"...the main purpose of criticism...is not to make its readers agree, nice as that is, but to make them, by whatever orthodox or unorthodox method, think." - John Simon

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." - George Orwell

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Social Network

A film about the creation of website – really?! Have we finally run out of ideas for stories to tell? There must’ve been something deeper, more intriguing enough to attract the likes of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher as their involvement in The Social Network (2010) gives the film a lot of credibility. Based on the “non-fiction thriller,” The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, the film chronicles the origins of the immensely popular social networking website Facebook and turns out to be a familiar story about greed, jealousy and power – a study in class warfare: old money vs. New Economy dot com millionaires. What started as an idea shared among a small group of Harvard University students eventually became the domain of one person: Mark Zuckerberg. However, after Facebook became a legitimate global phenomenon and he became a billionaire, the others wanted in on the action (and the money) and lawsuits and court battles ensued. Because the notion of authorship is in question, Sorkin and Fincher apply the structure of Citizen Kane (1941), by telling the story via flashbacks from multiple points-of-view, while viewing it all through a detached journalistic viewpoint reminiscent of All the President’s Men (1976). The end result is an engrossing, intelligent look at young, ambitious men who made something that altered the popular culture landscape forever.

Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is super smart but socially inept, saying all the wrong things and this is readily evident in the film’s prologue when his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) dumps him, and seals the deal by telling him that he’s an asshole. Motivated by being dumped in public, he vents his frustration on his blog with a vicious diatribe. To get his mind off it, Zuckerberg creates a website called “Face Mash” comparing all the girls at school with each other. He does this by hacking his way into other websites on campus. With the help of his friend and fellow classmate, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Face Mash becomes a hit – so much so that it crashes the school’s computer network. Fincher quickly establishes Zuckerberg as a computer programming genius and, along with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ pulsating electronic soundtrack, actually makes the sequence where the proto-Facebook website is created look cool. Reznor and Ross’ dark, brooding score perfectly complements Fincher’s often gloomy, atmospheric imagery. The director juxtaposes this sequence with a party at the school’s most exclusive club, the Phoenix S-K Final Club, in order to show how they both end up objectifying women, reducing them to sex objects for horny, young men.

Zuckerberg is busted for invasion of privacy and is approached by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) who have created a crude prototype of Facebook and they ask him to merge his ideas with their own. In return, they’ll introduce him to the higher social strata of Harvard. However, Zuckerberg’s gateway to the big time occurs when he meets Sean Parker (Justine Timberlake), the co-creator of the Napster, an infamous and very popular music file sharing website. Parker is a persuasive speaker and his slick ways impresses Zuckerberg as he sells him on the potential of Facebook on a global scale. Parker introduces Zuckerberg to nightclubs and, more importantly, appeals to his antisocial tendencies. Justin Timberlake does a fantastic job of playing Parker as a smooth-talking salesman cum New Millennium con man who is smart enough to recognize the Next Big Thing, latch onto it and ride it out to fame and fortune. He delivers a playful performance and there’s more than a whiff of a master manipulator as Parker comes across as someone who had an ethics bypass at birth. There is a delicious irony seeing a slick performer like Timberlake playing a slick entrepreneur like Parker. It’s like Parker is the Silicon Valley Tyler Durden from Fight Club (1999) to Zuckerberg’s socially awkward hacker. Parker is Zuckerberg’s unchecked id as he surreptitiously drives a wedge between the young programmer and his best friend Saverin.

Jesse Eisenberg is a revelation as he’s cast against type in The Social Network. Known for playing stuttering, loveable neurotic characters in films like The Squid and the Whale (2005) and Adventureland (2009), he shifts gears to play an aggressively ambitious nerd. His take on Zuckerberg is that of an extremely logical person with loads of talent to burn and who is motivated by rejection. He comes across as an insensitive prick that doesn’t have the time for people who can’t keep up with him and his fast mind. The film posits that the main motivational factor for him doing what he did was to climb the social ladder, to make money and to be the head of an exclusive club where he has the power to accept or reject people instead of being the one on the outside looking in. However, when it gets down to it being spurned by Erica was the prime motivator for Zuckerberg creating Facebook.

After making the popular tear-jerker The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Fincher returns to the moody, journalistic approach he took with Zodiac (2007), but where the latter was a slow burn over almost three hours, The Social Network moves along at a very brisk two hours as the talented young cast delivers Sorkin’s wordy screenplay in his trademark rat-a-tat-tat style. This film is absolutely dense with dialogue, even topping Zodiac with all of its scenes of theorizing about the identity of a serial killer. Sorkin had just come off the high profile flop of his short-lived television show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and this film sees him back on familiar turf with fast-talking cocky characters antagonizing each other. His dialogue his smart and funny as it gets to the heart of the matter – providing Zuckerberg’s motivation and doing a great job chronicling just how Facebook came to be in an engaging way. Fincher and Sorkin have pulled off quite an accomplishment with The Social Network by making an entertaining and engrossing film about the creation of a website. The irony is that Zuckerberg created Facebook as a way for people to acquire friends and connect with each other while he is a deeply antisocial person who doesn’t really care about having friends. Of course, he’s now a billionaire, which I’m sure cushions the blow but the film leaves the lingering impression that he still wants to be with Erica and that this is something that no amount of money will make go away.


  1. Imagine if they had made a movie about the creation of MySpace, how outdated it would feel.

    I wonder if Facebook will die someday, this movie will be like a memoir of those days when Facebook was all anybody could give a shit about.

    It's weird, most people with a computer will log on to Facebook at least two or three times a day...its addictive, but will it ever die out? How long will it last?

    Im glad you gave this one a positive review, I personally dont know what to expect from it. I do love Fincher as a director, but I dont know how this one will play out. Curious about it! Thanks for the review!

  2. A fine review, J.D. I'm hoping to take this in soon. The mix of Fincher directing and Sorkin writing is certainly inviting.

    "There is a delicious irony seeing a slick performer like Timberlake playing a slick entrepreneur like Parker."

    When I read this, what came to mind was that point in cinema history when Frank Sinatra played Maggio in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. Given the buzz Justin is receiving on THE SOCIAL NETWORK, is Parker that kind of Oscar/career moment for Timberlake?

    I'm looking forward to checking out this film, J.D. Thanks.

  3. The Film Connoisseur:

    I will admit that I had my doubts going into this film but Sorkin delivers a really smart, fast-moving script and then you've got Fincher's fantastic, atmospheric look coupled with Trent Reznor's ominous, moody score. Let me tell ya, that's a great combo and it plays well as the film unfolds.

    It will be interesting to see how this film ages and if/when Facebook becomes a dying fad or mutates into something else, this film will serve as a great snapshot of when it was a big deal.


    I think you will dig it. I thought the film was very good. I don't know where I'd rank it among Fincher's other films. I think it would have to take a least another viewing or two to sort that out.

    It should be interesting to see once awards season arrives if this film not only racks up the nominations but actually wins anything. So far the buzz is pretty good but that could all change with some late arrival of a prestige film. We shall see.

  4. "The end result is an engrossing, intelligent look at young, ambitious men who made something that altered the popular culture landscape forever."

    Aye J.D. Your basic conclusion here is irrefutable, but you qualified it with a deft examination of the actors and crastsman who made this film so impressive. Perhaps teh critics may be going abit too far (it's no CITIZEN KANE) but it's about as effective a film one could imagine for this new-millenium phenomenon that has altered the lives of so many. I must say I was really impressed with teh screenplay and Eisenberg's performance most of all.

  5. Another wonderful review. I walked into The Social Network pretty skeptical. I truly despised Fincher's last film, but he made up for it with this film. It sucked me in and was engrossed, even if I don't ultimately care about the subject--even though I utilize facebook. That's pretty good filmmaking.

  6. Sam Juliano:

    I agree that it certainly isn't up to the lofty standards of KANE but they certainly incorporate some of that film's structure. To me, it seemed much closer to a film like ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN.

    And yeah, Eisenberg was very good. It's nice to see him trying to break out of the stereotypical roles he had sorta boxed himself into.

    Cinema Du Meep:

    Yeah, the subject matter of THE SOCIAL NETWORK didn't grab me either going in to it but I have to say the film won me over and I was throughly engrossed and engaged. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Great writeup. My bro saw it recently. He enjoyed it.

  8. Keith:

    Thanks, Keith! Yeah, it is quite good. I think you'd dig it also.

  9. I'm torn:

    I love Fincher and I love Sorkin.

    I do NOT love Eisenberg or Timberlake.

    Do I go for the art of directing and writing and suck it up with actors I do not like or do I skip it despite the work behind the scenes I'd probably like?

  10. Will:

    Go see it. I think you will like it. Fincher gets amazing performances out of Eisenberg and Timberlake. No kidding. And Sorkin's dialogue is just incredible. Excellent film.

  11. Zuckerberg is portrayed as a kniving genius that betrayed his only friend. He seems a little more normal and well-adjusted in real life, but still seems very awkward. The movie was really intriguing, and is one of the best movies of the year so far.

  12. poker affiliate resource:

    I find it interesting that Fincher et al say that they saw him in a very sympathetic light because the film really doesn't convey that at all! Well, maybe a bit towards the end. But yeah, in real life he seems very socially awkward but hey, he's worth billions so I guess he's not sweating it.

  13. Hey J.D.! I've come over to check out your blog after seeing you frequently comment over at John Kenneth Muir's site.

    I saw the short trailers on TV for The Social Network and must admit that I was not impressed. But after hearing Aaron Sorkin and some of the cast being interviewed on NPR before the film was released I decided that the film sounded very interesting and that I would go see it.

    Quite frankly, I found it to be my personal favorite film of the past 10+ years. Why? There are lots of reasons but I feel like I can identify with all of the main characters in the film to some extent. The Mark Zuckerburg character's longing for love at the end of the film, for example. (By the way, Roger Ebert noted in his review that the Erica character is fictional.) But the others as well. Like the Eduardo Saverin character's loss of a friendship. Or how the characters of the Winkelvoss twins and Divya Narendra felt screwed over by Mark. Who hasn't felt something similar before? Certainly few of us have lost out on big money but I bet most of us have lost loves or friends or have felt cheated out of something in our lives. I refer to everyone here as "characters" simply because after doing some reading there are aspects-some would say quite a few-of the film that aren't necessarily historical fact. Even so, in my opinion that doesn't take away from how good the film really is.

    Facebook has, for better or worse, changed most everyone's life to some extent. I was a freshman in college when I joined thefacebook on December 9, 2004. (I still have the confirmation e-mail.) While most films that deal with the college experience tend to focus solely on gratuitous sex and gross out humor, The Social Network provides a much more accurate view of college life. Although I didn't go to an Ivy League school there are certain universal things that happen on all college campuses such as forming friendships, the search for love and/or sex, pranks, athletics, academics, etc. The use of Facebook changed all of these interactions. Many would say for the worse, but there are people that I am friends with now whom I wouldn't even know if it were not for Facebook. I guess it is hard to put into words but the film just seems to really capture the feel of college life. Peter Travers, a film critic who I don't always agree with, made a list of films that helped to define certain generations. Besides The Social Network his list included such films as The Graduate, the aforementioned All the President's Men and Fincher's own Fight Club, which ironically I do not like at all. What all of these films have in common, though, is that they speak very profoundly to a certain group of people. Simply put, The Social Network spoke very profoundly to me.

  14. Grayson:

    Wow, what a great comment! I am certainly on the same page with you re: THE SOCIAL NETWORK. The second time 'round seeing the film I appreciated it even more and I have a feeling that it will be even better on DVD where you can watch it all you want. It really is quite interesting when you think about how the creation of a website can be such fodder for drama but when you have the kind of personalities that butted heads while Facebook was being put together I guess it is hardly surprising what happened. Still, very compelling stuff indeed. Thank you so much for that fantastic observations.

  15. Totally blown away by the fact, that a film about Facebook directed by David Fincher, can be a big-time Oscar contender. Loved it almost from start to finish, hope it gets awards come Oscar time. Nice post, check out my review when you can!

  16. CMrok93:

    I know! Who woulda thought such an intriguing, fascinating film could come out of the creation of a website and now it is a bonafide contender for Academy Award nominations. I really hope Trent Reznor gets a nod for the soundtrack...