That Facebook Movie
I remember the days leading up to the release of “The Social Network” and the hype that surrounded it. The film had actually made a name for itself even before it started shooting, as the script by Aaron Sorkin that was making the rounds in the industry was being hailed as one of the best script to come around in a long time. Once Fincher signed on to direct the hype only intensified. But everyone on the public side was puzzled by the project, because how the hell do you make a movie about Facebook? And this question is still something of a misnomer that follows the film.
Once the film finally released the critical response was overwhelmingly positive, some critics called it a defining movie of the generation while others even compared it to “Citizen Kane”. A lot of hype and superlatives. The film was instantly and almost unanimously declared a front runner for the Oscars, but it underperformed both on the box office and on the awards circuit (it lost the 2011 best picture Oscar to “The King’s Speech”, in my opinion the weakest film of the ten nominees). And today, only two years since its release, it seems that hardly anyone even cares to remember it.
In my opinion this underperforming of the film and the general bewilderment that it inspires in an average viewer can be attributed to two factors. The mentioned hype and the “Facebook” tag is certainly one of them, but it is the lesser one. The major factor is the way Fincher shot and directed his film, giving it a completely alienating and cynical tone which is very much in contrast to Sorkin’s hip and snappy script. If he shot it “straight” I am sure that the film would have played much better and maybe even won its Oscar, but it would have also been a considerably lesser film as well.
Still, as Fincher films go this is probably the tamest one. His stylistic sensibilities take a backseat for most part and he lets the actors and the material do the work. The only real hints that this is a David Fincher film is the cinematography with its now trademark “Fincher” soft lighting and moody hues, and a few energetically cut sequences. And considering the material this is absolutely the right decision because instead of accentuating Sorkin’s customary zingers the more somber tonality of the film lets the character work underneath the dialogue breathe much more. I’d even argue that it gives the dialogue itself a new layer of sharpness and sting that a lighter tone would make feel somewhat heavy handed. Actually Sorkin’s new show “The Newsroom” is a good proof of this.
But for me the dialogue itself is not the great aspect of the script anyway. It is very good, don’t get me wrong, but it is the obvious thing to notice so it has gotten the most mention in every damn article that was ever written about this film. What doesn’t get mentioned nearly as much is the construction of the script, which for me is one of the main reasons the film works so marvelously. It effortlessly jumps from the events surrounding the creation of Facebook to the two lawsuits that resulted afterwards, and back and forth. This scene dynamic is the source of much of the film’s intrigue and humor and it is used to great effect for build-up and delivery. It also gives the film many liberties from regular linear narrative constraints, which ultimately allows “The Social Network” to work on multiple levels despite the dense plot*.
One of those levels is certainly the character study of Mark Zuckerberg, the brain behind Facebook, who is played by Jesse Eisenberg. And although Eisenberg does not physically resemble the real Zuckerberg that much he proves to be the perfect choice because he not only has considerable acting chops, but he also seems to be a true introvert just like Zuckerberg is in Sorkin’s script. Eisenberg is the perfect outsider and loner, but he also projects intelligence and babble-mouthed arrogance that oftentimes makes him seem very insensitive and a little alien. Which is perfect of course, because who but an absolute loner would have the need to create a website like Facebook, which sole purpose is to connect people? But this is also the ultimate irony of this character, because in making this amazing website he loses the only friend he has.
And if you want to put a finger on what exactly the narrative of “The Social Network” is about then it is that. It’s about two friends gradually and spectacularly falling apart as they give birth to a multi-billion dollar company. And money is certainly a big part of the film. Huge figures are constantly thrown around in the dialogue and the film completely takes place in the world of the privileged and the super rich, accentuating the decadence and hedonism of our modern time. This in turn further contributes to the tonal alienation because it is something the “99%” cannot really relate to.
But Mark himself does not belong to that world, you can tell so just by looking at him. But he does want to belong, event though that is a pure “want” and not a “need”, which is the crucial difference. He wants to join one of the prestigious “final clubs” that “lead to a better life” but what he actually needs is something completely different, something that he has at the very start of the film and foolishly squanders. But out of that loss the first inklings of the Facebook idea are born.
And this is precisely the most fascinating aspect of “The Social Network” and it is absolutely what the whole bloody film is about. It is a complete dissection of an idea, its evolution and how it is formed in to reality. We first of all need to understand that ideas are not just “Eureka!” moments, flashes of inspiration that hit us and move us in to creation. Sometimes they’re that, sure, but more often than not they’re something that simmers in the back of one’s head and builds over time; weeks, months even years sometime. Different events add to it differently and that is precisely what we witness in this film. That whole process and it is fucking beautiful.
At the surface “The Social Network” is a movie about Facebook and its creation, but in its depth it’s a film about a once in a lifetime, holy-shit idea. It’s about the process of nurturing and growing that idea in to the 500 million user, multi-billion dollar giant that ultimately became Facebook. And it shows how a human gets there and what forces drive him. This movie is superbly written, acted and directed, but this chronicle and analysis of a genesis and evolution of a single idea is what makes it a masterpiece. And I do not care how factual it is, because it is the poetic truth in every sense of that phrase.
“The Social Network” is dense with detail, information and character. It was a dizzying watch for me the first time I saw it two years ago, but I knew that I witnessed a very special movie even though I was, like most other people seemed to be, a bit perplexed by it. I have seen it numerous times since then and I honestly consider it one of the best American films in recent memory. All that hype turned out to be very true for me.
*the amazing editing of the film is a big contributing factor for this as well, but it only builds further on the great mechanic established in the screenplay.
Jesse Eisenberg - Mark Zuckerberg
Andrew Garfield - Eduardo Saverin
Armie Hammer - Cameron / Tyler Winklevoss
Justin Timberlake - Sean Parker
Rooney Mara - Erica Albright
The Social Network on IMDb
note: this article is for the date of 09/30/12 but because it was poster after midnight it got pushed in to the next day. It seems that the 1st of October will have two entries.