Friday, October 15, 2010

The Social Network

The Social Network is a classical tale of power and revenge. It begins in 2003 at Harvard, where undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg invents the vast social networking website Facebook. Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) intersperses Mark’s upward trajectory with scenes from two lawsuits against him, one from his friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin and one from classmates Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.

Aaron Sorkin, also a playwright, adapted this outstanding script from Ben Mezrich’s mostly true book The Accidental Billionares. Language is as central to this film as it is to any play. Conversations are the equivalent of car chases. In spite of its cleverness, the dialogue remains remarkably natural.

The fast talk is aided by snappy editing and pumping music, which sometimes turns as ominous as the darkly lit Harvard campus. Even glamorized scenes of elite parties are shot in somber tones. Further visual ingenuity is evinced in one scene in which the camera makes the world of a rowing race look like a perfect toyland. This athletic struggle mimics the characters’ overarching business battles.

Impeccably cast, The Social Network is also a fascinating character study. Played by Jesse Eisenberg, Mark’s intelligence and drive dominate the story. So brilliant he occasionally comes across as an evil genius, Mark is lonely, self-centered, and contemptuous. (His outfits consist of hoodies and sandals.) This protagonist’s tragic flaws allow him everything but friendship.

The film is tilted towards Mark’s former friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield). While his decency and victimization are overemphasized, the character is quite believable and certainly sympathetic.

Also interesting are the amusing Winklevoss twins, played by Armie Hammer (thanks to incredible special effects). Tall and gorgeous, these Olympic class rowers resemble Olympians. They may be entitled, but their plight is understandable.

Even Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster and the man who seduces Mark into a larger life, comes across as more pathetic than villainous. Sean has surface charm and appreciates Facebook’s potential, but he is at best unreliable and sophomoric.

Smaller parts are likewise well acted, including Mark’s level headed and thus brief girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and the twins’ furious friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). The only misstep is Rashida Jones as a (gorgeous) lawyer who is bizarrely compassionate to Mark, in an apparent attempt to make him more likable.

Certain aspects of the story are sexed up and simplified. Only the exclusive side of Harvard is explored. Most disturbing is that the characters on which The Social Network is based are still alive. Though mixing fact and fiction can be dubious, the creators of the film performed extensive research and invited everyone to give their input. Understandably, Mark Zuckerberg declined to participate.

Fast paced, hilarious, and parabolic, The Social Network will ensnare many into its world of competition and self-destruction. It is an excellent portrayal of Internet and youth culture in all its innovation, imagination, selfishness, and insolence. Amongst questions of class and control, we watch Mark and others chase after a sense of happiness that is ultimately hollow.


  1. I adored this film, and am super impressed with your ability to succinctly capture its complexity and brilliance in this review. You've pretty much put into words exactly what I was thinking.

    As a fan of the now-canceled TV series, The West Wing, I love Aaron Sorkin's signature super-smart, quick-draw, dialogue, and thought it was put to great to use here. But what really got me about this film, as you mentioned, was the acting. Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield, in particular, deserve Oscar nods here for their multi-layered mesmerizing performances.

    And the double-vision of Armie Hammer didn't hurt either! That boy is beautiful AND talented. (Though I do feel a bit bad for the guy who voiced the other Winklevoss twin -- the one whose face wasn't used. He's a bit of an unsung hero, in this film, isn't he?)

    As for the truthfulness of the narrative, I wonder a bit about it . . . For starters, it seemed a tad coincidental to me that Eduardo Saverin, who, from my understanding, provided Ben Mezrich with much of the first person information for the book, The Accidental Billionaires, came off as, by far, the most sympathetic of all the characters in this film. Also, in reading interviews with Mark Zuckerberg, it has come to my attention, that he has had the same girlfriend since his sophomore year of college (which I think was when he invented Facebook?). And she is the woman he is still with today. So, the "girl who got away" part of the plot is likely a bit of fabrication.

    Yet, for me, that doesn't detract at all from the brilliant storytelling, and acting on display here. Thanks again for putting into words, what I couldn't! :)

  2. Truly a fascinating film. To ease my own guilt at enjoying the movie so much, perhaps at the expense of Mark Z. and company, I view it as fiction based on fact.

    Regarding the twins, a friend told me not to get too excited - there's only one of them, really. The other man who played the twin did his gestures. You're right, he doesn't get enough credit! I think a lot of people were confused about whether there were two actors, actual twins, or just one. The fact that there were camera tricks didn't cross the minds of a few people I talked to. It's so funny that it's the best effect of that kind I've seen, considering it's a film not exactly based on special effects.