You can’t get to 500 Million friends without making a few enemies. Well, at least Mark Zuckerberg can’t. Initial belief would tell you that The Social Network is a film about Facebook, but don’t be misled. It is, on the other hand, about its contradictions…
The irony is that whilst the instigator of this invention rewove society worldwide, he drove a vast wedge between himself and the people around him. This “creation story demon”, to quote a minor character, is none other than Mark Zuckerberg, TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year 2010. Whether this Zuckerberg is remotely like the bitter, punk genius ‘Zuckerberg’ of Aaron Sorkin’s (A Few Good Men, TV’s The West Wing) complex and incisive screenplay is not something to be concerned with, and something the filmmakers certainly don’t give a damn about.
What director David Fincher (Fight Club, Benjamin Button) asks of us is not to pedantically involve ourselves with the fact, but marvel at the crisp direction, absorbing performances and a refreshingly engaging story. Not unlike last year’s Inception, the film is just as much about process and longing for absolution, only on a lesser scale. Beginning in a glum, moody club on Harvard Campus, we see Eisenberg unravel Zuckerberg as an innate and detached intelligence. Normally seen as either nerdy or awkward, Zombieland’s Columbus shows a darker, more callous edge in the role of Mark, who, beneath his ingenuity, is a cynical and manipulative, if not well-meaning, arse. However, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy, as his pathetic attempts to communicate lead to him ineptly offending his girlfriend, resulting in a crushing break-up scene. It is in these opening 5 minutes that Sorkin’s Tommy gun dialogue is established, dashing away and not slipping up once throughout the film’s duration. From here on out, the first-class aspects keep unraveling at the pace of Zuckerberg’s tongue.
The plot progresses with an assured coherence, with the occasional interjection of the courtroom framing device which, although one could argue lacks the dramatic gusto that would normally warrant its use, provides an air of mystery that makes the meticulous details all the more absorbing. Thankfully, the focus is not on the operating systems and IT vernacular or Facebook’s initial, befuddling schematics, but chronicles the battles of ownership and the crumbling relationship between Zuckerberg and his best friend, Eduardo Saverin. Played by the fresh-faced Andrew Garfield, he strikes a perfect balance between naivety, intelligence, and a good friend who gets screwed over. If there’s one character in this film that is truly accessible, it’s Eduardo. A man who may not be the man for the role of Facebook’s CFO (Chief Financial Advisor) but certainly deserves our sympathy as viewers.
As for Fincher, it’s a rather unconventional choice. For a director whose career was founded upon abrasive, highly taut mystery-thrillers like Se7en or Fight Club, he seems to be very comfortable with a modest little film about the making of a website which probably wouldn’t appeal to anybody else. For the most part, his direction is completely restrained, confining himself to claustrophobic hallway confrontations and ambient tracking shots about Harvard Campus. Not that this is a fault, as Fincher seems very at home here, and certainly keeps it engaging amid the curt script, making a seemingly impenetrable subject crystal clear. (A brief Hitchcockian pastiche is also present).
But the true revelation here is Justin Timberlake, who plays Sean Parker. Sean is the slick-talking creator of Napster, fellow-hacker and self-proclaimed ‘entrepreneur’. The character appears here as the catalyst that wraps Mark around his finger and whisks him off to L.A. Often appearing as merely ‘JT’ in the previous claptrap we’ve seen from him, it is here that he excels. Depicting an exuberant, priggish flirt, Timberlake skillfully adapts his pretty-boy image to his advantage, at the same time keeping it his cool. The film’s Tyler Durden, if you will.
Kudos to the superb score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, too. Without it, the underlying themes of sadness and jealousy would be a little harder to place. Their first foray into the cinematic, Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) and Ross collaborate an ideal blend of 80s-style metallic beats and harsh guitars with synthesized strings, accompanied by simple and innocent piano, investing the film’s understated subject matter with graceful melancholy.
In the film’s last moments, Mark’s character abruptly takes full form; intolerable in parts but understandable, his alienation from his friends transforms him from the obsessive antihero to the woeful tragic hero. At this, he finally takes the very first step to make amends with the tainted world he has left behind. Of course, a Facebook friend request isn’t considered too meaningful in this generation, but screenwriter Sorkin has already said that modern movies were not his road map. The likes of Aristotle and the Greek Classics are clearly present, and if you dissect the events of friendship, jealous, ambition and betrayal against the backdrop of Harvard, you will find an equally triumphant fable. And yet at the same time, the film is truly emblematic of the idiocy of our post-millennial society: the naive expectancy of wish fulfillment at the click of a mouse.
The Social Network is one of the year’s best, worthy of its zeitgeist and rich in emotional brutality and unexpected humour. Beneath its modern veneer is proof that a classic tale of innocence lost by greed doesn’t require over-trodden cliches to be accessible. Topped by a sardonic use of The Beatles ‘Baby, You’re A Rich Man’, the man who allowed us to de-friend is left staring bleakly into his computer screen, facing another evening alone.