention. The big gears fit together beautifully, but it's the small ones clicking together in harmony that keep the watch together and on time. Sorkin and Fincher are both masters of their respected crafts, even if the dialogue Sorkin writes for his characters is often too perfect and witty (Sorkin is a writer who is probably incapable of creating a character who is even mildly unintelligent). Really The Social Network is an unlikely pairing of writer and director, as Fincher is known for his technical prowess as filmmaker, creating visually stunning works like Fight Club and subtle pleasures like Zodiac, whereas Sorkin usually works with more writer-friendly directors that let the actors do the heavy lifting, as you'll usually see guys like Rob Reiner or Mike Nichols take on a Sorkin script. Thankfully neither of these giants step on each others toes, they use their talents to compliment and enhance the film they're making. Fincher steps back and lets the actors hammer out the dialogue, but works his magic in areas like the montage described earlier, as well as a stunning sequence where the Winklevoss twins participate in a competitive crew race.
Something Sorkin deserves some serious credit for is his objective approach to the characters (although he was probably able to show restraint due to the apolitical nature of the story). While it may seem that the film doesn't favor Zuckerberg on the surface, the movie is fairly even-handed in its approach, giving nuance to the characters' positives and negatives. In fact, my opinion towards Zuckerberg was in his favor by the time it was all over, despite the Citizen Kane-like ending Sorkin and Fincher give us, but really it's the final cog in the nice Swiss watch they've constructed, cashing the check they wrote during the film's opening scene. The main theme that has come up in discussions about this movie is how the film is about a social network that was created by an anti-social person, but this is only partially true in terms of what the movie really conveys. The way Zuckerberg interacts with others suggests an approach to socializing that is not unlike the way one interacts with others on Facebook itself. He makes assumptions and jumps to conclusions about others as though they speak to him in a purely textual form, and draws conclusions of tone based on his own feelings at the time, sort of the way we do when we read an e-mail or a text message. He values speaking to people alone, rather than in a public setting, and edges his best friend and C.F.O. out of the company in the most passive-aggressive way possible, and we all know that Facebook is a great place to exercise that sort of behavior. However, Zuckerberg isn't the only character in the film with a total lack of communication skills. The Winklevoss Twins assume that things will work out for them as rich Harvard men, and allow the situation to get completely out of control, when they should've acted the moment they felt Zuckerberg was dodging them. Their inability to communicate due to their upper-class sense of entitlement leads to their downfall (okay, so they got $65 million from their lawsuit, but Zuckerberg's net worth today is $6.9 billion, so who's the chump?). Eduardo Saverin should have gotten the hint that Zuckerberg wanted him to move to California to do business, rather than try to sell advertising on the antiquated east coast, which leads to him getting screwed. The list goes on and on. To me, The Social Network, whether this was intentional or not, shows how communication between people is inherently poor, and Facebook is the ultimate manifestation of that, not just the idea that we're all hanging out in an internet club house created by an anti-social weirdo where we socialize based on his rules, that's just the on-the-nose interpretation you'll hear parroted at press junkets and by critics with no imagination. It's there, but there's also more nuance in the story than was probably intended. But again, this is something one takes away from the movie, the film's aims aren't as lofty and as pretentious as setting out to define the way our generation communicates.
Certainly The Social Network is one of the better films of 2010, despite any reservations I have with it. Technically it's well oiled and cooked to near-perfection, as a tale of friendship and betrayal, it's masterful. The fanboys on the internet oversell it like anything good, just don't use the word "zeitgeist" when describing it.
Update: If you want a more in-depth look at The Social Network, check out the episode The Hollywood Saloon recently did detailing and discussing the film here. It's a fantastic listen!
(Note: My review of Can't Stop The Music is forthcoming, it's a matter of when I'm in the mood to watch Steve Guttenberg skate to disco music.)