The geeks shall inherit the earth, and The Social Network illustrates this idea throughout its narrative. Regardless of your feelings of how well the story portrays the truth of the culmination of Facebook, there’s no denying that The Social Network is a masterfully made movie that tells a clever story that is wholly relevant to our generation. It’s less about Facebook and more about the people whose ideas were pooled into the creation of Facebook. Even then, it’s not so much about accurately portraying these people as it is about raising questions about life in a post-Facebook world and forcing us to face the reality: that we as a culture now rely heavily upon the convenience of keypads and text messages to maintain social connections – that we try to make friends through the internet rather than in person.
The writing in this film is fantastic and the actors have no problem keeping up with its pacing. The idea to format the film as a retelling of events during a pair of trials was a brilliant choice. It helps foreshadow events to come, contrast the relationships across time, and illustrate how Mark Zuckerberg’s character (mind you, an acted out portrayal of a real person, not the person himself) hardly changes at all despite everything. He is the antihero, the protagonist and antagonist. The film at once bluntly illustrates what an ass he is and begs us to feel pity and sympathy for him. He is a pitiable character and yet he makes decisions to only further bury him in loneliness. The irony of his story is that he becomes the world’s youngest billionaire and yet neither fame nor fortune are in his interests. Even during his trials, he is completely nonchalant about losing millions of dollars, seeming more upset about having to sit through the formalities of the legal process than anything else. This is Jesse Eisenberg’s best role to date, to be certain – while still maintaining the traditional archetype of the socially awkward ‘nerd,’ Eisenberg rises above what we expect by playing a delicate balancing act between a heartbroken young man who is alone in the world and an arrogant, stone-hard businessman who knows his way through computers and seems to have a knack for finding success in the unexplored continent of The Internet.
The supporting cast around him is equally talented, with Justin Timberlake in particular stepping up as a brilliant Sean Parker (the creator of Napster), a mildly insane young man who aims high but is paranoid at every corner he must walk around. “What’s better than a million dollars?” he asks. “A billion dollars.” Arguably, it is actually Sean who is to blame for the story’s biggest backstabbing, and in turn emphasized how narrow Zuckerberg is in his lifestyle: he doesn’t care about women, money, parties, or paperwork – the latter being what lands him in the situation he ends up faced with through court. The Winklevoss twins, who originally come to Zuckerberg with an idea for a localized ‘Facebook’ for Harvard – and later feel betrayed when Zuckerberg takes the idea and runs with it – are played by Armie Hammer and Josh Pence. Pence ends up playing body double, but it should be noted that he had to do his part in memorizing the lines and proper body language while Armie’s face was digitally superimposed later. The twins are interesting gentlemen who may be a bit brash and uppity but have legitimate reason to be upset in the end.
Rooney Mara plays in the opening scene and shows up briefly for a couple of parts later on, pulling off a strong-willed young woman who refuses to take Zuckerberg’s attitude. She’s not in enough of the film to completely win us over but when she’s there it’s hard not to feel like she’s probably right in the judgments she makes, especially given how Zuckerberg treats her. Eduardo, Zuckerberg’s closest tie to a friend, is brilliantly portrayed by Andrew Garfield. He is the heart of the film, the guy who wants to help Zuckerberg succeed and be there for him, and yet ends up stepped on in the end. The way the two still subtly cling to their friendship even during their legal dispute was a brilliant touch. Marylin, someone who’s sitting in on the legal dispute so she can learn more about how the process works, is a key role with little screen time that Rashida Jones fills in nicely, reminding us that despite what he may or may not have done (the film actually leaves a number of areas gray), Zuckerberg is still a young man with no real social life, and she clearly pities him. And as a fan of Brenda Song (excuse me while I swoon for a moment), I was pleasantly surprised to see her in a cameo role for a few scenes as Christy, a rather hot-and-cold girlfriend to Eduardo.
The Social Network’s writing (penned by Aaron Sorkin) and excellent cast definitely put it in a class of work not every film can reach, but it’s also the direction on David Fincher’s part that rises to the occasion. From the early flurry of shots involving Zuckerberg madly hacking and blogging about his exploits from his dorm room to the dramatic rowing race to the composition of the court hearings interwoven into the tale, cinematography and structure are concise and well thought-out, enhancing the film’s pacing and meaning at points. It stretches its legs into unique waters, testing out ideas. For example, a scene in a club where Sean Parker and Zuckerberg discuss the potential of the Facebook project and the open ocean of profit that the world wide web has in store – club music blares through the whole scene, the characters shouting at each other from feet apart, leaving the audience to grasp onto their every word by necessity while crafting a genuine atmosphere through the medium of film.
The way the film starts and ends comes around full circle, posing the question, “Who is Mark Zuckerberg, and what does he care about?” in turn raising the rhetorical notion, “Who are we, and what do we care about?” Are we really any different if we spend our lives living through walls of ones and zeros, or are we worse? The Social Network shows us a world not too far gone where “friend” was not a verb, you had to actually speak with human beings to find out if someone was single or taken, and the Internet was an entity still untapped with the potential for social domination. Ultimately it makes our generation face ourselves in the reflections of our computer screens and try to figure out what we have let ourselves become and try to remember what we did with our time and what we cared about in the past. “We used to live on farms; then in cities. Now, we live on the internet.” What does that mean for our generation, and the ones to come after us? In this important time in the development of human culture, when the world is becoming unified through wireless signals and HTML, The Social Network points out extremely relevant ideas that are woven brilliantly into its narrative. It’s an important film thematically and, fortunately, a well-executed one. Zuckerberg’s character isn’t a man of antagonism or malicious intent – rather, he is a man of willing ignorance and omission, choosing to turn his head away from the world around him. By exploring his story, The Social Network illustrates the consequences of this very attitude that now plagues so much of our society. It’s a well-produced film in every regard, cutting through the code, the website, the business decisions, and digging out core elements of the human condition and observing how they have been affected by all of these layers we apply to ourselves on a daily basis. It’s fast, it’s thoughtful, and it’s polished film-making.