There is every reason to suspect that The Social Network follows the now-worn out narrative path of a revenge-of-the-nerd tale that is practically synonymous with any chronicle of a successful tech company. Yet what director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin manage to pull off is a much deeper, darker story. Not only is this essential viewing for anyone who has made a dime off the Internet but also captures the 21st century zeitgeist in ways that no movie has ever done.
The film hits the ground running with a pre-Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, superbly portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, in midst of a break-up with B.U. student Erica Albright, played by Rooney Mara. His social ineptitude propels him to not only blog harshly about his break-up, but to also create a Hot-or-Not inspired site featuring female students, crashing the Harvard servers within hours. This soon draws the attention of three upperclassmen who approach Mark with the idea of a social website that would inspire Facebook.
Just the prospect of David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club) working with Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The West Wing) is enough to get most cinemaphiles excited. Still, such a pairing would be wasted if the basis of the film did not cater to their respective strengths. Sorkin’s trademark rapid-fire dialogue fits perfectly with both the A.D.D. traits of Mark Zuckerberg as well as the various Type A personalities that litter the screen. As an audience member, you feed off the energy when characters execute ideas and significant plot developments occur every five minutes. The dialogue also serves to complement the barrage of audible keyboard key strokes as Zuckerberg and his coders create and evolve Facebook. This provides an often heart-racing rhythm to most of the film, without resorting to easy and familiar things-are-happening montages.
Speaking of editing, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall (along with David Fincher, of course) deserve recognition for the non-linear delivery of The Social Network. Even before you have a chance to savor the humble beginnings of Facebook, you are thrown right into the two well-known lawsuits involving Zuckerberg. This form of storytelling brings out the Rashomon-like accounts by Zuckerberg, his co-founder Eduardo Saverin (played by the talented Andrew Garfield) and the aforementioned Harvard undergrads.
Eisenberg effectively brings out a Zuckerberg who exemplifies all that is good and bad about Facebook. His meteroic rise is emblematic of the young accidental millionaires who dot the Silicon Valley landscape. Mark copes with the success baring leftover emotional baggage of his break-up with Erica and his social insensitivities damages his relationship with Saverin. The often-cited sad illusion of friendship on Facebook is depicted in a couple scenes, but Fincher wisely does not hammer the point across because deep down, most of the audience knows about this.
Sean Parker and his involvement in the rise of Facebook are also thoroughly captured in the film. In a move of ingenious casting, Justin Timberlake plays Parker with enough charisma to win over Zuckerberg and as well as magnify the pre-existing philosophical divide between Mark and Eduardo. By casting a celebrity with the stature of Timberlake, the audience finds it all the more easier to subconsciously understand Mark’s reverence for this founder of Napster. This makes Timberlake all the more convincing, who uses his natural positivity to capture Parker’s entrepreneurial energy. Thematically, Parker also represents the old guard of Web 1.0 who ends up with a rather unsurprising fate by the end of the film.
The CG-free execution of The Social Network will fool many to think that this movie is Fincher’s least technically demanding film to date. Yet one needs to take a second or third glance at the depiction of the Winklevoss twins who, along with Divya Narendra, approached Zuckerberg with many of the initial features of Facebook. The Winklevosses (or as Zuckerberg humorously dubs ‘Winklevi’) are both played by Armie Hammer who apparently nailed his audition so well that Fincher let him play as both brothers. The technical work in pulling off both twins is child’s play compared to what Fincher did with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and it is a trick most audiences remember as far back as Back To The Future II. Still, Hammer’s execution of both brothers’ somewhat divergent personalities is often humorous and wholly impressive.
The aforementioned rhythm that pulls the viewer along is like narrative drug; it is as addicting as refreshing one’s emailbox or Facebook page to see if there are any updates. Many viewers will be wishing that The Social Network ran an extra 30 minutes in order to learn more about this extremely familiar time and how Facebook became Facebook. That said, Fincher and Sorkin should get a lot of credit for packing so much story in two hours while being devoid of filler.
Moviegoers who question the appeal of a film based on such recent events should recall how well it turned out for All The President’s Men. One difference between Alan’s Pakula’s film about the Watergate scandal and The Social Network is that Facebook’s story is still being told as you read this review. Fincher’s tale is merely the first chapter. As Zuckerberg puts it in the film, Facebook should be seen as “fashion” and will never be finished.