So why is it called “The Social Network” instead of just “Facebook” or “The Facebook Movie?” You’d figure going into the movie theater that the film would be all about how Facebook came into existence and of how it grew so quickly, but it’s not really about that. I mean, we certainly don’t need a movie to teach us how to use or create a profile on Facebook because we’re all intimately involved in the website in one way or another (let alone the internet and our computers). Looking more closely at “The Social Network,” I think the title is intentionally ironic in describing the people who got it off the ground, particularly Max Zuckerberg, in that they were more antisocial than they probably realized. Max was clearly more comfortable being up close and personal with a computer screen than he was interacting with real people. The Facebook phenomenon may have brought people closer together than ever before, but like the rest of technology, it has further succeeded in keeping us apart.
The beginning of “The Social Network” quickly illustrates Max’s antisocial behavior as we watch him talk with his girlfriend Erica Albright, and it’s an increasingly awkward conversation to say the least. Max can’t look her in the eye, and he ends up insulting her without even realizing it. His mind feels like it is moving at 100 miles a minute and never really slows down enough to take in the reactions that are coming his way. This is our first look at the young man who is now the youngest billionaire in America thanks to his bringing about the world’s most prolific social networking website, and he is proving to be anything but social. Erica, played by Rooney Mara, nails her character’s frustration with his one track mind and insensitive nature perfectly. Max fears that unless he gets into one of Harvard’s exclusive clubs, he will never be taken seriously and that he will just be some techno nerd in everyone’s eyes. Erica, fed up with his attitude, tells him that people will keep their distance from him because he is a jerk, not because he is exceptionally bright.
Well, love has a very strange effect on a man just like it does on a woman, and instead of trying to reconcile with Erica right then and there, Max instead heads straight back to his dorm room and creates a page along with his roommates called “Face Mash.” With this page, he allows students to pick which female students at Harvard are the prettiest by comparing them to one another. Of course, this is right after Max cruelly disses his now ex-girlfriend Erica in a number of ways, even going as far to describe her bra size. “Face Mash” ends up bringing in so many viewers in one night that it succeeds in crashing Harvard’s network, and Max becomes one of the most vilified guys on campus (by girls for the most part) as well as one of the most ingenious. In record time, he exploited the network’s vulnerability in a way the university never saw (but should have seen) coming.
This all leads to an invitation by identical twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss along with their business partner Divya Narendra to program a new website they want to put together called “Harvard Connection.” The way they see it, it will be a great way for the students at Harvard to connect with one another. Later, Max meets up with his best (and probably only) friend Eduardo Saverin and proposes putting together a website that he calls “The Facebook,” an online social networking tool which would be exclusive to Harvard University students. Eduardo agrees to help finance the site, and thus begins a phenomenon that just about everyone has a profile on except maybe their parents (there are several million exceptions though I’m sure). But from there on out, battle lines are drawn and the lawsuits are underway as the Winklevoss twins and Narendra claim that Zuckerberg stole their idea, Eduardo ends up suing Max for cutting him out of the whole thing even though he was a co-founder, and friends and acquaintances soon become the most bitter of enemies.
“The Social Network” is actually told in a “Rashomon” kind of way in that it jumps back and forth between different perspectives of what actually happened. We watch events progress as Max gets “The Facebook” up and running, and of the reaction his supposed business partners have when their friends set up profiles on it. You never know exactly where the film is going as it goes from one event to a litigation between an annoyed Zuckerberg and the infuriated Winklevoss twins and the deeply bitter Divya Narendra. It goes even further to another lawsuit Eduardo files against Max which indicates that this endeavor has all but terminated their friendship. Even if gives you an idea of what will happen between all these people as if the filmmakers are spoiling it all for you, it really only succeeds in intensifying the hurt feelings of everyone involved. You know this house of cards will soon collapse on all the main people involved, you just don’t know how it will exactly or how bad the damage is going to be.
Now David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin working together might not sound like a match made in heaven, and it’s easier to expect them trying to strangle one another. But together, they make cinematic magic as Fincher’s razor sharp direction more than complements Sorkin’s brilliant dialogue and story construction. This represents some of the best work of both artists, and there is nary a false note to be found in “The Social Network.” The visual elements of the film never upstage the script and vice versa. It’s a perfect marriage of sights and sounds in a story of friendship, power, and betrayal.
For some bizarre reason, I forgot just how great a writer Aaron Sorkin is (shame on me!). Ever since his unforgettable work on “A Few Good Men” and “The American President,” he has mostly worked in television where he was best known for “The West Wing,” my big brother’s favorite TV show. His next big show however, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” turned out to be a massive disappointment, and we haven’t heard much from since. But his screenplay for “The Social Network,” which itself was adapted from Ben Mezrich’s non-fiction book “The Accidental Billionaires,” is full of some of the most creative dialogue I have heard in a movie all year long. One truly standout scene comes when the Winklevoss twins meet up with Harvard President Larry Summers to discuss their desire to sue Zuckerberg. Watching Summers dryly dismissing their accusations and politely tearing them a new one as if they had no reason to bother him about this matter in the first place is so indelibly clever that it almost merits a whole play unto itself.
But much of the credit for “The Social Network’s” success belongs to the actors, all of whom were perfectly chosen for the parts they were cast in. At the top of the list is Jesse Eisenberg who has long since proven himself a very thoughtful and memorable actor in movies like “The Squid & The Whale,” “Adventureland,” and “Zombieland” (I wonder if “Fantasyland” is in his future). As Max Zuckerberg, Jesse is never afraid to make his character less than likable at times, and I admire that he and the filmmakers were never looking to whitewash him just for the sake of good press. Eisenberg makes you see how fast Zuckerberg’s mind is moving, and how his single-mindedness keeps him from seeing how others feel about the person he is or has become. You do find yourself admiring the guy in spite of himself, and Jesse really succeeds in creating a believable sense of empathy for him. It’s that empathy which makes us all want to follow along with this alienated genius to the very end. It’s a tough role, but Eisenberg nails it perfectly while delivering Sorkin’s rapid fire dialogue without missing a beat.
“The Social Network” also serves as a good showcase for a couple of actors who are about to take on some high profile acting gigs in the future. Rooney Mara only appears in a couple of scenes as Erica Albright, but her presence on the screen is quite powerful as she lays it into Zuckerberg for all he is worth to her. This proves to be a stronger showcase for her talents as opposed to her appearance in the recent remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” which really didn’t do many people any favors. Watching Rooney here actually makes me look forward to seeing her take on the role of Lisbeth Salander in Fincher’s upcoming remake of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” Noomi Rapace will be an incredibly hard actress to follow up, but it looks like Rooney Mara may very well have the chops to stand on her own.
Then you have Andrew Garfield who is more known for a role he has only just been cast in, as Spiderman (and Peter Parker of course). Before seeing here playing Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, the only other performance I see him in was “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.” In many ways, Andrew gives the film’s best performance as the most well meaning guy of the bunch who becomes the biggest victim of all. As we watch him lose control over something he helped create, Andrew makes us feel Eduardo’s vulnerability and pain of being so thoughtlessly cut out of this internet juggernaut all the more vivid and wrenching to be a witness to. We relate to Eduardo’s situation in that we have all been duped once or twice in our lives before we even realized it. This could have been a performance that could have been hopelessly melodramatic and manipulative, but Andrews makes his character so achingly real, and he makes it clear that his getting cast as the famous Marvel Comics hero was no fluke.
With Justin Timberlake, there can be no denial of his acting talents with his revelation of a performance as Sean Parker, founder of Napster. It’s no secret that David Fincher made Timberlake screen test for this role a dozen times, and it looks like all those times he hosted “Saturday Night Live” are giving him dividends we never expected him to have. True, he has done terrific acting work in films like “Alpha Dog” and “Black Snake Moan,” but his performance here feels all the more astonishing in how he seduces not just Zuckerberg, but the audience as well. Justin plays Sean Parker as the guy who gets inside your skin to take advantage because he can clearly see what your soul cries out for. Sean makes you believe that the world can be yours, and that anything and everything is possible for you and only you. Justin is exquisite in making his character seem all the more appealing to be around, almost making you completely forget that he is a back stabbing snake looking to get Eduardo Saverin out of the way.
A lot of praise is also in store for Armie Hammer who portrays the Winklevoss twins Cameron and Tyler. It helps that Fincher chose an actor most people aren’t familiar with because for awhile, I honestly thought it was two different actors playing these roles. Seeing an actor playing twins is nothing new, but it hasn’t been done this well since Nicholas Cage’s performances in “Adaptation.” Hammer gets all the specific nuances of each brother down perfectly to where you can easily tell them apart, and credit also needs to be given to Josh Pence who was a stand in for Hammer in certain scenes in the movie. You never catch yourself witnessing special effects when Hammer is onscreen, and under the circumstances, that’s truly impressive.
Seriously, even the smallest of roles in “The Social Network” are acted with the upmost skill, and no character could ever be mistaken for an easy throwaway. Actors like Max Minghella, Joseph Mazzello (all grown up now from those “Jurassic Park” years), Brenda Song, and Douglas Urbanski (so brilliant as Harvard President Larry Summers) all make great use of their time onscreen, and each leaves their mark on the viewer’s mind once they have left the cinema.
Being the Nine Inch Nails fan that I am, I also have to point out the score that Trent Reznor composed for “The Social Network” along with Atticus Ross. Their music captures how the world around everyone in this film becomes more and more mediatized as the world keeps turning and the technology keeps advancing. The electronic sound Reznor is best known for serves to also illustrate the divisions that emerge among all the characters and of how their emotions end up being drained through anger and hurt feelings that will never be fully repaired. I hope Reznor and Ross compose more scores like this in the future.
“The Social Network” is not really meant to be the definitive story of who is truly responsible for the creation of Facebook as we know it today. Indeed, no one will ever fully know what went on other than the main people involved, and while hefty settlements were made out of court, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the whole affair. Neither Fincher or Sorkin were interested in getting down to the truth of it all as much as they were observing the effect it had on everyone involved and how Facebook has come to define our generation in addition to the ones that came after it.
Frankly, I don’t give a damn if the movie is all that accurate towards the facts of each individual case. There’s always a good dose of dramatization in movies dealing with non-fiction stories, and nothing can be just as it was in real life when you make a film like this. What does matter to me if this all makes for a highly dramatic experience that holds our attention from the start to the very end, and it does just that. There are no gun fights or car chases to be found in “The Social Network,” but the emotionally damage inflicted feels every bit as visceral and brutal as an action picture.
The movie’s last scene with Max Zuckerberg sitting alone in an office in front of his laptop computer pretty much defines what we have all become in the past decade, a slave to technology and the world wide web. It makes you wonder if we will ever be able to live without it as it pretty much dictates what we take in about the world we inhabit today. Can we even remember what the world was like before the internet and all these social networking sites came along? I’m not sure I can, but it pretty much has replaced our ability to deal with other people face to face. We’re more comfortable being up front and close with our computers now than we are with other people, perhaps even our family members as well. Still, there is still a part of us yearning for that human contact which we will need when everything falls apart.
2010 has proven to be an even weaker year at the movies than 2009 (I didn’t even think that could be possible), but “The Social Network” will easily stand out as one of the best and most accomplished films of the year. Not many other films will have the staying power that this one has, and no one is giving up on Facebook like they already have with MySpace. Fincher and Sorkin once again prove to be among the masters of their trade with this cinematic triumph.
**** out of ****