May 27, 2020
The Social Network (2010)
Released in 2010, David Fincher’s The Social Network was met with loads of praise from critics and audiences alike, not to mention a Best Picture nomination and an Oscar win for its screenplay. When ads for the film first appeared, I have to admit I wondered if the world really needed a movie about Facebook, an organization that was only about five years old at that point. Would the film be just a long advertisement for an internet site? Luckily, that wasn’t the case, though it seems Google cornered that market a few years later with The Internship.
With names like David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin and Justin Timberlake attached, it’s no surprise that this film is awesome and has one bad actor. With Fincher’s directorial touch, Sorkin’s tightly constructed script, and Jesse Eisenberg’s masterfully controlled lead performance, The Social Network is one of 2010’s best films.
The film begins with college student Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) on a date with a girl named Erica (Rooney Mara) who gets so sick of his whining over not being allowed into elite Harvard social clubs that she walks out on him. He feels like his heart has been torn out, so he goes home and creates a website called “FaceMash” to ease the pain. The site, which allows users to rate whether a co-ed is hot or not, crashes Harvard’s main server.
Zuckerberg gets a slap on the wrist, and is then contacted by fellow students and identical twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer, with his face digitally pasted onto another actor). The Winklevii have an idea for an online social network like the then-popular Friendster and MySpace, except this one requires a Harvard email address to access. They hope that Zuckerberg will help them to make it a reality and success.
Zuckerberg doesn’t react strongly to the proposal at first, but he soon tells his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) all about it. They strike up a partnership, with Zuckerberg as the brains and Saverin as the bank, and soon they create their own social networking site called “TheFacebook”.
TheFacebook becomes a surprise hit on campus, and the Winklevoss twins, after being repeatedly told by Zuckerberg that he’s still working on their project, become infuriated at this apparent creative theft. This leads to a grand narrative that intermingles the events at Harvard with later depositions between Zuckerberg and the Winklevosses and even Saverin against Facebook.
Once TheFacebook takes off, Zuckerberg heads to Palo Alto to assemble a team of rock-star programmers. Saverin continues to send funds from out of state, and it isn’t long before Justin Timberlake gets wind of the site and sets up a meeting with Zuckerberg. Wait, my mistake; that’s actually Timberlake playing Napster cofounder Sean Parker, though you can see how one might get confused.
Parker believes in TheFacebook, and when he meets with Zuckerberg and Saverin, he suggests changing the name of the site to just “Facebook”. This, along with other insights, catapults Facebook into the stratosphere, and the film chronicles Zuckerberg’s ruthless rise to becoming primary owner of the company, and all the people he backstabs along the way.
When the movie first came out, many reviewers noted that the film could serve as a motivational tool for the next big internet entrepreneur; even Zuckerberg himself commented that the film could inspire others (after insisting, of course, that he’s nothing like how he’s portrayed in the movie). This was a bit surprising to me, because although I found the film to be entertaining, tightly constructed, and even darkly funny in parts, I remembered it mostly as an overtly melancholy experience.
Upon further viewings, The Social Network, while still retaining its edge, becomes even more somber. The cinematography is dark, and the only true scene of color is the Harvard rowing sequence that has the texture of an Apple commercial—but I’ll save the criticisms for later. The soundtrack, provided by the always chipper Trent Reznor, features the downbeat and techno-infused sounds of two notes. But most of all, this is a film where absolutely none of the characters are ever happy.
At the end of the film, Zuckerberg is refreshing his browser, hoping that his old flame Erica will accept his friend request. After all of the trials and tribulations that he’s been through, and after the billions he’s made, he’s still just a guy hoping for human contact on a computer screen.
And yet, people call this inspiring? After watching The Social Network, I’m more inspired to unplug my computer than I am to create the next online sensation, especially if it means meeting one of these characters. Oddly enough, I felt most sympathetic towards the Winklevoss twins, who have often been characterized in the press as whiny villains, when really, they had a pretty solid idea and only wanted to include Zuckerberg in their business plan.
Whether or not they deserved to win their eventual legal settlement is not for me to say; it’s been discussed endlessly by everyone with a keyboard. However, the film’s Zuckerberg is ruthless and unwilling to compromise his vision of creating his very own website, and by the end, he appears to have gained nothing.
One of the best things about the film is its subtlety. Sorkin is often stereotyped as a preaching writer, and it’s difficult to deny this after watching The Newsroom. But The Social Network is brilliant in the way it never bludgeons us with its message. Or rather, all of the many messages bubbling under the surface of every scene.
While the movie is about the creation of Facebook, it’s not directly about the website itself, or what its ubiquity means to our culture. Instead, the film tries to get a handle on the billion-member social behemoth by psychoanalyzing its founder. Is Zuckerberg an asshole, as several of the movie’s main players come to think of him, or a genius visionary who understood the way social media could change our lives? The movie ultimately leaves it up to us to decide.
For the most part, the film is impeccably paced, acted, and crafted, but when you look at the story at a fundamental level, there’s really not much going on here. The stakes are pretty low, in that we’re mostly watching a bunch of ridiculously rich guys argue with each other over who gets to be insanely rich. And in some ways, the film feels like it came out well past its expiration date; If the story of this movie came up in your Facebook news feed in 2010, you’d most likely swipe right past it. Some might call this a well-made film about a subject that no one really cares about, and it’s hard to argue with that.
And on a nitpicky note, the fact that a talky drama can rely this much on digital effects is a bit unnerving. The dual Armie Hammers get a bit creepy at times, and then there’s the digital smoke, breath-fog, and water. For a film of this budget, couldn’t they have used real smoke and water? The men on Mad Men aren’t smoking tobacco, but they aren’t pretending to exhale, either. When it’s supposed to be cold outside, do we really need characters with digital fog coming out of their mouths? They’re actors; just have them shiver.
Aside from these minor quibbles, The Social Network is an exceptionally crafted film. It’s deceptively hollow and surprisingly discreet, never letting on to what we should expect from it. Whether it’s viewed as a satire of our modern, shallow culture, or as a hyper-stimulating drama with moments of wit, there’s one thing that’s for certain: it’s worth watching.
[—This review contains additional material by Dr. Winston O’Boogie.]