Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review: The Social Network

The Social Network (2010, David Fincher)

How many friends do you have on Facebook? 10, 25, 150? How many of those people do you consider to be actual friends? The question is an interesting once, although ultimately pointless. Like it or not, the invention of Facebook changed the way people with an internet connection (which is a lot of people in many parts of the world) come into contact with one another. Is our fascination with and dependence on Facebook an evolution or de-evolution of human interactivity and our communicative skills? Again, the answer to that question most likely won’t make a lick of difference in the grander scheme of things because almost everybody uses Facebook in some fashion or another. Individuals, web sites, corporations, the list of Facebook members is seemingly endless. However, even the greatest of inventions can have the humblest of beginnings. David Fincher’s The Social Network explores the human drama that boiled amongst the many creative minds which had a hand in the birth of Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg ((Jesse Eisenberg), a socially inept Harvard freshman, is sitting in a student bar with his soon to be former girlfriend (Rooney Mara). The young adult’s obsession with getting into prestigious clubs and his propensity to blurt out every single thought which crosses his mind has tested his girlfriend’s patience long enough and so she admits to breaking up with him. Even Mark’s reaction to this revelation is awkward. Awkward seems to be what Mark is all about, as is demonstrated later that evening when Mark, upon returning to his college dorm, simultaneously channels his fury onto two personal projects on his computer . The first is a written blog about littered with low blow insults directed at his former flame while the second is an internet site which invites Harvard students to compare the pictures of all the female students at the prestigious university. Low class? Pointless? Sexist? Perhaps, but it catches it on like wild fire in a matter of hours to the point where the school’s server crashes. Mark’s reputation among his peers may be tarnished, but this proves to be only the beginning of a life changing saga: life changing for Mark, and for millions of other people who use Facebook on a regular basis.

With Mark's computer programming skills well above the average, the Winklevoss twins  (both played by Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) take notice of his the freshman’s act and make a business proposition involving the creation of a web based social network reserved exclusively for Harvard students. Mark basically agrees to help them out, but the audience quickly learns that this young buck is a far cleverer and conniving weasel than we thought once he continuously postpones his meetings with the Winklevoss’s all the while working on a secret web site with his friends, Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield) among them.

The Social Network is one of the fall’s most highly anticipated films, but for all the hoopla surrounding its impending release and all the billboards and television ads I had seen over the past few weeks, I was still unsure as to what movie I was preparing myself to see as I took a seat at the midnight showing on Thursday. Some television advertisements showed funny dialogue, while the teaser trailer promised a moody drama. As David Fincher’s movie unfolded, I felt I was watching a more touching and quite frankly entertaining film than I could have foreseen. With the knowledge that this is a Fincher project, those familiar with some of the director’s previous work should come to expect some technically awe inspiring scenes, from a purely filmmaking standpoint. Throughout the years he has gloriously shown off some remarkable cinematography and editing prowess which should make almost every other director in the business red with envy. He rises to the occasion yet again, offering, visually at least, the sort of film the teaser trailer offered a glimpse at. The picture is incredibly rich with shadows and the colour palette has been toyed with to give every scene an eerie tone. I’m tempted to call The Social Network a throwback to Film Noir, what with its confidently moody visual style and its series of morally ambiguous characters and one of the most anti of anti-heroes we have seen in quite some time in Mark Zuckerberg. The only truly likable character of the bunch is Eduardo Savarin, who comes across as the most honest guy in the room, and, as some you may already know if you are familiar with Facebook’s history, he gets the shaft like a piece of raw meat tossed into the grinder.

However many darkly and strangely lit scenes David Fincher can offer the viewer, it doesn’t change the fact that the film’s script, written by Aaron Sorkin, is abundant with witty, clever and outright hilarious dialogue. The Social Network is genuinely entertaining, and not merely that my mind was entertained because I watched a solid drama unfold. No, this movie is really fun, with more than a handful of scene producing belly laughs out of me and much of the midnight crowd I had the privilege of seeing it with. Arguably the best one (although one can make the case for several others) is when the Winklevoss twins, infuriated with Mark’s solo venture into creating ‘The Facebook’, an idea they firmly believe emanated from their own brilliant Harvard minds, visit the school’s president and present their case of intellectual property theft. The scene is a scintillating cocktail of drama (because, when one thinks about it, they were duped) and brilliant comedic lines. It’s this juggling between the comedic and the dramatic which raises The Social Network to a different level from what a more ordinary film could have been. Honestly, Facebook, whether one uses it or not, is one of the most clever and popular inventions of our new technological age, if not the most. Remember that it was the brainchild of a Harvard student(s), young people in their early twenties attending one of the most prestigious schools in the world, where reputation can mean just as much as the grades you get at that school. I may be in the minority when seeing things this way, but while I completely agree how great drama can be found in such a premise, I really do think the potential for comedy lies there as well. 

Probably the film’s greatest strength rests with the bitter irony that paved the creation of Facebook. The movie’s tagline is brilliant (‘You get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies’). Returning to my opening paragraph, how many of those 134 people linked to your Facebook page would you consider to be true blue friends? Facebook, while often a very useful tool and one that I have a lot of respect for in the grander scheme of things, can be viewed as nothing more than a cheap popularity contest in which the original, true value of a ‘friend’ can get lost in the shuffle. This film reveals how the creation of such a social network with which people can ‘friend’ one another brought the destruction of a friendship that was far more honest than 80% of the ones you find on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Savarin were friends at one point, but pride, business potential and just plain old jealousy entered the fray on the path to Facebook’s rising popularity, thus severing whatever emotional ties the two had. The film plays things out interestingly in that there were many strange accusations made during the lawsuit drama, but The Social Network prefers to keep many of the truths behind those accusations, some of which appear as mundane originally but prove weighty when the lawsuits begin flying around, secretive and ambiguous. Many of the truths are insinuated, but few are provided with genuine, outright explanations. For this reason it becomes difficult to really put blame on Mark Zuckerberg’s behaviour in the movie, although we are shown enough to prove that he isn’t the most likable or relatable chap on the block. He was a social outcast who rose from the popularity gutter with a stunning web site, but to do just that some nasty behaviour was a pre-requisite, to the point where one of his better friends, Eduardo (played marvellously by relative newcomer Andrew Garfield) is forcefully sent home packing on the night Facebook celebrates its 1 millionth member.

It should also be pointed out that all of the film’s actors do a wonderful job, with, unsurprisingly, Jesse Eisenberg giving the most memorable one as the determined, frustrated, bizarre but ultimately fascinating Mark Zuckerberg. It is a sharp performance, one that demands a lot of detail because this character, both in his psychology and in the physical demonstrations of what he thinks and feels, is immensely complex. Andrew Garfield gives a more relaxed, effortless performance which suits his character well because it comes across as the antithesis to what Zukerberg is. Armie Hammer as the Winklevos twins, Rashida Jones as one of the young lawyers at the table during the lawsuits, Justin Timbelake as Napster creator Sean Parker who gets in on the act to boost Facebook’s status,  etc. I don’t think there is a false note In the bunch.

With films such as The Social Network, it is important to dissociate what happened according to the newspaper headlines from what the viewer sees on screen. This is a dramatization of Facebook’s creation and the turmoil which ensued between close people during and afterwards. As a vision of what happened in real life, I’d rather not comment. As a piece of entertainment, it’s a fantastic reminder of why going to the movies can be so much fun.


thevoid99 said...

Excellent review Edgar. I'll be seeing this tomorrow and hopefully, post a review. BTW, what did you think of the score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross?

I already have it and I think it's fucking amazing though I doubt Trent and Atticus will get an Oscar nod (due to the technicality that screwed Jonny Greenwood out of a nomination for There Will Be Blood.

edgarchaput said...

@thevoid99: to be honest, I didn't pay much attention to the score. There were a few scenes in which it hit me, such as the opening credit sequence and the scene when Mark and Eduardo make Facebook go 'live' for the first time, but overall I can't I recall much of the score. I'd have to give it a solo listen to comment.

Anonymous said...

I actually didn't think Fincher did anything all that interesting visually. Sure, there were a couple of cool shots, but overall I though the camera was best as simply a viewer into the drama of this film which was propelled by the performances and the writing.

You hit on the deep irony, which is the heart of the film. It's something I think we're all kinda part of and goes back to all those Kieslowski films, especially Red, which shows how technology actually inhibits communication.