On paper, a movie about Facebook is a high-concept failure the making; how on earth can someone take the “story” of a ubiquitous, widely-judged social networking site and make it interesting without adding some corny romance, corporate villains or equally overused biography film tropes? Well, on paper this movie fails but on-screen, it is a work of art and one of the best films I saw in 2010.
Mark Zuckerberg is the world’s youngest billionaire. Imagine being 26 and having one billion dollars… it’s unfathomable. But it happened for the incredibly gifted, talented and in some regards, amazingly silver-tongued yet conniving Zuckerberg. I was about to write that The Social Network is HIS story, but in actuality, it seems more a story of his enemies, particularly Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s once-best friend who ends up suing him, along with the Winklevoss brothers, who are also suing Zuckerberg for intellectual theft. The film comes down on the latter characters who are portrayed with class and sympathy and never as the villains that a typical biography might characterize them as.
While the film’s portrayal of Zuckerberg is apparently overtly brutal and inaccurate, what David Fincher (oh, Fincher… I love you always and forever) is clearly trying to get across, is that the young Harvard student is distinctly socially inept, awkward, and due to his genius, unable to relate to others; additionally, he holds the idea of… revenge? Or rekindling a relationship? at the forefront of his mind in this psychological, financial and revolutionary journey he undergoes throughout the duration of this film. We know from the opening scene that Zuckerberg is smart, but we also know, even judging by portrayer Jesse Eisenberg’s brilliantly cold and uncompassionate stares, that he is caged by this intense burdening awkwardness that is a part of his personality.
Not unlike documentaries that expose the evils of capitalism (with particular reference to Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), The Social Network focuses not just on the relationships and anti-relationships that Zuckerberg struggles with while creating Facebook, but the idea of these young prodigies grappling with quite literally, a monster, that they are unable to control the speed of or demand for; the phrase “absolute power corrupts absolutely” comes into play in this film hugely as money, the obsessive need for prestige and the desire to prove oneself popular and worthy, overtake friendships, kindness, generosity and the simplicity of a small idea that capitalizes on college life and the need college students feel for connections.
David Fincher handles this story with darkness, smart lively-paced riveting dialogue and most notably, intensely fast and at times seemingly unrelated cross-cutting that possesses with it, viciousness, largeness and speed, all elements that are essential to not just this story, but the bigger story as well, a societal one that tells of a time when social networking became an instant success, captured the attention and imagination of people globally, and the immense life-changing worldwide incarnations that follow. While this isn’t explicitly explored in the film, the direction contributes massively to this feeling of buzz, new energy and overwhelming excitement.
I can’t discuss The Social Network without giving massive props to Justin Timberlake who plays the troubled Sean Parker, founder of Napster, whose charisma and experience captures the attention of the young Zuckerberg and almost mentors him and later on, leads him into his first mistakes and cruelties. Timberlake is more than just a former boy band member; he is multi-talented and deserves a ton of credit for taking on and accomplishing this role of his campy, needy and almost insane version of Sean Parker.
Many films in existence tell of a true (or fantasized true) event or biography and typically these stories fall outside my generation’s timeline. Seeing something as relatable and part of my daily life as Facebook told about on the silver screen as though it is a meaningful, important cultural entity, gives voice to and recognition of a mostly otherwise lost generation, of people with ipods and blogs, twitter pages and Facebook profiles, who play Farmville and Bejeweled and have never even seen a typewriter let alone used one. The film acknowledges and pays sympathetic and dynamic lip service to my age group and is oddly heart-felt with big laughs, a really smart screenplay and as usual, is GREATLY helmed by David Fincher, adding to his almost-perfect repertoire of intriguing psychological thrillers. I kind of want to be his friend.