The genius of “The Social Network” begins with the story that inspired it. The tagline on its poster, “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies,” perfectly conveys the inherent dramatic irony; royal narcissist Mark Zuckerberg is today the champion of the web’s most popular socialization tool, Facebook.
It’s rich soil for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who imbues the material with his signature wit and a searing theatricality. Frankly, I’m not concerned with what small liberties his brilliant script took along the way—Not that even the most obscene inaccuracy could stymie the momentum he builds. The film is guiltier of embellishment than falsification, a crime for which he and director David Fincher should be awarded our highest praise. Fincher knocks this one out of the park with confident cinematography, nuanced performances from his cast, and layered storytelling that lends the film its surprising depth. On its surface, “The Social Network” is funny, brisk, and compelling, but underneath, it’s near rotting with angst.
Its moodiness and purposeful visual melodrama are its most unique assets. Fincher approaches the story from the position of Zuckerberg himself, striving for the honest emotional experience of each scene, with all the grandiosity of a nineteen year old’s perspective. To the layman, that means he finds a way to make sitting at a computer, or having a conversation in a crowded nightclub seem invigorating and fresh.
“The Social Network” is immediately in contention as his best film, but as much as Fincher brings to it, the lion’s share of the Mark Zuckerberg experience is etched in the long, perpetually unsmiling face of Jesse Eisenberg, who portrays him in the film. Eisenberg has a history of taking on lighter roles in comedies like “Zombieland” that has prompted some to unfairly label him “the poor man’s Michael Cera,” (though the comments seem to stem from Cera bashers themselves—There’s no pleasing those guys). Eisenberg’s turn here should slap the cynicism from any remaining doubters’ mouths. He owns the role; the callous calculation, the condescending sense of humor, and the introverted inner pain are expertly realized, and yet the true testament to Eisenberg is that Zuckerberg at his worst is a character impossible to truly hate.
And Eisenberg is matched by a cast of equal talent; Andrew Garfield plays Facebook’s co-founder, Eduardo Saverin, and Armie Hammer plays both of the Winklevoss twins, who together bring suit against Mark for intelligent property theft. The beauty of each character is that despite their muckraking in the deposition room, which acts as a framing device in “The Social Network,” none ultimately feels like the antagonist. As with the best cinematic scuffles, we indentify with both sides.
But as beautifully as the stars aligned for what is insofar the best film of 2010, “The Social Network” is somehow more than the sum of its parts. Its underlying themes of capitalist corrosion and the price of success are made all the more poignant given the age of its participants. Fincher has jokingly referred to the film as “The Citizen Kane on John Hughes movies,” but he honestly isn’t far off. Young love, rebelliousness, arrogance, and burgeoning identity play major roles in shaping the behavior of Sorkin’s characters.
And yet, for all their bitterness and hostility, “The Social Network” is still an exciting, encouraging film. Somewhere beneath the veneer, alongside the greased cogs in its innermost workings, the power of Mark’s idea gestates. Facebook, as silly and as trivial a subject as it may seem, is for many an essential communicative hub in their day-to-day lives. Watching Zuckerberg succeed beyond his wildest dreams, literally bringing strangers together while pushing his friends away, paints an oddly optimistic portrait.
The future for the internet generation seems bright in Fincher’s mind. Even as we make the gradual shift to living our lives electronically, even when we’re polluted by a consumer culture, and even when we lose sight of our humanity, some kid can still change the world.