The Social Network: Changing The World With A Chip On Your Shoulder

Look, enough has been said about the impact of Facebook on our lives– I’d be hard pressed to say anything new on the issue. However, just as rare in my book as a world-changing website is a film as smartly written as The Social Network, written by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher. The script takes what is essentially two hours of talking and fills it to the brim with intrigue, suspense, twists and turns, and characters more complex than most we’ve seen all year. Here is a film that works as a character study, works as an intriguing story, and works as a portrait of a cultural movement– usually a film is lucky to work on one of these levels. The acting, cinematography, and score in The Social Network are all top-drawer, but the dialogue reigns supreme: lock it in for the win for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards.

“You’re going to be successful and rich. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a geek. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
– Erica Albright

We meet Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) on a date with his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara). He’s so focused on his drive to be accepted by the exclusive Harvard clubs that he doesn’t realize how cold he is to her. She breaks up with him, and later, drunkenly, he creates a site called Facemash where he uses pictures of girls from Harvard that he obtained by hacking into college websites and encouraging folks on campus to rank who is hotter. It’s such a huge hit that it crashes the Harvard network. He’s put on probation, but it attracts the attention of the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) and their business partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). They have an idea for creating an online social network website that can only be joined if you go to Harvard, in order to help them pick up girls. Zuckerberg agrees to work with them, but then immediately goes home and tells his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) about a new website he’s working on– this site becomes Facebook.

As Facebook takes off, Zuckerberg and Saverin achieve notoriety on campus, including getting the attention of girls and the Winklevosses, who debate the merits of filing a lawsuit. Meanwhile, as the site spreads across America, it gets the attention of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the young entrepreneur who founded Napster. He meets with the bickering co-founders of Facebook and gets into Zuckerberg’s ear, telling him to come out to California. We already know that Facebook will succeed– and as the story progresses, it’s intercut with scenes from two litigation hearings, one where he’s being sued by the Winklevosses, another where he’s being sued by Saverin, so we already know that the friendships don’t end well either. So why is this film so exciting?

We know what a flower looks like when it’s open, but there’s a grace to watching the various steps as it opens. Just because we know how this story ends doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the wit and grace of the execution. The opening scene alone might be one of the most memorable scenes of 2010, and it’s just two people talking. We establish Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, and we see his drive, his coldness, his desire to be approved of by masses but his inability to connect on a personal level. We witness a failure in Zuckerberg– a rarity which he obviously takes personally, as we see throughout the film. We understand the importance of the clubs to him, and when Saverin comes in saying he got accepted to the preliminary round of joining the clubs, we don’t have to even see the response to feel the instant resentment in the room. In one conversation, we know nearly everything we need to know about our protagonist for the rest of the film, and without any grandstanding or declarations of self. This is called good writing. It’s why Sorkin will take home the Oscar– the film is full of scenes like this.

The performances are all spot-on, as Fincher gets career performances out of nearly everyone involved. This was the first time I watched Justin Timberlake on screen and stopped thinking of him as Justin Timberlake– from the very first scene he’s in, a terrific one, where we meet him waking up with a Stanford co-ed. Andrew Garfield was better in Never Let Me Go, released a couple weeks ago, but because he also does strong work here and this film is getting much more press, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him mentioned in awards-season conversations. A real shocker is Armie Hammer as the twins– the performances are so subtly different that I never would have known it was the same actor until the end credits, which is really as strong a compliment as an actor can receive. Watch the ways in which they interact with one another, the differences in their reactions in their meeting with the president of Harvard (yet another sensational scene). The main girls, Rooney Mara and Brenda Song, don’t have much to do, but they have strong presences which make their impact on the characters felt whenever they’re on screen. Finally, there’s Eisenberg, who is responsible for delivering Zuckerberg’s coldness, his focus, his intelligence. Without question, this is one of the best performances of 2010. It’s never flashy– it’s curt and to-the-point, just like Zuckerberg, and every look of the eyes and curl of the lip is utterly compelling.

Though I praise Sorkin for the genius of the script, give credit to David Fincher where it’s due. His filmmaking has improved leaps and bounds over the last decade, going from the flashy music video effects he used as a crutch in Fight Club, Se7en, and Panic Room to a strong realism and patience in execution in Zodiac and now The Social Network. He understands that a film doesn’t need conventional action or flashy camerawork to compel an audience– he’ll use long shots without a cut and let scenes go on and on without a change in location or intention. Here, he shoots the film in a dark color palate, dull lighting, and uses to great effect the sensational score by Trent Reznor to create a mood that never goes to suspense or thriller, yet manages to cast a sense of intelligent darkness over the proceedings. It’s hard to describe, but he made inspired choices in his delivery of these characters and this dialogue. He and Sorkin understand that the epic occurrences only feel epic if revealed in small, intimate scenes. There’s never a “message” moment, and the ending, while perhaps a bit trite and oversimplified, is effective and haunting. It would have been easy to make Zuckerberg either a calculating backstabber or a rebel hero– Fincher and Sorkin toe the line. For most other films hoping to contend for Best Picture, the writing may be on the Facebook wall: this is easily one of the best films of 2010.


~ by russellhainline on October 8, 2010.

3 Responses to “The Social Network: Changing The World With A Chip On Your Shoulder”

  1. Excellent review

  2. We finally saw this movie. I thought is was fascinating and very good. It must be very difficult to make a character creepy, pitiful, and enviable, all at the same time. But they did that with this portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg. I’d like to see a film of the next 20 years of his life, to see if his billions buys him happiness and an ability to have close, enduring relationships with other human beings.

  3. […] Best Original Score: 10. A.R. Rahman, 127 Hours 9. Anton Sanko, Rabbit Hole 8. Nigel Godrich, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World 7. Daft Punk, Tron: Legacy 6. Michael Giacchino, Let Me In 5. Hans Zimmer, Inception 4. John Powell, How To Train Your Dragon 3. Alexandre Desplat, The Ghost Writer 2. Rachel Portman, Never Let Me Go 1. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, The Social Network […]

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