The Social Network

a film by David Fincher

The first thing this critic did, after seeing The Social Network, was take to his beloved Facebook and change his status update to some snarky comment about how it seemed a bit too ironic to be telling people what he thought of such a movie on such a platform - or some such nonsensical tongue-in-cheek remark. The mere fact that this was the very first thing I did after seeing David Fincher's seemingly autocratic Facebook biopic (before even driving home from the cinema, on the Facebook app on my phone!) says more about the ubiquitousness of the titular social network than anything I could add in this review. Well, that and how this movie is very possibly the director's best work yet. Many may blow the idea of this film off as nothing more than the story of Facebook - and how could that ever be made to look or seem interesting. I too had those same thoughts prior to seeing the movie. Thoughts about the manner by which the film would be designed. But then, The Social Network is about more than just the mostly frivolous, but quite addictive, Internet phenomenon at the core of this film. It is about the almost defunct idea of an individual's right to privacy in this, the Internet age, and what and where are the lines of social decorum in such an age - if even there are any lines left at all.

What is right and what is wrong? That is the central question in The Social Network. It is a question that is far-reaching and at the core of every religion and/or philosophy in world history. It is also a question that can probably never be answered with any sense of true authority. It is a question that is ambiguous as the movie itself. Some things are absolutes. It is wrong to kill or to rape (though killing, when done in self defense of to protect others could be seen as right and justifiable - rape is still an absolute). But what about the smaller things in life? Is it wrong to rush back to your dorm room, after being dumped by your girlfriend for being an asshole, and drunkenly call her a bitch on the Internet, while talking about her augmenting her breast size and comparing her and other girls to farm animals, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg does in the opening scene of The Social Network? Okay, that is probably wrong too, but that is precisely what so many people, drunk or not, are doing online every single day. That is precisely the line this movie is questioning. Questioning not if it is right or wrong, but as asked above, if it even exists at all anymore.

Another question at the heart of this film is what is truth? The girl in this opening scene from The Social Network may very well be a fabrication, created by author Ben Mezrich (from "The Accidental Billionaires, the book upon which the film is based) Mezrin never makes clear if she is real or some sort of amalgamated construct (and stories of Zuckerberg not being the dating pariah he is made out to be in the film, and actually being with the same woman for years confuses the plot even more). Construct or not, the idea of this girl spurning Zuckerberg is further propagated by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher as a sort of defining force, a spiteful inspiration if you will, for Jesse Eisenberg's movie Zuckerberg to eventually create his billion dollar social network. This is just the first of many possible and probable make-believes in this movie (enough so as to have potential lawsuits poised at the proverbial doorway) but it is not accuracy Fincher and Sorkin are going for as much as myth-making. Cinema in itself is a world of make-believes (fabrications and fantasies both) and a world of myth-making (for better or for worse) and the way Fincher can manipulate his camera and all the sundries that go with said camera (art direction, editing, lighting, sound and so on) this make-believe, this myth-making, can take on an almost epic feel, even when trapped inside closed places such as the candle and monitor-lit dorm rooms of a spectral Harvard or the fluorescent harshness of angry conference rooms. This cinematic make-believe is evident here as both a philosophical constraint and an aesthetic condition.

Yet it is not just Fincher's all-seeing camera-eye that turns a simple biopic-cum-post-millennial courtroom drama into a thing of cinematic fantasy, full of smoke and mirrors and snake charmers galore. Setting any auteuristic preconceptions aside, The Social Network is as much screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's film as it is Fincher's. Bringing the acerbic wit he has displayed on TV in such shows as The West Wing, Sports Night and the oft-maligned but quite whip-smart Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Sorkin makes each and every conversation seem like a do-or-die verbal sword fight, parrying back and forth as if some sort of allegorical reminiscence of a classic swashbuckler on the Late Late Show. A screenplay as smart as anything out there, written with much sound and fury - but this time it signifies a Hell of a lot. Tense and terse, this is all brought to double-edged life by lead Jesse Eisenberg, in a role that once and for all, showcases the caustic, yet humanistic talent evident in earlier roles such as The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland. Eisenberg's very own Charles Foster Kane. Perhaps his own post-millennial Gatsby. Scott Foundas, in Film Comment, talks of the possibility of the movie Zuckerberg being "a Holden Caulfield of the information superhighway", and this assessment may be the truest, as Zuckerberg calls out the Goddamn phonies as he sees them.

Some may call his portrayal of Zuckerberg an exercise in character assassination (playing the world's youngest billionaire as a complete and utter asshole - just as his possible make-believe girlfriend accuses him of in the opening swordplay) but one can also see it as the ironic portrayal of a socially inept, yet brilliantly ununderstandable young man who creates the very thing that will turn him into a social phenomenon and pretty much ring the death knell of basement bedroom obscurity for all those other socially awkward (but not near as intelligent) ilk out there in their own self-exiled neverneverland. An uber-Revenge of the Nerds of sorts. This critic personally finds the movie Zuckerberg (and one must indeed make a separation between real world Zuckerberg and his movie doppelganger) to be someone of unusual wit, and nowhere near the asshole he is called out on being - or wanting to be - in the movie. Perhaps that is my own assholish nature coming through but hey, one can't help that. The movie does play like a horror movie of sorts (much of its lighting and score, courtesy of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, lends to this) and perhaps such a film needs a villain.

To aside from the look and feel that Fincher and Sorkin have created (a sort of digital counterpart to Fincher's brilliantly analog Zodiac, a film that along with The Social Network, is the auteur at his best and brightest) as well as the level of assholedom inherent in the movie Zuckerberg, and delve into the story of the movie, one must first look at the man that made Facebook happen. It is the story of Mark Zuckerberg's rise from campus geek (and most-hated persona after the aforementioned drunken diatribe and all-night creation of a condescending Harvard database hacked contest comparing the hotness of the girls on campus, with a slight comparison to farm animals) to, as the title of the book the film is based on claims, accidental billionaire. Told in a non-linear style (a style that could probably go by the new moniker of Fincherian or perhaps Fincheresque) the film cuts back and forth between the past and present, as Zuckerberg is sued on two platforms seemingly, though not actually, on simultaneous fronts. Using these dual lawsuits as a sort of narrative hub, Fincher and Sorkin wrap their myth-making make-believe around these multi-million dollar arbitration to create the most fantastical insular and secluded world. An ironic twist, since the core of the story is about the creation of the world's most popular social network website.

Being sued on one front by fellow students claiming to have been the true creators of Zuckerberg's eventual Facebook project, we see Sorkin's acerbic swordplay come into full force ("If you were the creators of Facebook," Eisenberg's movie Zuckerberg thrusts at them across the conference room table, "you would have created Facebook."). In one of the truest through-lines of the movie, the lawsuit is brought forth by a set of real-life privileged twins, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss -condescendingly given the pseudo-portmanteau of the Winklevii by Zuckerberg. This is also one of the movie's most awe-inspiring feats of CGI magic, as one actor plays both the Winklevii - well almost. Forgetting the tried and true way of double exposure or split-screen, Armie Hammer plays Cameron while Josh Pence acts as body double for Tyler, with Hammer's face seamlessly CGI'd on top. We also get another of Sorkin's brilliant wordplay one-upmanships when Cameron talks tough about Zuckerberg, stating "I'm 6'5, 220 pounds, and there's two of me." Well, one and a half at least. There is an interesting scene midway through the proceedings that is not only one of the most fascinating of the entire movie, but a visual and audible explanation of what these movie Winklevii are up against. A strangely manicured rowing event (the real and movie Winklevii are Olympic rowers) that plays off as if, much like the batshitcrazy finale of P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood belonging to a different movie altogether. This unique scene - seemingly out of time as much as out of place - highlights the allegorical losing race (reputation-wise, if not monetarily) the Winklevii are rowing so hard against.

The second lawsuit-cum-narrative hub is brought forth by Zuckerberg's former best friend, and co-creator of Facebook, Eduardo Saverin, over an inevitable slight in creative rights and monetary compensation. Saverin, as played by Andrew Garfield (an up-and-comer who's star is about to go supernova as the newest Hollywood Spider-Man) comes off almost as a Joan of Arc character, wronged by all those around him. Of course this deification of the hapless Saverin probably has a lot to do with him being the main consultant on Mezrich's unauthorized bio. More make-believes or not, this is where we see the subtle cracks in the character of the movie Zuckerberg. Mostly perpetrated by the meddling of the cocksure Sean Parker, creator of Napster, who whispers in Zuckerberg's ear as if his shoulder-riding devil (played with a jarring sense of ugly reality by Justin Timberlake - can we say Oscar nomination? - in what is truly the villain role in this horror movie), this breakdown of a friendship is another acknowledgment of how the lines of social decorum have all but vanished in this modern world. A world where nothing or no one is safe from harm's way.

Can one even be sure if something is true just because they read or saw it on the Internet? Of course not. From Wikipedia to the babbling blogosphere to the right-wing chat rooms to the egregious general self-mythologizing of personality throughout, the web is full of enough inaccuracies to make even the Warren Commission sit up and say, hmmmm (an ironic reference so outdated, the vast majority of those browsing said web today probably have no idea what it even means). The cold hard fact is, there is so much shifting of truth online (making oneself seem all that better or someone else all that worse) that no one can really tell the difference anymore. In many ways, no one even cares anymore. This is something that makes the combination of Fincher's soothe-saying camera and Sorkin's acidulous pen all the more powerful a myth-maker and transforms The Social Network into some sort of melange of Rashomon and All the President's Men - the latter of which was one of the defining movies of Fincher's youth. What is truth and what do we, as a society, even care about said truth? Fincher knows this and uses this as a director of make-believe. After all, Godard did say that cinema is the world's most beautiful fraud.

I must admit now, after all is said and done, that part of my opening salvo was a revisionist history of sorts. I did add the snarky FB status update, but as parenthetically aforementioned, I actually waited until after I drove home and added it from the desktop in my office. This outright, but completely unnecessary untruth, was said partly to show an extra level of urgency in my assessment of the movie, but mainly to showcase the revisionist history in both Mezrich's book and Sorkin's screenplay. Much of what happens in The Social Network is obvious fabrication (yet all either based on truth or done for the betterment of a clean and concise narrative) but then, just like the Internet, where one can create his or her own heroic heredity out of bits and pieces of the truth (you can make anyone as good or as bad as you want), The Social Network is about more than "just the facts ma'am". It is about myth-making. It is about creating a modern day mythology of sorts.

A mythology built not on gods and goddesses and monsters and mazes, but on privilege and notoriety and media savvy. A mythology built around the idea of image in a world wide web that no one can hide from. A mythology often self-created but just as often pieced together by others. Others such as Fincher and Sorkin here, or Zuckerberg and Parker out there somewhere. A mythology based on half-truths and drunken diatribes - of self-imprisoned class structure and the unique ability to create a new such class structure. I suppose, once the smoke and mirrors finally clear, this is a mythology built on Gods and Goddesses and monsters and mazes after all. One character, late in the film, says that every myth needs a devil, and even though we are talking about Zuckerberg here (the movie Zuckerberg? The real Zuckerberg?), with The Social Network that devil could be just about anyone.

Of course, fantasies and make-believes aside, philosophical conundrums too, The Social Network is, above all else, a supremely entertaining movie. Full of both a cinematic bravura that has come to define Fincher as a director (Fincherian!) and a quick-witted, almost screwball comedy effect that has come to define Sorkin as a writer (although based on dramatic principals, the film works as sharply-twinged dark comedy as well - a technology-based throwback to those fast talking Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks screwballs of yesteryear) The Social Network can be called a great film indeed. Analyzed to death or not (and most of us critics are doing just that it would seem - but mostly in a complimentary way) the coolness, the cinematic intensity of the film comes down to the pure, unadulterated fact that The Social Network is, simply put, great cinema. But enough of this cinematic pontificating, I must now go and update my Facebook status with some snarky comment about how everything is a lie and it doesn't really matter, because truth is just a matter of opinion anyway. Facebook me if you want to know anything else. [10/10/10]