David Fincher’s The Social Network, above all else, is an exceptionally well-made film. Beautifully written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), well-acted by an atypically young cast, and carefully composed by Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac), it’s that rare kind of film where every last frame has meaning; at a brisk two hours, all the fat has been excised, leaving a surprisingly profound story that lives in the “now” and demands to be seen by contemporary audiences.
The source material isn’t sexy: taken from Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network is about Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg, and particularly the charges brought against him by former friend Eduardo Saverin, who claimed Zuckerberg screwed him out of the company, and fraternal twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, who claim Zuckerberg stole their idea.
But it’s also about so much more than that. It’s about what motivates us, how we make decisions, no less than how we operate as a societal whole. You need to see this film not because you may be interested in Facebook or Zuckerberg, those are just the specifics; you need to see this film because it represents and reflects upon the society we live in better than any other film has for this particular generation.
It’s a revelatory experience to watch something so precise and exacting and yet contemporary – it’s as if we’re watching a historical document about the time we’re living in, and learning new things about the world that surrounds us.
Of course, it’s all about love: The Social Network opens with a five-minute scene between Harvard student Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in which Zuckerberg – despite all his smarts and a 1600 SAT score – simply cannot navigate the social terrain. It’s a beautiful sequence with rat-a-tat dialogue that perfectly summarizes the film we are about to see.
Dumped by his girlfriend, Mark goes back to his dorm room, blogs about her, and creates a website: FaceMash.com, which grabs photos of girls from local colleges, pairs them up, and allows users to vote on who’s ‘hotter’.
The instantly popular site crashes Harvard’s servers and leads to a formal reprimand. Word spreads, and soon Mark is approached by the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who ask him to help with the programming of their new social networking site for Harvard students.
Zuckerberg agrees to help them, but is more interested in developing his own social networking site, which they may or may not have inspired. So with the help of his roommates and friends Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph Mazello) and Chris Hughes (Patrick Mapel), Facebook is born.
At first a Harvard-only site, popularity skyrockets as they roll it out to other campuses across the country. Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) takes notice and arranges a meeting.
There have been claims of misogyny against The Social Network, which are mostly true; almost all the women in the film are objects of desire rather than fully-dimensional characters. The problem, however, is not with the film (‘true story’ defense), but with the view of women in contemporary society. This is how these people see women; the film is just a reflection.
The cast here is extraordinary. Eisenberg and Garfield (and to a lesser extent, Timberlake) are known commodities, but they bring a conviction that allows them to disappear in their roles.
The supporting cast really surprised me, especially Hammer as the Winklevoss twins (a stand-in was utilized for shots where they appear together, on which Hammer’s face was superimposed): he’s wonderful as the two three-dimensional bully-types who are often more sympathetic than our protagonist. Mara, a Natalie Portman type, is also impressive. Every role in the film seems to have been filled by a memorable face who speaks quotable dialogue.
On a technical level, the film is flawless. Cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth (working with Fincher for the first time since Fight Club) is exceptional, dark and rapturous yet familiarly collegiate. Music by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross perfectly suits the material.
Despite the potentially mundane series of events that the film documents, Fincher keeps finding new ways to tell his story, including a rowing scene that employs the first use of tilt shift cinematography that I can recall seeing in a feature film.
The Social Network opened to rave reviews stateside, including a remarkable 97% on the Tomatometer. Expectations were high. On an initial viewing, I was left dazzled and enlightened but also a bit cold. The experience wasn’t as enthralling as Fincher’s best (Zodiac), the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to being filmed, the ending tries to wrap things up too neatly. Upon a second viewing I was completely won over: this is this generation’s All the President’s Men, a Zodiac where the killer is still out there.