The Social Network

Does The Social Network… work?

Perhaps one would find it an unusual choice for a director regarded mainly for his intense investigative thrillers (one could argue that his most successful work relies heavily on the pre-eminence of mystery), such as the beloved Seven and Zodiac. But like the aforementioned, The Social Network does indeed place its epicentre in the underlying male urge for control, domination, self-gratification and in a sense, hyper-masculinity, exploited so well previously within the director’s catalogue, such as in the intense face-off of Detective Mills and John Doe at the end of Seven, Robert Graysmith’s intense search for the Zodiac that takes over his whole life, or, more obviously the battle between Tyler Durden and….Tyler Durden in Fight Club. One could argue, therefore, that the battle between men can now be loosely defined as the recurring motif of director David Fincher’s work.

The Social Network, divulging the apparently true story of the rise of Mark Zuckerberg, currently the youngest billionaire in the world, and his Frankenstein’s monster, Facebook, continues this trend.

Taking its narrative from the acclaimed book, The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, it follows a series of legal battles between once-friends Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and never friends Zuckerberg (once again- he does get sued quite often) and privileged twins, the Winklevoss’s (“Winklevi”), and their ally Divya Narendra, who all lay claim to a piece of the website now used by one in fourteen people in the world.

The film often frantically switches between the multiple scenarios without any hesitancy as we are placed slap-bang in the middle of each brief inquisition, without a ‘side’ to choose from (the film suffers, but accurately depicts a lack of sympathetic characters). It develops the apparent history of the creation of Facebook, through Zuckerberg’s time at Havard to the moment Facebook is about to become a worldwide phenomenon, via his meeting with slick Napster founder Sean Parker (God help us it’s Justin Timberlake).

But the story of Facebook is merely the direction of the film, not the drive. We pay witness to the constant battling between men, or rather merely between ‘boys in a man’s world’, a fact certainly emphasized by the true reason behind the creation of the precursor to Facebook: a bitter revenge scheme exacted upon an ex-girlfriend.

Jesse Eisenberg, presenting Zuckerberg as rather robotic (all the more frightening with his place in such a technical, digital world), belies a dark centre to what could be perceived initially as a rather naïve character. When Eduardo confronts him later in the film to see if he still holds a grudge against him for being accepted into the prestigious Phoenix fraternity, what was once a rather comic exploration of the life around the Havard University campus, turns sinister as we consider that Zukerberg could indeed be holding it against him for not being invited himself (ironically like Facebook, ‘status’ is important).

One of the film’s most interesting elements is what is doesn’t actually tell us – something which the characters hint at throughout the movie – is it really about money? Or is it pride and their egotistical nature at stake? Maybe it is the attempt by each character to inflate their own individual genius. Indeed, when you place a group of geniuses in one room, will they all attempt to be the exceptional one, or conform to the average?

Fortunately, The Social Network’s qualities far outweigh its negatives, but, alternatively, perhaps the film could have been more accessible, informative and provoking in the form of a documentary, as the film screams out for a Michael Moore or Panorama treatment.

The relatively little-known actors are extremely well aided by Aaron Sorkin’s superb script which fizzles in the same frenetic style that marked his Emmy award-winning show The West Wing; the tone set down immediately by the very direct conversation between Zuckerberg and his girlfriend, Erica, and its eventual consequence of him being alone at a bar table after she dumps him (his lawyer’s assistant defines it best: ‘he’s not an asshole, he just tries too hard to be one’).

In making us feel that we are inextricably part of this manipulative world ultimately defined by capitalism, it often makes for rather uncomfortable viewing, and is perhaps The Social Network’s most defining image. Interestingly, the film’s last image; the image that could be said to have sadly come to define a generation, as Mark stares at his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page, constantly refreshing to see whether or not he is about to be confirmed as her ‘friend’, is both frightening, in a sense, and strangely poignant. He is an extremely unlikeable character, extracting a certain amount of empathy that is truly sparse throughout such a cold film.

The Social Network has its merits, and it should be noted what a remarkable film it is given the relatively short space of time between this and the production of Benjamin Button, and indeed the publication of The Accidental Billionaires only last year, but it feels like a sidestep (definitely, however, not a misstep), a hobby, a minor distraction from the more fulfilling, lush, haunting thrillers that Fincher is known for, and acclaimed for.

This is a lean, tightly-controlled production filled with Fincher’s stylistic hallmarks, but that is all and one would be hard-pressed to re-watch The Social Network, perhaps only for a re-evaluation in a few years time when Facebook has quite possibly taken over the world or perhaps (hopefully?) been forgotten altogether.


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