|Posted by Aaron Dries on October 3, 2010 at 10:13 PM|
You can un-tag your soul, right?
It’s 2003 at Harvard University and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Adam Eisenberg) has just become an overnight sensation. On that night, drunk and bitter after being dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara), the seeds of Facebook were sown. His online juvenile prank catches the attention of elite school-mate entrepreneurs who snap Zuckerberg up to co-pioneer an exclusive social network for fellow students. But Mark is only half of the deal; financing the sync-up is his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfiled). What grew out of this development deal was an unmitigated lawsuit as naïve and justifiably self-absorbed as the people it involved.
Did Mark Zuckerberg breach intellectual property laws (among others) by taking the “exclusive social networking” module and redefining it as Facebook on his own- with an eye for seeing it go as wide as it possibly could? Is Zuckerberg guilty, and if so, what of? Is this even about copyright and corrupt contracts … or is it about the things not written in ink? Is it about friendship and the weight of betrayal?
Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wisely cast no judgement. Instead they deliver evidence bag sequences strung together by fast rat-a-tat dialogue and controlled, solid direction. The purpose of the film is for the viewer to cast the judgement that the filmmakers refuse to make. It is fitting that the film is constructed against the backdrop of a judicial inquiry. Unlike a lot of films employing such a structure, The Social Network is anything but dry. It has an immediate vitality to it, and constantly re-routes the viewer towards sympathy- yet at no point does the film wallow in it. Also, the success of Facebook was due to its cool-factor. Interestingly, Fincher keeps his filmmaking gimmick free. There are very few digital flourishes like those found in his earlier works (recall the scene in Fighclub where Edward Norton walks among a plethora of floating 3D advertisements); we don’t even get the token “Fincher” credit sequence- a former directorial stamp (remember Se7en or Panic Room?). As a result the film feels controlled and important- not cool. To have done otherwise would have cheapened and undersold the content. It was a wise move.
I came home from my screening today, sat down at my computer and hesitated before jumping onto Facebook. The network sat there at my disposal, as it always does, inert until I fuel it with my mindless intent. And I hesitated. This social network wasn’t as social as it had been hours before. It was now infused with a history I had no idea existed. And that history lives on through this film, through Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires (the source material) and hell, even through this review. We feed into it, we click, we like, and eventually we forget the betrayal and personal soul crushing that went into mapping out the universe so many people live through today.
The Social Network does not preach. It does what good cinema should do: it tells a story and it tells it well. But underneath it all is the uneasiness. This uneasiness is Fincher’s greatest directorial triumph. This is a film where the tone drives the theme- beneath the computer screen there are personal lives, just as beneath the ocean surface there are sharks. Swim with them and eventually you’ll get bitten. Everything comes at a price. And nothing is infallible. Just look at Napster founder Sean Parker (played with wonderful zest by Justin Timberlake), a man who has the style and the smarts to see potential in Zuckerberg’s conceit- but who fails to tell the difference between a child and a legal-aged consenting adult.
On a technical note, Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography is sublime; proving again that you can shoot digital without it screaming digital if it’s shot well and with care. Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) and Atticus Ross’s score is intense and fitting, invoking the dread inherent in Paul Thomas Anderson films and the bass-jubilation of mid-career Danny Boyle. All of the performances are great and even though many of the characters are pretentious, unsympathetic assholes, the film is very easy to like and relate to. After all, how many of us have been screwed over by ex-friends or financers? How many of us have been plagiarized and disrespected? This is the timeless merit of The Universal Theme. Fincher knows this. Now can someone tell him to kindly drop The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake and to get behind the lens of a Bret Easton Ellis adaptation, pronto!
This is a great and important film. It goes for Generation Y what Alex Garland’s The Beach did for X. It turns our pop sensibilities into suspense. In a nutshell: The Social Network delivers. The entire movie feels like a shaken-up can of soda, threatening to explode when punctured- and there are very few moments when it does (once, during a rowing sequence wherein Fincher indulges in some visual wizardry, and again in a character driven confrontation in the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California).
The film wraps up to the sounds of The Beatles’s Baby You’re a Rich Man, in which Lennon and McCartney sing: “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? Now that you know who you are.” It made me smile. It was like the use of Imagine at the end of The Killing Fields; obvious but perfect.
This is a film about commodity and what you sacrifice in lieu for it. Despite its tech-sensibilities, it is an old fashioned tale. What did you sell for your fiddle of gold? And at the end of the day, as you’re counting your billions, is there happiness in your life?
How many friends do you really have?
David Fincher is coming close to being a modern day Stanley Kubrick. This is at once a small and gigantic film, and yes, it is both minor masterpiece and one of, if not THE BEST film of 2010 thus far. I am hungry for whatever Fincher may throw at us next. He's the real deal- and that's worth getting very, very excited about.
5 / 5