The Social Network (2010)

The movie The Social Network is about a phenomenon.  It is about young men individually, collectively, and separately obsessed with ideas.  The Social Network is about the passionate pursuit of connecting the unconnectable, of bridging the distance between people who might very well be standing across from one another in a room and finally, a movie about money and the accumulation of power for profit akin to the first atom bomb that once delivered, would change the world forever after.

The story is quite simple really, the birth of an idea that is as much about the time, place, and people connected to it as it is the drive of the one person who seemed to bring all of the elements together at just the precise moment for them to become something greater than the sum of their parts.  There is no denying these are smart people surrounded by other smart people, a sentiment reiterated in the film as “everyone is creating something at Harvard” with mention to Google and Microsoft in passing as if to utter too much about them might disquiet the rumblings of the significance of The Face Book as something unequal and perhaps more socially relevant.

What is perhaps most interesting about this movie is the undercurrent that prevails, frequently obscuring talent and drive and all the other things that make great young minds succeed, revealing the darkest desires in each of us that can and do win out and make monsters of our intentions.  Mark Zuckerberg is the anti-hero, the intellectual who wanted to be other things for other people and in the face of realizing he could never join the other side of the table, created a way so that he and others like him didn’t have to – ever again.  This is the story of opposites that have existed in society since the very beginning, the strength of the mind versus the strength of the body to accomplish the very same tasks over and over again.  If Zuckerberg had met Sisyphus he would have simply written a code to make the boulder repeat the cycle of returning to the mountain top for him, for eternity with a mere few thousand lines of code.  You might as easily define people as thinkers and doers, as intellectuals and athletes, as the rich and the poor for living among one another, across the room, in the same building, down the street are these disparate examples and for better and for worse this is the construct of society.  The challenge for a story like The Social Network is once it muddles through what you’re most curious about, the face behind Facebook, it has little left to reveal but the machinations of people turning against one another, their smiling faces changing into frowning faces Ad infinitum.  The main character, a young, awkward, socially inept intellectual who we are repeatedly told doesn’t care about money, succeeds as the driving force behind an idea but he forgets along the way what the idea meant in the first place and therefore fails to change except to feed on himself and his own sense of self.

Few actors truly stand out in this film.  Jesse Eisenberg is Jessie Eisenberg, incapable really of portraying the least bit different version of himself from project to project, the same floppy curls, the stern sometimes motionless expressions and the brooding mask made of glass, not flesh and bone.  Andrew Garfield is by far the most interesting and succeeds as the helpless underling to Zuckerberg who uses him and tosses him aside as easily as a used tissue or soiled hundred-dollar bill.  Garfield emotes, painfully at times, giving us the only character we really want to root for, his place in the story as co-founder slowly, steadily usurped, his good intentions and hard work gone in an instant with a signature and a puff of thin air.  Armie Hammer Jr., who actually plays both Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss, through the magic and wonder of CGI and other special FX, is effective though one can’t help but wonder if the dazed and confused look shared between them through out the movie was a matter of direction or reflection of the actual people the roles were based on and meant to be portrayed so singularly, so one-dimensionally.  Justin Timberlake delivers what might be his best performance to date though it is clear he’s only one-off from his own sense of being, a young man used to the benefits of good looks and the power of charm like currency to be exchanged for favors, success, and excess.

David Fincher massages this film with the same premeditated and meticulous detail that has become his trademark – glib atmospheres and keen awareness of shadows and light; his passion for Mise-en-scene reveals the sculptors hand in every project.  Yet his talent for pace and storytelling, his need to juxtapose the best and worst in people doesn’t ever seem allowed to run wild, to kick up his heels and cover the expanse of the material.  While Aaron Sorkin‘s (Charlie Wilson’s War, The West Wing) script revels in quick wit and his own trademark command of dialog and characterization, it feels clunky in the mouthes of these characters and very often lost expressions as though even they can’t keep up.  While Fincher is confident if not ballsy, the script feels as if to displease him in some way as though the very subject of awkward adolescence and competitive rowers with an idea too large for their own charge isn’t morose enough.  Fincher, perhaps the most reserved here than any film he has made before, feels stuck behind a glass wall that allows him to point and gesture, to beckon others to stand a certain way or move from one room to another, where to place light and where to make shadow, but their interaction is as if made up and moved on for fear the story not weighty enough to keep the director, much less the audience invested.  Undoubtedly there will be detractors from such criticism but popular opinion has never a good movie made.

Above the Line: Practical movie reviews with Rory DeanOf course you should see this film if you’re curious about the creators of Facebook or the least bit interested in how a collective of minds could come together so completely as to share thoughts, action, and drive to build a phenomenon that continues to grow, develop, change, and remain the same all at once 6 after its conception.  You should see this film if you want to see the implosion of one of the seminal points in history that elevated one young man high above everyone else, even those who were paramount in the hoisting up of that young man and losing their own identity in the process.  You should see this film if you’d like to know something about some facts and some fiction surrounding the creation of the biggest, most successful enterprise since Microsoft and Google.  But don’t kid yourself, this is just a movie, a manipulation of facts, people, and events and the real story behind the founder of Facebook might not ever be fully made public.

Bob Mondello of NPR calls The Social Network, “ unlikely thriller that makes business, ethics, class distinctions and intellectual-property arguments sexy..” while David Edelstein of The New York Magazine refers to it as “ entertainingly cynical small movie.”  Roger Ebert writes, “David Fincher’s film has the rare quality of being not only as smart as its brilliant hero, but in the same way.  It is cocksure, impatient, cold, exciting and instinctively perceptive.”  Maybe they are all right, surely the film has collected a great number of friends with money to spend at the box office, yet at the same time, for all the rapier rapid-fire wit of Sorkin’s script and the assured prowess of Fincher at the helm, not to mention the incredible crew who kept the entire thing moving at a hundred keystrokes per minute, the film feels more like a roller coaster you have waited in line to ride for two hours, inching ever closer to the entry gate, gawking as others enter and leave, enter and leave – smiles mostly, woozy too.  Finally, somewhat parched and a little sunburned, you pass through the turn-style to get on-board, strap in, and go.  After an exhilarating ride, albeit short – all good rides suffer so – you’re walking away as others file in behind you, poised for the very same ride that for you is already beginning to fade along with your rapid breath and elevated heartbeat. The Social Network might very well be a roller coaster that friends and strangers spend a little time on, depart, and forget they were ever there except to be reminded that the guy, who actually had the help of a lot of other people, who owns the coaster is one of the youngest billionaires in the world.

Have you friended someone lately?

About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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10 Responses to The Social Network (2010)

  1. Rodney says:

    Why Rory, do I detect a hint of cynicism in this review? I get the sense that you wanted to dislike this film, yet enjoyed it regardless.

    I’ll admit, when I first heard about The Social Network, I scoffed in utter disbelief. What was Hollywood thinking, making a film about a website? Then I heard of Fincher’s involvement, and I reconsidered: I have yet to see the film, but this will be practically a blind buy for me on BluRay on day one. Speaking of Fincher, have you considered doing an article about him and his career (to date)? Might make for interesting reading, considering the influence on recent cinema he’s had (Se7en, Fight Club, Panic Room et al have become iconic mental images of his work in the mind’s eye) and his usurping of M Night Shyamalan as the wunderkind director Hollywood relies on to produce quality product each time up to bat. I was thinking of doing one myself, but I might well wait until The Social Network wins Best Picture at this years Oscars.
    Great review, and I’ll definitely follow up with seeing this and delivering my own recommendation.

    • rorydean says:

      Well Rodney, I think you’ve figured out my voice. I really did not want to see this film, less for Fincher and Sorkin who I like (though Panic Room wasn’t my cup of tea) and mainly because of Jesse Eisenberg. It’s silly really. I hate when that happens. I feel the same way about Zoey Deschanel and after inception, I pray Ellen Page does another good movie again. My chief complaint with Eisenberg is that he’s EISENBERG in every film he has ever done. Seriously. I watched a film a few weeks back called Holy Rollers (about a young Hasidic Jew (Eisenberg) growing up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn who gets lured into international drug trafficking in the late 90s – supposed to be based on a true story) and I swear if you took the hat off and trimmed his hair, he’d be Zuckerberg – or take his performance in The Squid and the Whale? Zuckerberg with dysfunctional parents. That was my real disinterest in the movie, that and while I use Facebook and find there are some valuable elements of it (staying in touch with friends, family, what have you) I’m not a big fan that it has consumed society so.

      I am adding a Fincher article to my list as I type this. Great idea. I don’t think The Social Network should have won at the golden globes nor should it win for best picture. I’d rather see True Grit or The Black Swan or just about anyone else. I haven’t seen it but I hear the King’s Speech is amazing.

  2. Dan says:

    Very interesting review. I haven’t seen The Social Network largely because, like Rodney, I have no interest in the subject matter. Having said that, the recognition it has received along with your review peaks my interest. Obviously, Sorkin and Fincher make for a dynamic and talented team, that’s something the film has going for it even before the title screen starts rolling.

    • rorydean says:

      Thanks Dan. Yeah, the movie is a bit of tough sell especially if you’re not interested in a movie about Facebook – which it is and it isn’t. It’s more about the birth of the idea and the ensuing maelstrom as the worst in us is drawn to the surface by money. Agreed about Sorkin and Fincher and if you’re at all a fan you have to see the movie – just leave all expectations outside when you do. I’m a little amazed how often I’ve found not only rave reviews but words like “brilliant” and “superb” used when describing the film. Then again, the same and others wrote that about Inception so what do they know.

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  4. CMrok93 says:

    Fantastic and totally engrossing film. There were moments I actually was so involved in the narrative I forgot where I was! Definitely one of the top films of the year in my book.

    • rorydean says:

      Seems like you enjoyed this movie far more than I did – then again, I went in knowing a little about Zuckerberg and his practices and as such I think it didn’t help that Jesse Eisenberg portrayed him (he’s quite a one-dimensional player, if you ask me). I’d agree it was well done but the engrossing part, well, lets agree to disagree or is that disagree to agree? Thanks for the thoughts, for dropping by. I think a lot of others would agree with your assessment of one of the top films of the year but I’d turn to Black Swan, True Grit, The Kings Speech, and others first.


  5. Rodney says:

    Okay, I was impressed with The Social Network, but at no point did I say to myself “WOW”, which is what I normally do when a film is worthy of Oscar.

    I thought Jessie Eisenberg did a great job as Zuckerberg, even if he was a complete wanker (no wonder the real Zuckerberg refuses to watch it… apparently) as a character. Plusses: The dude playing Zuckerberg’s CFO did a fantastic job, and I thought Mr J Timberlake was adequately slimy as Sean Parker. Negatives: the film struggled to define exactly what it was about, to me – I wasn’t sure if it was trying to be an indictment on Zuckerberg, on Facebook, on money or on the breakdown of a friendship, and felt this part of it was unfocused…. and the subplot with the female law assistant, where she chats to Zuckerberg during breaks in the meetings, didn’t go anywhere.
    Sorkins script deserved an Oscar nom, but I’m not sure if it deserved the win (I haven’t seen the other films he was up against yet) and I stomped my feet and howled at the moon with disappointment over the Oscar winning score by Trent Renzor & Atticus Ross. I didn’t think that much of it, to be honest.
    I read that you thought the actors weren’t able to deliver Sorkins words because “it feels clunky in the mouths of these characters and very often lost expressions as though even they can’t keep up”, and I agree to a certain degree, but on the whole I thought the script, and the performance of it, was a fair effort indeed.
    Like you said, The Social Network deserves to be seen by everyone, but I’m not sure it’ll appeal to everyone, and I doubt in years to come it’ll be seen with the Oscar-glow fervor it currently does. It’s cynical, snarky and decidedly negatively slanted towards the very thing it’s portraying, and I can’t help but wonder if that’ll work against the film in years, and generations, to come.
    Bring on the Google based film called The Search Engine. That should be a cracker.

    • rorydean says:

      I think The Social Network is a good example of a film that benefits from the story, namely Facebook and its founder and the controversy behind the creation of the site – not to mention Fincher at the helm. I know it won a lot of awards leading up to the Oscars that I did not follow so I can’t comment on that but I’m reminded that there are always films that get nominated that can’t or perhaps shouldn’t win given the competition and this is just such an example.

      I agree with you about the film not knowing precisely what it was about or what story it was trying to tell – was this about the man-child, the company, the nefarious legal matters, the popularization of the already popular? And to not answer your question, beats me.

      I’m going to reserve further comment about Sorkin’s script until another viewing of the film. Probably wont happen any time soon but at some point. You’re not alone regarding the score. And I think you’re right on about the “test of time” as all good films are subject to. There are films that endure, those that fade away, and those that are thankfully erased from memory – relegated to the bargain bin at the grocery store, gas station ,etc.

      Love the Google film idea. I can see it now. The Search Engine. Bing!

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