David Fincher is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest filmmakers alive at the moment. Ever since his first masterpiece, Seven, he has been churning out good film after good film, winning favour with critics and the public alike. It is also evident, however, that he is a director obsessed with the darker things in life, and a good majority of his films explore themes of death, obsession and more death (two of his films are about a serial killer; most of them have death of some sort in there). All in all, then, The Social Network is different from everything we’ve seen from the man so far. And it is truly brilliant.
After a barnstorming pre-credits sequence, introducing Mark Zuckerberg (played fantastically by Jesse Eisenberg), Rooney Mara (the next Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Aaron Sorkin’s gifted ear for dialogue and what we are all like at heart, we are launched head-first into the world of a misunderstood nerd, and how what began as a spiteful jab at his (ex) girlfriend became the internet phenomenon of the decade.
It never stops for let-up, and despite the initially talky nature of the film, it rockets past at a breakneck speed, the dialogue moving faster than a high-speed train, and the plot developments occurring at a rate of knots. You had better pay attention in this film, because the moment you let your concentration lapse, the next piece of the puzzle is filled in, and you will be utterly confused for a while afterwards. In terms of sheer speed, it harks back to His Girl Friday. And that is saying something.
It is also possibly the most ironic film ever made: how can the quintessential nerd (few friends, no tact with girls and most importantly, no social life) create the ultimate social tool? Even more ironic is how he loses so much of his life to the creation of this website. His best friend leaves him, and his main contributor in terms of finance (Sean Parker, played with gusto by Justin Timberlake) gets arrested for doing drugs at a house party, which is a celebration of Facebook’s success (a party which Zuckerberg should almost definitely be attending. When asked why he didn’t go to the party, he tells us ‘they are all animals’). It shows how absorbed one can become in ‘the ultimate social tool’, and how it can ruin your social life just as much as it can enrich it.
The acting is truly beyond anything we could have reasonably expected from everyone involved. Eisenberg gives it his as the conflicted nerd; every line is dripping in an understanding that only comes from superior direction, screenplay, and acting. Andrew Garfield is excellent as Zuckerbergs only friend, Eduardo Saverin, a man torn between his best friend and his life, and he pulls it off with such conviction that you feel genuine sorrow for him as he is misused, abused, and generally wafted about by everyone in particular involved in Facebook.
But the real surprise is Justin Timberlake. His character may be a bit more one-note (he wanders on, makes promises, drifts around, womanises, and ultimately gets arrested), but he is played with such a cocky reassurance that we can’t help but stand back and allow ourselves to be drawn in to his declarations of how good it will all be. And while it is difficult to tell at this stage, there might be a very promising career ahead of him.
While this will be typecast in years to come as ‘the Facebook movie’, it really is about a lot more than just the creation of Facebook. There are the dark levels of irony running through it, and there is a distinct lack of computer babble about how it got created. Instead we are viewing the effects of such a creation. About the humanities surrounding the world of social networking. About how sometimes being clever is not a good thing. About how the loss of something can result in an even greater loss. About how money doesn’t matter. About just about everything.
One of the greatest scenes in the film shows the ‘Winklevi’ (twins who sue Zuckerberg for stealing their idea) going to see the university principal about how they were stitched up by Zuckerberg and how they were robbed of their great idea. The principal does not see how big a deal this is. He merely tells them that there is a place for this that exists outside of school, the court. In fact, there is a great line in this film where, upon being sued by the Winklevoss twins he claims that ‘if you had invented Facebook you would have invented Facebook’. It is a clever line, one of many zingers in the film, and it shows exactly what the whole film is about.
Zuckerberg treats the whole affair of being sued with nonchalance, and makes no secret of the fact that he has been doodling in his notebook the whole time. Saverin tells us that ‘he doesn’t care about money’ and this line alone allows a peek into a complex character that has created one of the most profitable businesses in the world at the moment. We are given no real explanation as to why he does what he does, other than to improve on Winklevoss’s idea.
The very fact that he is still alive doubles the mystery of this character, and you can’t help but wonder what Zuckerberg thought of the film. There are a number of dubious websites which offer quotes about his thoughts on the film, but I think that this would be one step of analysis too far. The very fact that we don’t know makes for a more complex character, and an overall more satisfying film.
The ending is perfect, and brings the whole saga to a natural close. It sees Zuckerberg friend requesting Rooney Mara, the girl who started the whole thing in the first place. As the Beatles kicks in and we see Zuckerberg endlessly pressing refresh, hoping for her to accept, we accept that this is as much as we are going to see of this man.
It is also the first sign we see that he actually longs for a female companion (he declines an offer to go to dinner from a woman who could be potentially interested in, and he neglects his other time girlfriend in the film). It is a combination of all the good things about this film, the performances, the soundtrack, the sense of loss. It highlights this films position as one of the best of the year. It is a masterpiece.