- The case against Facebook
- I got tricked and treated by someone in a mask. Who was it?
- From Friendster to Facebook
- "Tron: Legacy": stunning visuals, nonsensical plot
- The Good, The Bad
It seems quite fitting that the creation of Facebook would be immortalized a mere seven years after the events took place. Facebook is, after all, one of the factors cited in the rapid self-mythologizing so much of our generation engages in. The elevation of our daily mundanities into modern myth is a disconcerting phenomenon fraught with unearned satisfaction and our willingness to buy into our own frenzied hype is only surpassed by the eagerness of profit-seekers to capitalize on it. The Millennial Generation is widely stereotyped as a gaggle of navel-gazing egocentrics and one needs only to peek at Twitter and Facebook and YouTube to see the evidence. A general entitlement pervades the socialspheres of the Internet; the mendacious belief that what we to say matters and that we are, in fact, important. If you don’t buy that, just look to the numbers: almost 40% of all internet users visit Facebook daily and encompasses close to 12% of all the time American spend online; which is approximately 40% more than Yahoo and Google combined.
So it makes sense, then, that the ultimate expression of this self-aggrandizing angst would lie in the origin story of our principal medium of expression, thus we have “The Social Network”. Based on a non-fiction book by Ben Mezrich, the movie couples a crackling script by Aaron Sorkin (“A Few Good Men”, “The West Wing) with the strong directorial hand of David Fincher (“Se7en”, “Fight Club”). The dialogue pops in typical Sorkonian fashion, coupling rat-a-tat verbal exchanges with statements precisely honed to exact the maximum imagery from the quickest of lines. The use of repetition and pitch-perfect metaphors bring the large ensemble of characters to life with distinct personalities of their own, often a difficult task for writers with such a distinct style. No matter how fast-paced the patter may get, how packed each scene is with jokes and subtext, Sorkin’s writing is riveting from minute one to minute 120.
“The Social Network” is told in flashback with the dual depositions of the lawsuits against Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) acting as a post-narrative framing device. We continually leap from crucial development to pivotal event during the October 2003 to November 2004 period when Facebook went from dorm room startup to Silicon Valley upstart, snapping back to the 2008 legal proceedings to punctuate the story with commentary and segue to the next sequence in line. Early on, Fincher simulates the experience Zuckerberg is going through, quickly cutting between the past and the two legal interrogations, evoking the feel of what it’s like to be caught up in seemingly interminable depositions. It’s a swirl of probing questions, obtuse answers, lunch breaks, sparring over wording and motive. The closest the movie ever comes to physical violence is a single feigned punch and an act of pyromania, but there’s a brutal, hostile tension that permeates every acidic comment Zuckerberg and his accusers toss back and forth.
Fincher has a way of making familiar, even comforting, places seem alien and unsettling. Dorm rooms, crowded college bars and the ornately-adorned halls of Harvard University all seem claustrophobic and foreboding, instilling a penned-in anxiety as the characters plot, scheme and scurry. While it may lean a little heavily on the dark green filter from time to time, the visual style is unrepentantly dark, unafraid to traffic in shadowy apartments and poorly lit clubs. When Zuckerberg finally makes his way to sunny California, the brighter atmosphere stands juxtaposed against his decent into deceit and the harsh rewards his actions have reaped.
Eisenberg plays the fictional Zuckerberg with a perfect blend of vulnerable neurosis, intellectual bravado and unflinching disdain for anyone who would doubt or impede him. If Zuckerberg is irritable and disgruntled, well, we understand why. As the questioning goes on he becomes more and more audacious, emerging from his placid disinterest to face his attackers with a finely focused anger that feels like a mountain of rage being squeezed through the tiny opening their accusations have made in his psyche. He perfectly delivers withering put downs and aphorisms like “I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try” and “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook” that could well sound cheesy coming from another actor.
As the centerpiece of the film, Eisenberg delivers an incredibly intricate performance that elevates “The Social Network”, and regardless of the story’s veracity he creates a complex character that is neither as heroic as he wishes nor as villainous as his detractors would claim. The final few shots of the film are incredibly poignant, largely due to Eisenberg. Never has the act of sending a simple friend request seemed so sad and so touching all at once. Is it any wonder that Facebook would prominently feature a “Like” button?
The rest of the ensemble cast is quite good, especially Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s best friend and business partner, Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins, Zuckerberg’s main adversaries, and Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker. Garfield, in particular, is fantastic in providing Eisenberg with an emotional tether to ground his often remote Zuckerberg and especially shines late in the film as their best laid plans come unraveled. Much has been made of Hammer’s physical portrayal of both twins, working along with body double Josh Pence who had his own face written over with Hammers, but he also manages to make the ostensible antagonists into fully formed, worthy characters. Timberlake seemed to enjoy playing Parker as a depraved, cartoonish caricature who acts as the devil on Zuckerberg’s shoulder, while Rashida Jones does good work in a limited part as a junior lawyer assigned to Zuckerberg’s legal team.
Over the past century or so, movies and other recorded media have existed as a form of shared experience. Unlike theater or live music, we all see the same movie no matter where or when we see it. What we see IN it may differ, but the communal act of sharing culture is an integral part of our inner and outer lives. Now, with thousands of photos and videos of ourselves propagating our profiles, everything is a shared experience. The most incredible, frightening, insidious, genius thing Facebook ever did was elevate those banal experiences into everyday legend, democratizing the cultural ecosystem and leaving the decision in our own hands. And, when we voted, we voted for us.
It might seem a harsh message, but “The Social Network” dares us to look into ourselves through the lens of a complicated, conflicted man and see what lies beneath. Sometimes it can be unpleasant, which is why we prefer to believe in ourselves as the heroes of our own adventures. In that way, we are all Zuckerberg: so caught up in our own mythos that the truth hardly matters.