Review: The Social Network
With as much hype and high praise riding on David Fincher’s The Social Network, it’s hard to leave the theater without feeling a little bit underwhelmed, but there is still so much about the film that may have even surpassed my expectations (which were very high; critics compared it to Citizen Kane for God’s sake).
To put this in simplest terms, the film just comes together beautifully. When you have a director who meticulously works to capture the human nature in his subjects, a writer who produces snappy dialogue and a subtle yet powerful character study, and an acting ensemble that delivers phenomenal performances to the screen, chances are you have a solid film. The Social Network is a solid film, but it’s also engaging, fast-paced, and an intriguing watch (Note: you may spend several hours googling for more information on this story after leaving the theater, as I did).
The well-rounded excellence of this feature is perhaps best represented in the opening scene of the film: Mark Zuckerberg, an undeniably genius young Harvard student (who also happens to be a prick) sits across from his girlfriend Erica at a dive bar in Harvard square telling her at 1,600 words per minute about why he desperately wants to be accepted into a final club (which are exclusive, fraternity-esque collections of Harvard students). She tries to interject with her own thoughts, but he doesn’t listen to her, swiftly moving past her ideas with crisp arrogance. “I have to go home and study,” she says, looking for a way out. “You don’t,” he returns, “you go to BU.” She gets up, calls him an asshole, and Mark heads back to his dorm room to begin working on an internet revolution.
This opening scene is taught, entertaining, and a perfect set-up to a film that grapples with the irony of a socially inept man who creates a website that will ultimately connect people around the globe. Aaron Sorkin has drawn his script loosely from Accidental Billionaires, a “tell-all” account of the founding of Facebook. The Social Network rests on an effective narrative structure in which two lawsuits are the present, and the rocky founding of the company is told in flashback. Zuckerberg is deposed opposite two men known as the Winklevoss twins in one room (played by Armie Hammer and a body double with Hammer’s computer generated face—a representation of Fincher’s knack for technical brilliance, not unlike his work in transforming Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and across from his best friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin in another (played with careful emotion by Andrew Garfield; he is really the sole likable character in this ensemble).
Zuckerberg created arguably the first rendition of Facebook in his dorm room after his breakup with Erica and a few beers, a Harvard edition of “hot or not” called Facemash that took down the harvard.edu server within hours. This caught the eye of the Winklevoss twins, who had their own idea for online dating site exclusive to Harvard. They approached Zuckerberg because they needed someone to head up the programming for the site, and he accepted. Six weeks later, Zuckerberg had abandoned the Winklevoss project and launched thefacebook.com, which instantly became an internet phenomenon across the Harvard campus. The Winklevoss’ are now suing Zuckerberg for intellectual property theft.
While the Winklevoss legal battle in many ways accounts for the comedic side of the film, the case with Eduardo Saverin is much more potent and heartbreaking. Zuckerberg approached Saverin in 2003 with the idea for Facebook, and Saverin enthusiastically agreed to helm the business end of the website. He and Zuckerberg cofounded the site, created it together, and after a series of uncomfortable events, Saverin is essentially pushed out of the company. This is difficult to watch, especially because it is clear that Saverin genuinely cares about Zuckerberg (he is first introduced as he checks in with Zuckerberg to make sure he’s OK following his breakup with Erica). The two clash almost immediately following the creation of the website, and their discord only intensifies as the company grows at a rapid rate (and I’m sure you’re aware that that is a gross understatement).
Zuckerberg and Saverin’s conflicts reach new heights when Sean Parker (played by a villainous Justin Timberlake), creator of a handful of internet ventures including the busted Napster enterprise, butts into the company’s development. Zuckerberg instantly takes to Parker, while Saverin is suspicious and fearful of Parker’s involvement. As Parker’s influence grows, Saverin’s diminishes, leading to the dissolving of both his role in the company and of his friendship with Zuckerberg. Parker encourages Zuckerberg to bring the business out to Silicon Valley, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Some argue that Fincher’s films are lacking in emotion, that they are cold and devoid of humanity. The Social Network is cold and even a bit disturbing, to be sure, but if anything, Fincher has made Zuckerberg and his business partners human. Their nature, mean-spirited or otherwise, is studied with great care in this film; and when the credits rolled, the story was under my skin for hours afterward.