The Social Network
It’s one of the oldest stories in history: friends betraying friends for money. In the case of “The Social Network,” it’s over the expansion and financial well-being of Facebook, which has left MySpace in the dust as *the* place to be online for networking and community. In a way, movies are like social networking sites; the people familiar with them can tell other like-minded people. Don’t believe me? Look at the followings for movies like “The Twilight Saga,” “Star Wars,” and David Fincher’s own “Fight Club.”
Now, eleven years after that cultural milestone (love it or hate it, “Fight Club” was, at the least, a marking point for a generation), Fincher has another film that strikes a chord about a generation, and the way they view the world. To tell his story, Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin tell the story of Facebook’s creation by Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg-played by Jesse Eisenberg in a performance that builds on the unique charisma he displayed in films like “The Squid and the Whale,” “Adventureland,” and “Zombieland” to portray Zuckerberg as a brilliant, but socially distant young man-through depositions given in separate lawsuits against Zuckerberg, one by his (former) best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), the other by rich kids Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (and both played by Armie Hammer in a uniquely clever manner), who claim to have had the original idea for the site.
Fincher isn’t aiming to get down to the truth of what happened in this “He said, he said, they said” legal battle but to show the corrupting power of money and the power inherent in an idea to turn the world on its head. In that respect, this film is very much a relative to “Fight Club,” where consumer culture and quick solutions were soul-wreaking, and the idea of violence as emotional release leads to all-out anarchy. Granted, this time the anarchy is online (starting with Zuckerberg, drunk and angry at being dumped and called an asshole by Erica (Rooney Mara), hacking into Harvard’s firewall to download undergrad women’s pics for a “who’s hotter” contest online that crashes the university’s server), but anyone who’s seen the effect on industries and society initiated by Napster, MySpace, and Twitter will get the idea.
After a while, the legal battles that provide the film’s structure are secondary to the events that got Zuckerberg there, as the scope of Facebook grows, and the need for outside investors and a real business plan becomes an imperative. This is when Sean Parker, the creator of Napster (and performed to smarmy and charismatic perfection by Justin Timberlake), comes into the picture, convincing Mark that Silicon Valley is where it’s at and leading up to the point that Eduardo (FB’s co-founder) is forced out when the money gets too big to pass up. Garfield, who was fantastic in Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” and is prepping to be the new Spider-Man, is sensational as the more business (and image) savvy between him and Zuckerberg; watching Garfield show in body language the disappointment and betrayal Eduardo feels towards Zuckerberg is one of the acting highlights of the year.
Fincher has come a long way as a director and artist since he graduated from music videos with 1992’s “Alien 3.” Gone is the shaky camerawork in “Se7en” and “The Game,” although cinematographer Jeff Corenweth (“Fight Club”) still lights the film like Fincher is exploring the unnerving moods of man from “Zodiac” and “Panic Room.” And though Sorkin’s wickedly funny and keen dialogue is the bedrock of the soundtrack, the techno score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross shows that Fincher hasn’t lost that music video director’s ability to merge music and picture into a spellbinding package that lingers long in the memory. And that final image of Mark, alone at his computer, ever refreshing his web browser. Has there ever been a more lasting image of the loneliness of a life spent online? Of course, with a net worth in the billions, Zuckerberg can afford such isolation. Financially, at least. Spiritually, that’s another matter.