One of the most striking revelations I had about this film was when they flashed the title card at the beginning, showing the year 2003. The events portrayed in the film were so fresh, strumming from seven years ago and up to a year ago. Timely doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Social networks began popping up roughly eight years ago, with sites like Friendster and MySpace, both of which had highs and lows in activity. I jumped onto the MySpace bandwagon for a good while and slowly began to grow sour on the teen bop themes and seizure-inducing graphics. I got an e-mail that a friend of mine was closing his MySpace and moving to Facebook, like moving from the ghetto projects to a midtown apartment.
What drew me into Facebook was the ease of use, the streamlined, easy-to-interact interface and overall “cleanliness” of the site. It was the beginning of the end for me. I now check Facebook an insurmountable number of times per day. It has become habit, ritual, and responsibility, all rolled up into one. It has become a place to market and sell (anyone notice the Facebook links all over my own website?) and a venue for groups and organization. It has evolved into a cultural mainstay and has earned its place in the history books, no matter what Texas says.
All this, thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, the titular character of director David Fincher’s (Seven, Fight Club) “The Social Network,” a film as culturally relevant as its subject. Zuckerberg, who has openly shunned the film (as well as the public in general with his standoffish appearances) is at the center of the film, played brilliantly by Jesse Eisenberg in a role he seems born to play. Eisenberg embodies Zuckerberg as an anxiety-ridden outcast who wants nothing more than to fit in, struggling with his own technical genius as much as his lack of it when it comes to interacting with people in person.
Still, Eisenberg exudes a certain strength and panache in portraying Zuckerberg, fed every great line from the film (thanks to the stroke of “The West Wing” and “A Few Good Men” scripter Aaron Sorkin) and given more screen time than any other character. Rightfully so. Although some may argue who is really center stage, I think it’s perfectly obvious who is to reward (or blame) for the success of Facebook; and that’s the man with the true vision.
Eisenberg is supported by newcomer Andrew Garfield (also the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the forthcoming reboot) as his best friend, Eduardo Saverin, the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) of Facebook, and Joseph Mazzello (HBO’s The Pacific, little boy from Jurassic Park…yes, that one), as Dustin Moskovitz, another tech wizard. Their interactions are all believable and relatable, especially within the context of their situation; struggling smart kids at Harvard, trying to fit in, meet girls, and to find the next best thing; i.e. make lots of money off of a cool idea.
The conflict arises when Zuckerberg is approached by twin crew rowers, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, a pair of entrepreneur-minded students who want to create an elite social network for Harvard, but need a tech to make it happen. After a break up with his girlfriend, due largely to his own arrogance and fumbling “social” interaction, Zuckerberg drunkenly blogs, hacks Harvard’s system, and creates a site called facesmash.com, which pits one girl against another and the option to choose which is hotter. This act puts Zuckerberg in boiling hot water with both faculty and students and gains him all the attention he doesn’t want, including the Winklevoss’s who view him as a possible caretaker to their “grand” idea.
After hearing their idea, Zuckerberg quickly agrees to help them and disappears into the computer programmer world, where magic happens and everyday people sit and wait. Zuckerberg leads the crew rowers on for weeks, then months, leaving them bread crumbs of hope, all while he builds his own site called “the facebook.” CFO Eduardo helps by supplying cash for servers and a small circle of techs, including Mazzello, help to launch the site, which arrives like a smack in the face to the Winklevoss’s.
Zuckerberg had “stolen” their idea and made it into his “own” site, launching it without telling them and pulling the rug from under their feet, doing the one thing in business that matters the most when trying to gain momentum; getting there first. Or did he? The question arises, how much of an idea is really owned by someone versus what someone creates that may be similar or, in Zuckerberg’s case, better?
The film jumps from the legal hearings to the moments that reflect where they are in the deposition. It flows in a fairly linear fashion, so it’s not hard to keep up. The scenes are tight, with very little needless exposition or unnecessary fat, which helps propel an otherwise simple legal battle into something much more epic and sprawling. Certainly Sorkin’s screenplay helps keep that alive, and although there are no moments rivaling Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson’s tête-à-tête in A Few Good Men, Eisenberg is given a few meaty scenes that make you smirk and nod, satiated with his vindication, if even a small one.
I wasn’t sold on Garfield playing Spider-Man, but after his performance here, I think he really embodies the character and displays a great prowess of emotion and sincerity onscreen. It’s good to see talented, young actors at work, rather than the onslaught of ho-hum fakers and reality star graduates top lining a genuine film. Eisenberg, Garfield, and every other supporting actor are spot on, including Justin Timberlake, who oozes slime as Napster founder Sean Parker, sleazing his way into the Facebook pie like a young Gordon Gecko.
I don’t think Timberlake is a revelation here, but he’s a solid actor and he shows that his strong music persona is not so proud that he can’t make fun of himself or even shine a negative light by portraying a scumbag. That’s the hardest part for any musician turned actor; playing against type. Fortunately for Timberlake, he does it with ease.
So, where does David Fincher fit into all this? The acclaimed director of Seven and Fight Club, a stylistic, innovative filmmaker tackling an Internet legal battle? How does that happen? Fincher has seemed to follow his passions and interests, rather than Hollywood’s outline for his career. The Social Network is no different. Fincher’s clean and artistic vision is intact here, played straight when needed or tipping the scales in frenetic fashion, such as the Winklevoss’s brilliantly shot and edited crew race sequence.
Although it’s no Fight Club, it’s not supposed to be, and Fincher still retains his artistic signature throughout.
Another factor that contributes to the overall atmosphere and tone of the film is the score by Atticus Ross (The Book of Eli) and Trent Reznor (NIN front man). The score is fittingly “techy” with an air of anxiousness and tension, which drives the film into the world of unease and conflict. The film could easily have had a simple, flowing score by someone like Howard Shore, but with Atticus/Reznor, we get a buzzing, relevant (there’s that word again), and driving score. It is reminiscent of The Dust Brother’s score for Fight Club, but played more in the digital vein; the tech-pop of this underground world of programmers and idea birthers who swim in a sea of code and keyboards, only to emerge, anxiety-ridden, with the next best thing.
Without this team of musicians, The Social Network would not have the impact that it does. Atticus/Reznor have earned their accolades.
The more I think about The Social Network, the more I like it. I think I relate in a way with Zuckerberg (at least the version onscreen), as many will (and many won’t). He’s an underdog, someone who wants to be accepted as he is and as what he can be. I think he represents the emotional wreck we can all be at our best and worst. The war of ideas is an ongoing conflict and throughout the film you may find yourself choosing sides, based on one factor or another. The film doesn’t really paint a villain other than Timberlake’s Parker, allowing the viewer to decide.
I don’t need a film to make up my mind for me; I need it to stimulate the process to make my own decision. The Social Network will give you pause, enough to really contemplate the impact of ownership, creation, ideas, and just how far and wide the Internet has gone in such a short while. The cost of an idea, and of its success, can be brutal. The tagline for the film; “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies” is dead on. For Zuckerberg, that is a steep cost. The loss of his friends is what causes his strife; the hundreds of millions he loses in legal fees and settlements is nothing in comparison.
The Social Network is a glimpse into our ever-growing technological culture, our social evolution, and the costs of an idea. I’m sure you can pull multiple other themes from the film and that’s another of its strengths. It’s worth studying. It’s worth re-watching. It’s worth the price of admission.
As I walked out of the theater, a guy behind me said to his friend: “Makes me want to delete my Facebook page.” How interesting. I thought about that, but couldn’t figure out why. Perhaps the movie made Facebook seem “uncool,” which is Zuckerberg’s greatest fear in the film. It’s kind of amazing how when confronted with the truth (or some variation of it) about the things we use on a day to day basis, we get a knee-jerk reaction to hate it, vowing to do away with it, because of some moral confliction or elicited emotional response to a movie. I doubt he ever deleted his Facebook page. At this point, I wonder how people communicate without one.
Many scoff at this, calling anyone who uses Facebook a slave to technology or an addict of it (which is the case for some). I think that’s all bullshit. I’m surprised the greeting card industry is surviving and handwritten letters have become a thing of nostalgia. E-mail is relegated to ultra personal or business affairs, not “hey, how ya’ doin’” messages. Facebook, in my opinion, is a brilliant invention, and allows for communication unlike any we’ve ever had before. Go ahead and fight it. You’ll be as awkward as my parents when using it, still grasping at something that’s on the way out. Either way, the train is leaving the station. Either you’re on it or you’re not.
In a few minutes I’m going to edit this review, upload it to my website, and then I will shotgun blast it on both of my Facebook pages and through Twitter (which is linked to my Facebook), allowing me to reach a multitude of people I otherwise would not have access to, hopefully reaching a few, and I’ll continue my own pursuit of the American dream. For me, The Social Network represents that struggle, however long or difficult it may be, and the costs of that dream.
All thanks to a drunken Harvard tech geek, scorned by a girl, now a billionaire.