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.
Of 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, “..an 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 “..an 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?