David Fincher’s The Social Network is not “The Facebook Movie”. Yes, the plot centers on the creation of the landmark social networking website, but it’s not about Facebook. It’s about inspiration, betrayal, the weight of human relationships, the cost of success, and so much more. It just so happens that Facebook’s creation story is a good way to explore these themes. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin thought to brilliantly tell that story through multiple perspectives, and Fincher’s thoughtful and restrained direction showcases some of the best narrative editing in years. Add Sorkin’s catchy, crackling dialogue and memorable performances from a terrific cast and it doesn’t really matter that the film’s about Facebook. What matters is that The Social Network is moviemaking at its finest.
The film kicks off with a rapid-fire, dialogue-heavy scene between Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his soon-to-be-girlfriend (Rooney Mara) that only Sorkin could write. It’s an opening scene that most films would kill to have as it lays its protagonist bare while still keeping him intriguing and hints at the motives that would drive him to create one of the most popular, influential, and lucrative inventions of all-time. It’s been said that “This is the movie Facebook (i.e. Zuckerberg) doesn’t want you to see,” but the Zuckerberg presented in The Social Network is almost a tragic figure. Every mean-spirited barb he throws out is something we wish we had the wit to say and yet the script and Eisenberg’s phenomenal performance makes us pity the man who feels like he has to say such hurtful things in the first place. Where Facebook and Co. may take umbrage isn’t in Mark’s Sorkin-scripted-words, but Zuckerberg’s supposed actions.
And it’s in trying to show those actions that the film presents its killer story structure. The Social Network is told through two depositions for two different lawsuits. One lawsuit is from the Aryan poster-child twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and their partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) alleging that Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook and forestalled the creation of a rival site. The other is from Zuckerberg’s former friend and business partner, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Through this layered storytelling, the notions of heroes and villains are laid aside and we see that on the road to the creation of this monumental website, there’s enough credit/blame to go around.
Wandering into these shades of gray, Fincher has created his most restrained and subtle film to date. The Social Network could have easily fallen into a trap of over-stylized and distractingly-flashy effects, but Fincher must have realized he wasn’t making “The MySpace Movie” and instead opted for approach that’s as clean and crisp as Facebook’s layout. Fincher finds his energy in the script, the acting, and with Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall’s superb editing. Watching Mark drunkenly burn through code as he hacks the websites of every dorm in Harvard is as exciting as most big-budget action scenes.
While Fincher’s films always feature great performances, The Social Network is perhaps his most acting-reliant film to date and his cast does not disappoint. Eisenberg deserves an Oscar nomination for his work here. He doesn’t take for granted that his character has some amazing lines and instead finds the humanity in someone so smart and yet so sad and angry. To argue whether or not he’s doing an accurate representation of the real Mark Zuckerberg is missing the point completely. As a fully-realized person existing within the confines of the story being told, Eisneberg has crafted a character who is a tragic hero, anti-hero, and misunderstood evil genius all rolled up into one charismatic hoodie-and-sandals-wearing ball of energy.
Eisenberg steals the show a bit, but the rest of the cast turns in wonderful performances that show off the same restraint and balance seen in Fincher’s directing. Garfield plays a sweet innocent but doesn’t shy away from Saverin’s foolishness. Justin Timberlake gives a smart performance as Sean Parker, a savvy entrepreneur whose opportunism never goes off to the point where it feels moustache-twirlingly nefarious. Hammer does wonderful work of putting us on the side of the Winklevoss Twins and how they wrestle with the question of whether they should handle the theft of their billion-dollar idea with dignity and honor, or just beat Zuckerberg into a fine powder. Everyone in this cast delivers and they make their characters more than just figures submitted for our adoration or scorn.
But my favorite aspect of The Social Network is the writing. I’ve been a huge fan of Sorkin for years. If A Few Good Men is playing on TV, I’ll stop what I’m doing and watch it, and I refuse to acknowledge that The West Wing continued past season four. Sorkin’s writing is sharp, witty, memorable, uplifting, thoughtful, and plenty of other positive adjectives that would slow down the flow of this sentence even more. The dialogue electrifies the scenes but never overshadows the pathos or rich thematic subtext, and using the depositions as framing device is a stroke of genius. Sorkin and Fincher balance each other perfectly and I hope that they’ll collaborate again in the future.
All the individual elements of the film make The Social Network more than just the creation story of a popular website. When Fincher compares the movie to Citizen Kane or Sorkin compares it to Rashomon, they’re not being self-congratulatory. They’re being accurate, not just in how The Social Network shares themes or storytelling devices, but in overarching themes about deep regrets and complicated truths. You don’t have to know what the “Like” button is or even like Facebook to appreciate this film. The Social Network is for people who like smart, entertaining, thoughtful, and emotionally-satisfying films.
There’s some irony in the fact that I’m writing a review of the Facebook movie…for my Facebook page.
“The Social Network” is director David Fincher’s fascinating look at the birth of Facebook, and the men responsible for its creation. It is a story of entrepreneurship and theft, and of friendship and betrayal. More than anything else, though, it is a study of Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook’s enigmatic creator, and the world’s youngest billionaire. Thrown into the mix are some intriguing concepts of greed, integrity, and intellectual property rights, elevating “The Social Network” from a simple biopic to a critique of our culture.
After being dumped by his girlfriend, Mark (Jesse Eisenberg), at the time a student at Harvard, takes revenge by setting up “Facemash.com”. By hacking into the Harvard student image directories, Mark creates a website enabling guys to rank girls based on their “hotness.” His project is wildly successful – the flood of network traffic that night brings the Harvard campus network to its knees. Impressed by his work, the two Winklevoss brothers contact him with an idea of their own: an elite, Harvard-only online social network (primarily for dating purposes). But Mark – along with his friend and roommate Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) – isn’t interested in creating a mediocre MySpace imitation. He takes the Winklevosses’ idea and modifies it, crafting a similar website but without using any of the brothers’ code. The resulting site – TheFacebook.com – instantly becomes a massive success on campus.
But of course, innovation requires money. Mark appoints Eduardo as the company’s Chief Financial Officer, tasking him with the financial management of the fledgling corporation. A conflict soon mars their relationship – Eduardo believes the company needs on-site advertising in order to remain viable, while Mark feels advertising will make TheFacebook “uncool.” To settle the dispute, Mark calls in Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), famed founder of the illegal-music-sharing website Napster. Sean has plenty of suggestions for TheFacebook (including a slight name change, to “Facebook”) but Eduardo is uncomfortable with Sean’s involvement. The resulting disagreement sends Mark and Eduardo to opposite sides of the country: Mark (along with Sean and a team of programmers) moves to California to continue developing Facebook, while Eduardo moves to New York in an attempt to solicit financial support for the website.
From this point, the story follows the pattern of many corporate dramas. I won’t spoil any key plot elements, but suffice it to say that the actions taken by Mark and Sean torpedo their relationship with Eduardo.
Perhaps the most interesting element of “The Social Network” is the way in which the director depicts Mark’s transformation from a naive, nerdy college student into a ruthless, cold-hearted businessman. This is accomplished predominantly through the toxic influence of Sean, whose “cool” persona is hopelessly alluring to Mark. Sean’s utter lack of concern for the welfare of others rubs off on Mark, leading to the breakdown of his relationship with Eduardo. “The Social Network” also serves as a sharp critique of our society’s obsession with success. Even at Harvard, Mark’s fixation with Facebook-oriented projects alienates those around him. He gains some measure of notoriety after the initial releases of Facemash and TheFacebook, but such popularity ultimately proves superficial. By the end of the film, he has emerged as an arrogant businessman with no real friends – a lonely billionaire.
Issues of faith and worldview are never directly addressed. Mark and his business partners frequently act amorally, making decisions without considering their ethical consequences. Characters frequently act out in petty, vindictive ways throughout the course of the film.
From a cinematic standpoint, “The Social Network” is outstanding. The performances by Eisenberg and Timberlake are especially notable – Eisenberg is perfectly believable as the slightly tortured genius Mark, while Timberlake perfectly captures Sean’s egotistic, devil-may-care attitude. A tightly plotted script – alternating between college flashbacks and future lawsuits – keeps the story moving along at a fast pace.
As anyone who’s seen the trailers already realizes, there are some content issues (mainly due to frequent scenes of college partying). The movie contains several sexual situations (nothing extended or explicit) and a few scenes where female characters are wearing little more than lingerie. There are a few harsh expletives (including f-words) thrown in as well. Overall, “The Social Network” earns its PG-13 rating, and would likely not be suitable for viewers younger than 15 or 16.
“The Social Network” is a masterful piece of filmmaking. As a corporate drama, it works perfectly. However, as an factual biography…it may not be quite so exceptional. The film portrays Mark Zuckerberg as an insensitive egomaniac (albeit a haunted one). One can only wonder how the real Zuckerberg would respond to the film’s allegations – and as many of the facts surrounding the birth of Facebook are surrounded in clouds of legal secrecy, “The Social Network” may or may not be entirely accurate. In the coming weeks, there will probably be a good deal of speculation about the truth behind the movie.
Should you see it? If you’re reasonably interested in the modern Internet culture, or if you enjoy business-related dramas, “The Social Network” is for you. There are some problematic elements, but the target audience for this film is reasonably adult (I didn’t see anyone under 15 when I went to the theater). “The Social Network” is a well-acted, well-directed warning against obsession and greed that will likely prove thought-provoking for many members of our society.
At the very least, you’ll be thinking about it the next time you check your Facebook.
An eye-opening story of one man’s struggle for success, regardless of the cost.
Normalized Score: 6.9