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The Social Network (2010)

Review

The Social Network

The major hullabaloo over David Fincher’s The Social Network concerns its witty, intelligent screenplay, written by Aaron Sorkin, and the liberties it takes with the persons involved with the creation and meteoric expansion of Facebook. Based on a dubious non-fiction account, Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, the film alters the story of Mark Zuckerberg, the 19-year-old whose drunken, post-breakup screed on LiveJournal tipped-off a string of events that led to the launch of Facebook in February 2004, to fit it into an expressionistic Shakespearean swarm of identity, betrayal, money and loneliness. In a recent New Yorker article, Zuckerberg submitted that he was afraid that the film, which he says he will not be seeing, would portray him as a brash, ego-maniacal and uncaring billionaire brat, a prototype of the presumably more mature Zuckerberg 2010 Edition.   

Whatever personal growth the internet icon may have undergone since the site’s launch, it certainly sounds more appealing than the hyper-active Zuckerberg (a perfectly cast Jesse Eisenberg) does in the film’s brilliant opening sequence. At a Harvard tavern, Zuckerberg rants about crewing, which is eventually decrypted as his need to get accepted into one of Harvard’s beyond-exclusive finals clubs. So caught up is he in his own rambling, he barely notices when Erica (Rooney Mara) breaks up with him, comparing being his girlfriend to “dating a stairmaster.” Back in his dorm, he gets drunk, makes fun of her bra size and creates a website that compares female Harvard students’ looks with the click of a button; the site crashes Harvard’s servers within a matter of hours.

In this exhaustive detailing of the beginnings of a new tycoon, Sorkin and Fincher’s Zuckerberg joins a select group of great cinematic misanthropes whose entire fiscal enterprises are built on the hopes of regaining an emotional tranquility, a certain comfort; the resemblances to Citizen Kane are innumerable. And like Welles’s towering tyrant, Zuckerberg’s eventual enemies originally count him as a friend or a partner. The most prominent of these adversaries turns out to be Eduardo Saverin (a very good Andrew Garfield), Zuckerberg’s roommate and business partner. Saverin was the original funder of Facebook, which was born from an idea to create a MySpace made exclusively for Harvard students; the idea arrives at Zuckerberg via a triptych of Porcellian members, Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) and the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, who are both played by Armie Hammer.  

The film rotates between a linear narrative and two elongated scenes: the birth and rise of Facebook and two separate depositions, Saverin vs. Zuckerberg and Narenda and the “Winklevii” vs. Zuckerberg. But neither the lawyers nor plaintiffs affect Zuckerberg nearly as much as Sean Parker (a rousing Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster and a nightmare future vision of Zuckerberg with a more expensive wardrobe. It is Parker who will eventually set in motion the betrayal of Saverin, whom Fincher and Sorkin portray as the holy man in a valley of assholes, a half-truth in a film built from half-truths. Zuckerberg’s problems may be understandable, but it’s absurd to think that an unbiased and honest portrayal of these incidents could ever be produced, and the mogul himself  seems oblivious to the irony that his invention’s most visible trait is its obfuscation of reality.          

Though not nearly as immersive and ragingly investigatory as Zodiac, The Social Network regains Fincher’s precise, artistic detachment which clashed with the saccharine emoting of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a technically astonishing film with a thoroughly pedestrian script. The Social Network maintains Fincher’s technical virtuosity: It took a second glance at the credits to confirm that Hammer played both Winklevosses, so seamless was Fincher’s direction and Kim Baxter and Angus Wall’s editing. This parallel charting of factually-based narratives concerned with the movement of information while using advance movie technology started with the homegrown, techno-freak terrorism of Fight Club, but The Social Network sees Fincher more ambitious in his narrative choices than ever before, his visual and thematic ideas seemingly multiplying uncontrollably within each frame.

All of Fincher’s films are transmissions from the digital age, mapping our transition from an essentially time-based and physically located reality to the artificial and imagined communities on the web, and The Social Network, certainly the movie of the year, essentially reveals that Zuckerberg’s invention has allowed people not only to create specifically produced and edited versions of themselves but to also create their own community that, especially in Zuckerberg’s case, can be completely controlled by the individual. Whether or not Zuckerberg finally feels at home in this home inside his home is another question altogether.