The Social Network

Films have never really sat at ease with modern technology; particularly in the past decade, there have been increasingly numerous attempts to represent the worlds of hacking, chat rooms, mobile phones and the Internet, yet none have ever seemed realistic. While the genres of these films have ranged wildly – from indigestible romantic schmaltz such as You’ve Got Mail to preposterously stupid action flicks like Swordfish – they have all utterly failed to capture the reality of a society now totally at ease with and reliant upon the internet. Thankfully, Hollywood’s bewilderment and confusion of how to approach this new medium has finally been solved; the answer, it turns out, is to ignore the subject as much as possible.

For a film that depicts the founding of Facebook – possibly the most famous and popular Internet brand in the world – The Social Network tries as hard as it can to avoid becoming bogged down with computer screenshots and overly complex technobabble. Instead, the film focuses on the human drama and relationships behind the website’s founding, and it is this focus that elevates The Social Network to far more profound levels dramatically than one might otherwise expect. It tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg, whose obsession with climbing up from the very bottom of the social hierarchy leads him to create thefacebook.com, thus beginning a complex web of deals, betrayals and lawsuits, as the website balloons beyond everyone’s expectations.

Aaron Sorkin’s script is magnificent here, feeling completely natural while it constantly brims with sharp humour and eloquent put-downs. He charts the rise of Zuckerberg and Facebook’s co-founders at Harvard, and ingeniously decides to concentrate upon the relationships that are made and lost along the way. It is, to a large extent, a character study, examining – or imagining – the motivations that drove Zuckerberg, yet it is also a script that offers profound insights into our current obsession with the ubiquitous website and with the Internet in general. Its relevance and unflinching critique of modern society are reminiscent of Network – a film still remarkably relevant today – yet Sorkin wisely avoids the large number of lengthy soliloquies that robbed that earlier film of a sense of realism. Here, everything feels utterly true – regardless of whether or not it is factual – as Sorkin perfectly captures the lives of modern university students.

It helps that Sorkin’s droll witticisms and emotional punches that fill the script are carried off perfectly by the youthful cast; Jesse Eisenberg is particularly impressive as Zuckerberg himself, managing to communicate both the character’s cold, logical intelligence and his rather more emotional and base desire for acceptance. It is a careful balancing act of sure-headed arrogance and youthful insecurity, and Eisenberg’s restrained yet heartfelt turn ensures that the film remains compelling throughout. He is also ably supported by the surrounding cast, with Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin and Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker both proving particularly convincing in their respectively sympathetic and antagonistic roles. Indeed, while Timberlake’s presence has a certain ingenious irony, with a professional musician portraying the founder of Napster – the company that almost brought the music industry to its knees – this is not just stunt casting; on the contrary, Timberlake offers a thoroughly impressive performance, and his embodiment of the character’s swagger and slightly hollow bravado proves that his future may not just be in music.

Overseeing all this is David Fincher, with what must be the least intrusively directed film of his career. Previously, his love of long montages and technical innovations rather overwhelmed films such as Fight Club and Panic Room, never allowing the audience to forget about Fincher’s presence, while The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seemed to exist solely to see whether Brad Pitt could be made to look like a tiny old man. Following that 3 hour, sub-Forrest Gump car crash of a film, it is rather pleasant to be reminded what a thoroughly sure-handed and subtly skilful director Fincher can be when his visual and technical flourishes are restricted by the material. For the most part, he silently, expertly finds coherence and humour in the story, coaxing sublime performances from his young cast whilst rarely making his presence felt. He seems to understand completely the simultaneously tragic and comic nature of Sorkin’s script, and often undercuts the seriousness of the actors’ performances with a sly tweak in the soundtrack or an ingenious trick of editing. Fincher is fully aware of how this is a tale at once compelling and ridiculous, and is intelligent enough to know that the material would not suit a humourless, po-faced treatment.

It is perhaps unsurprising to discover that neither Sorkin nor Fincher have any personal interest in Facebook, and that neither of them have accounts on the website. This disconnection allows them to examine the phenomenon of online social networking from a dispassionate and unflinchingly honest point of view, whilst they never seem ignorant of its workings or appeal. The final, dialogue-free minute is the perfect end to the film, wordlessly offering an intelligent, insightful representation of how our relationships have been changed forever, yet will forever remain the same. It succinctly sums up the film’s worryingly accurate conclusion that the Internet has not only failed to eliminate each individual’s loneliness, but that it may, in fact, have exacerbated our isolation.

Originally published by Cherwell, in print and online, on 13/10/10.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Follow me!