One of the defining stories of the last decade is the rise of social networking. At the moment, no one knows if this is a lasting revolution that will carry through the generations, or something that will exhaust its 15 minutes of fame soon. Whatever it is, it is best symbolized by Facebook, which changed the way this current generation socializes with each other. Yet the irony is that although 500 million people ‘friend’ each other, they owe their thanks to an extremely anti-social young man. At least, that is the official story of The Social Network, which David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin recreate, and challenge, in their distinctive fashions.
Today, Mark Zuckerberg is among the top 40 richest men in America, who is currently worth even more than Steve Jobs. But in fall 2003, Zuckerberg was an anonymous Harvard student that never stood out to anyone, and eventually repelled those he did get close to. A particularly painful rejection led him to create a girl-ranking website, which got the attention of the rich Winklevoss twins. Their initial idea for a Harvard social network is expanded on – or stolen – by Mark, who turns it into the increasingly popular “The Facebook” With financial aid from his only real friend, Edwardo Savarin, Mark becomes the toast of Harvard, and attracts the attention of Internet entrepreneur Sean Parker. But as “Facebook” becomes a worldwide phenomenon, the professional – and personal – collateral damage piles up just as quickly.
The very concept of a Facebook movie puzzled many, especially when David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, of all people, attached themselves to it. Not only is The Social Network the farthest thing from Fincher’s usual subject matter, it is even more out of place on Sorkin’s resume. Fincher made his bones on dark crime dramas, while Sorkin generally writes about fast talking politicians. Yet by branching out, and doing it together, The Social Network may go down as a major turning point for both of their careers.
Fincher has always shown a lot of style, but he dials it down here since he doesn’t have to be the whole show. Yet he has more than enough of it to give Sorkin’s script a visual edge, in tandem with his verbal fireworks. The Social Network is basically two hours of rapid fire Sorkin dialogue, but it alone can’t carry a movie – despite coming as close as possible. Fincher’s contributions are what Sorkin has always been missing from his work, and vice versa, making this the rare super powered writer/director combo that lives up to the hype.
However, The Social Network is quintessential Sorkin, with so many fast-talking exchanges that one can’t digest them all the first time. Yet not only is this vintage Sorkin, it is also a vintage rags-to-riches American tale, with Facebook as a mere jumping point. For all of the arguing over how likable Zuckerberg is, it ultimately means nothing – because if he was more likable, Facebook and its cultural impact would never have happened. It isn’t always the most likable people that change the world, and in fact, it is often because of their faults and foibles that they manage to do it. If anything, Zuckerberg is a true product of our own often unlikable social order, and therefore the ideal person to take it a step further.
Even if The Social Network doesn’t answer if Zuckerberg stole Facebook, it shows how he took the social experience around him, and advanced it in his own unique fashion. Sorkin makes Zuckerberg into a sponge, as he absorbs ideas, his environment and much of life in general, then puts his own digital spin on it – despite not having the tools to be a part of it himself. Ironically, in recreating the exclusive, elitist atmosphere of Harvard, Facebook grew to include the entire world. Yet The Social Network shows how it, and Zuckerberg, were a product of their environment and culture – leaving us to wonder what products and Zuckerbergs we are forming in today’s Facebook culture.
Not only are the most flawed people often the perfect ones to change things, but it is often the most bitter as well. At various points, Zuckerberg, Savarin, Parker and the Winklevosses make their biggest moves out of fury or spite – like so many great and terrible decisions are born out of. The Social Network takes a dim view on what inspires great minds – particularly male minds – to do anything. But if it was any other way, things would have turned out a lot differently, and maybe not all for the better.
These lessons may not be absorbed right way, since it’s enough of an effort just to follow along with The Social Network at first. With Sorkin hurling his words faster than ever, and Fincher making depositions and typing seem breathless, the movie can be a chore to take in. But it may be one of those films in which new layers and themes can be unpeeled with every viewing. At the least, it should be easier to follow the faster exchanges a second and third time.
Though Fincher and Sorkin are the headliners, The Social Network is set to make new stars out of its actors, or take them to a new level of stardom. Jesse Eisenberg drew countless Michael Cera comparisons in The Squid and the Whale, Adventureland and Zombieland, but Cera has never had a character like Mark Zuckerberg. Eisenberg may be the only actor who could have pulled Zuckerberg – or rather this version of him – off like this, as he and Sorkin bring his aggravating brilliance to life. Yet every so often, Eisenberg shows a moment, exchange or a glare in which Zuckerberg’s guard drops, making it harder to dismiss him as a total robot.
On the other end of things, Andrew Garfield wears his heart on his sleeve, and makes Edwardo the more overt emotional center of the film. Eisenberg and Garfield, like Mark and Edwardo, balance each other out just right, although Garfield runs away with the movie’s most searing moments. Armie Hammer is the movie’s biggest special effect as both Winklevoss twins, but he makes it more than a gimmick, while Rooney Mara makes a major impact in just a few scenes. Rashida Jones gets the film’s most telling line as Zuckerberg’s lawyer, but Brenda Song is a mere caricature as a Facebook groupie.
Justin Timberlake is the most risky casting choice, but not for the obvious reasons. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Timberlake impress, as he makes Sean Parker a reptilian mirror image of Mark, yet someone whose contributions also can’t be dismissed. However, unlike Eisenberg and Garfield, it is harder to see Timberlake sink into his character, given his star power and image. This will likely be a recurring problem for Timberlake as his movie career deepens, yet he’s earned the right to take it on.
The greatest obstacle for The Social Network may be its own hype, after the insanely high rave reviews and Oscar buzz. In addition, it has not only been called the film of today’s generation, but this generation’s Citizen Kane or Great Gatsby. Of course, since we don’t know what Facebook will be in future generations, this could easily be a relic before long.
Yet since Fincher and Sorkin have crafted something that goes beyond Facebook, The Social Network should be able to endure, even if its inspiration doesn’t. After all, the kind of people who created it, the circumstances that formed them, and the world they in turn formed, aren’t going away anytime soon.