The Social Network (2010): United States – directed by David Fincher
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains language, some sexual content, disturbing behavior
Note: I attended an early preview screening, and I am unsure whether the film was in its final, finished form. The print I saw ran just under two hours in length and was rated PG-13.
Mark Zuckerberg is an antihero for the new generation of young adults. He is narcissistic, bitter, angry, and brilliant. He is brooding, lonesome, witty, and incredibly successful. Most of all, he understands “cool” as it pertains to the internet age, well before any of the suits could get their heads wrapped around the concept.
Jesse Eisenberg is Zuckerberg in The Social Network. He is nervous and fidgety, but supremely confident in his words and his methods. As the film opens he is a sophomore at Harvard. His opening date with Erica (Rooney Mara) is a disaster; he picks at her words and deals a number of backhanded compliments. Once he’s been rightfully dumped for being an insensitive cad, he returns to his dorm and blogs about Erica on LiveJournal. As he types and drinks he hits upon a new idea. He’ll create a website that allows users to choose one girl over another, rating their hotness. When the site is finished later that night Zuckerberg watches as traffic streams in and crashes the Harvard servers.
Inspired by his success, and undaunted by the repercussions of his hacking, he begins to build a new site. This one will take the entire college experience and put it on the web, in an exclusive, friendly manner. He builds the site with some financing from his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), whom he names CFO. As it grows he finds new partners, including a flamboyant playboy by the name of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, playing the Napster founder).
The film intercuts Zuckerberg’s experience creating the website with the two lawsuits he faced a few years later. In one, fellow Harvard scholars Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Joshua Pence and Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) are suing him for the rights to what they claim is their intellectual property. In the other lawsuit Zuckerberg’s only friend, Eduardo, is suing him for allegedly ousting him from the now-successful company.
The story is more interesting than it might initially sound, but it is Zuckerberg who is most fascinating. He is an immediately identifiable character to many of today’s young adults. He broods, cares little for what anyone else may say, and is unquestionably a genius. But he is miserable, and his life of seeking revenge on an ex-girlfriend and the best friend who was picked by a coveted final club eventually betrays him. A brilliant final shot captures his situation; all the wealth a young man could want, but lacking a friend of any kind.
The story is timely in a number of ways. The characters in it have already changed the way the world works. The braggart Parker isn’t afraid to let people know that he altered the record industry, and he’s right. Zuckerberg’s Facebook has already had a wider-reaching and deeper impact on the world of every teenager, college student, and young adult. Now our generation’s grandparents are sending us friend requests.
But his motivation isn’t money. Initially he merely wants to be noticed by the final clubs, because that is where the jocks have fun. They have the parties, and the girls, and their exclusivity gives them a kind of “cool” that a nerd like Zuckerberg can only imagine. His site is an ongoing middle finger to the pretty and popular people of the world. He wants to have the parties, wants to be involved, but by the time the 1,000,000th member party takes place he stays in the office. His success is his life, and he forgoes attachment to any actual person.
Zuckerberg is an antihero because he is detached. He understands “cool,” and knows that if he sells “cool” it ceases to be “cool.” It must be provided for free until the opportune time. He is a miserable person no one should admire or look up to, but he is fascinating at the same time; his financial success and the methods used to achieve it are immensely entertaining. He is sympathetic and a douchebag, simultaneously. And Eisenberg’s portrayal is perfect.
David Fincher takes a step back directorially, allowing instead the story and characters to take center stage. His stylistic flourishes that worked so brilliantly in Fight Club are more subdued. The film is still very dark, with a palette almost entirely composed of grays. Even sunny California hardly fares any better, with the grays turning into the muted yellows of Zodiac. He also makes brilliant use of a pulsating, almost eerie score from Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. A particularly effective sequence plays a synthetically disturbing rendition of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” over a rowing race down Henley-on-Thames.
The Social Network is a fascinating film, as it has a fascinating central character. Many themes permeate the movie, just a few of which are given brief mention here. Another viewing and a longer essay could provide much enlightenment concerning The Social Network and the generation of young adults about and for whom it was made. It is perhaps not quite perfect, but that is hardly a fault. I was not expecting the ending to occur when it did, and therein failed to experience much of a climax, but this was merely because I was so absorbed in Zuckerberg and his story that I hardly noticed that a natural ending was in sight. Suffice to say that it is a remarkable film, and one that will surely not be ignored come Oscar season.