Friday Film Focus: The Social Network

The Social Network is an ambitious beast with a full tank of creative gas that keeps the film going from start to finish. It isn’t some boring visual aid on how Facebook grew from hundreds of users at Harvard to a present day global outreach of billions. David Fincher’s (Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac) The Social Network is the alarming, exhilarating, instinctively perspective and fictionalized story of the man behind the social media phenomenon. Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) runs — mostly in a hoodie and flip flops — across Harvard and straight into his first billion dollars. He is the geek that would become a king (or just another Bill Gates, should we say). He’s as quick as a rabbit and sly like a fox. Zuckerberg is the most intelligent guy in the room, and don’t you forget it.

Fincher’s film has this rare quality of making an “un-tellable” story clear and fascinating. It must be impossible to make a film about a computer programmer operating with technology-laden language few people in the audience can comprehend. However, Fincher and his writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) are able to explain the Facebook sensation in terms we can all immediately understand. In the film’s opener (set in 2003), Sorkin places Zuckerberg in a campus bar — where is he driving his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) nuts by juggling a dozen topics and ignoring her reactions to virtually everything. It’s a set up for disaster, but in actuality it’s true film gold.

Here, we see a tech nerd pitted against the real live girl from Boston University. Zuckerberg often uses her as a vessel to unload his opinions on. Fed up with his obsession of getting into one of Harvard’s elite “final clubs” and his overall condescension, Erica calls him an asshole and breaks up with him.

This scene has to be one of the best in the film — particularly with its aggressive interrogation of its characters. Erica is right for how she feels. But at the moment of the breakup, she unintentionally puts Zuckerberg into business. A shattered Zuckerberg goes back to the dorm he shares with Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph Mazzello) and Chris Hughes (Patrick Mapel).

After drinking a few beers, he blogs out his narcissistic rage (aka attacking Erica). Zuckerberg then starts hacking into photo files of female Harvard undergrad students. He begins to rank them on a hotness scale. This is both incredibly sexist and illegal, but proves to be so popular among the students it crashes the campus servers.

Out of anger for being socially rejected, a social network had been formed. From “The Harvard Connection,” Zuckerberg grows it into Facebook. The paradox that The Social Network plays with is that the world’s most popular social network site was created by a man with almost pathologically and excruciatingly poor people skills. Who really gets the credit here though? There’s no doubt that Zuckerberg is the CEO of Facebook — a company that exceeded $500 billion in market value in 2017.

But then there’s Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), whom provided early financing and the business plan for the start-up. He later would get frozen out of the company he helped create. Eduardo strides in early and quickly garners the audience’s sympathy. He has a sense of decency that makes him so appealing, and duly acts as a needed contrast to the appalling Zuckerberg.

Garfield’s performance is subtly great and often times unsettling to watch as he wilts to Eisenberg’s cringe-worthy tactics. Zuckerberg might be the brains of the operation, but Eduardo is the conscience behind it. As the film gets a narration by cutting between lawsuit depositions, the audience receives insight into the pecking order of Harvard. It’s a campus where wealth and family join opportunity as success factors. Here we meet the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler (both played by Armie Hammer). The Winklevi (as Mark calls them) are tall, blonde vikings on the Harvard rowing crew.

According to them and their lawyers, they are the originators of Facebook. The twins and their friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) have a website idea, and need Mark’s help in programming. The gig will be paid of course, and they grandly explain how it will help rehabilitate Zuckerberg’s reputation on campus after the rating scandal. It’s a patronizing moment for Mark — as his interest grows from intrigue to eventual contempt. As the plot thickens and the success of Facebook increases, we then meet the most memorable character in the story, Mr. Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Timberlake’s character is the founder of two legendary startups: Napster and Plaxo. It is Parker who grabs Zuckerberg and pulls him into the big time.

He slips into Mark’s life, and instantly dazzles him with his bad boy ways (mostly champagne and coke). Parker takes Mark to Silicon Valley, and explains to him why more money would come from venture capitalists when compared to anything Eduardo would find in New York.

As time goes on, Mark has such tunnel vision he doesn’t even register when Sean redrafts financial papers in order to write himself in and Eduardo out. The testimonies in the depositions make it quite clear that there is a case to be made against Zuckerberg for his sins. It’s left to the audience whether he should be forgiven of them or not.

In a time when most movie dialogue is slowed or dumbed down, the dialogue in this film has such a snap and velocity to it. Sorkin — using research compiled by journalist Ben Mezrich for his book “The Accidental Billionaires” — gives the film layers and multiple points of view. Shooting in mostly digital and working with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, Fincher tones down the lights and pats down his visual style to create a more strained and somber palette. Brutally funny, smart, and acted to perfection, The Social Network lights up a dim sky with radiant brilliance. It gets you drunk on the idea of movies again. It deserves to go viral.

Image Source: Amazon.com, Letterboxd

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