The Social Network (2010) dir. David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Rooney Mara
By Alan Bacchus
After the misfire of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I refused to be completely hyped for The Social Network, despite being a devoted fan for all of Fincher’s other pictures (yes, even Alien 3). Shame on me for doubting that the man couldn’t pull off of the ultimate internet zeitgeist film, on par with the place-and-time examination of the Watergate in ‘All the President’s Men’.
It’s not too early in the cinematic life of this film to start making comparisons. After all, Facebook seems like it’s been around forever already. With the astonishing expediency of internet technology these days, I was surprised when reminded that Facebook was only born in 2004, which makes The Social Network a story of modern history. History that continues to be made, but a film that manages to throw a bullseye into the feeling of excitement and confusion of an event in the making.
Such was the case with All the President’s Men, a masterpiece which was made only 3 years after Watergate yet managed to put everything into perspective without the benefit of hindsight.
To tell the ‘story of Facebook’ Fincher has shown us the character of Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard student, long on smarts, but short on (ironically) social skills, and the controversial chain of events which led to it becoming the second most popular website in the world. It started with a girl, Zuckerberg’s break up with his girlfriend which results in him spending the night getting drunk and creating a misogynistic ‘Am I hot or not’ website for Harvard women called Facemash.com.
His skills and success of this rudimentary site catches the eyes of a group of privileged Harvard gentlemen and twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss who ask Zuckerberg to create another social media website called HarvardConnect. Zuckerberg quickly disposes of that idea and builds his own social media website, thefacebook.com. Together with his roommate Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Dustin Moskowitz Facebook is created from their dorm room. As seen in a series of court hearings in the future we know that Saverin and the Winklevosses would eventually sue Zuckerberg for stealing their ideas and in the case of Saverin, some other heinous breach of trust. The events which lead to this dissolving of friendship is both thrilling, suspenseful, humourous and sad.
If anything the opening scene is the weakest link. I understand why it’s there though, and I know people will see this conversation as a brilliant piece of writing, but in the context of the film which comes after it, it doesn’t quite fit. It feels like an Aaron Sorkin scene, its shear length, for one, makes the audience ‘notice’ the scene, and it's the only moment in the film that we are aware that we’re watching a film. But it sufficiently sets up Zuckerberg’s character and motivations for the rest of the film.
After this scene, the film is jump started with breathless pace
Fincher uses all the tools of his well-honed cinematic toolbox and his brand of matter-of-fact storytelling at it’s best. It’s the tone of Zodiac, a procedural through and through, which develops its character as it clips along with great pace. It’s also 45mins shorter which bodes well for everyone’s valuable time. Like Zodiac, Fincher positions the film without a traditional beginning or ending, throwing us right into the complicated character of Mark Zuckerberg, and ending the film with an open door, a saga which continues to be written.
While Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay sings on key better than anything he’s ever done, I’d argue that Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall’s phenomenal editing work is the stuff of real genius in this picture. The editors manage to move back and forward in time without that awful, ‘flashback’ feeling we could get otherwise. Baxter and Wall expertly cut between the hearings of Saverin’s and the Winklevoss’s case with the events in the present with such skill, if anything it feels like multitasking between open windows on one’s computer.
As fascinating as the big picture is, the film works as well as a character study. Mark Zuckerberg is fascinating. The type of smartest-guy-in-the-room character we see on shows like The Big Bang Theory, a type A geek, so full of himself, so cocksure and egomaniacal, the right kind of cutthroat attitude for American big business. We instantly feel like we know Zuckerberg, yet throughout the film he remains an enigmatic mystery. Like Citizen Kane, he’s a brilliant asshole, stepping over anyone to get what he wants, and whose motivations stem from a deep self-loathing, jealousy and need for approval. For Kane, the root was his misplaced childhood represented by the iconic Rosebud sled; for Zuckerberg, it’s the class hierarchy of the Harvard institution represented by the preppy old money ‘gentlemen’ of the Winklevosses and his lost love of Erica Albright which caps off the film with Fincher’s own version of the Rosebud reveal. It's also the best thing Jesse Eisenberg's done since the Squid and the Whale, and he should be destined for Oscar night inclusion.
As rendered by the great ensemble of actors around Eisenberg, The Social Network features Fincher’s most accessible and well drawn characters of his career. Justin Timberlake is fantastic, playing the bombastic Napster impresario Sean Parker. As much a flake as he is, he serves as the perfect enabler for Mark. Which makes their first lunch room meeting so interesting. In this scene Fincher/Sorkin are setting up the central conflict between Zuckerberg and Saverin, with Parker serving as the poisoned pill in the friendship. And in that scene, Fincher places the audience in the shoes of Saverin, sympathizing with his distaste and distrust of Parker, yet the words coming out of his mouth are profound, inspiring and most importantly, the right direction for the company. This type of complex conflict continue throughout film.
As good as All the President’s Men was for politics, The Social Network does the same for business. It’s one of the great business stories ever made in cinema, Wall Street. The Insider, even Citizen Kane.