The Social Network

The Social Network

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Grant

It is not without a hint of irony that the opening scene of The Social Network places us smack dab in the middle of a dialogue-heavy rapid-fire discussion between two people sitting in a bar, for it is precisely this type of face-to-face interaction that has suffered most in the age of social media, where everything from daily banalities to life-changing events are transmitted in terse bites (or rather, bytes) to hundreds or thousands of people simultaneously.

In the scene, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is in the process of being dumped by his Boston University girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara), owing to a combination of his arrogance, insecurity, and condescending manner. What’s most interesting is that it establishes a paradigm for every relationship explored in the film’s 121 minutes – one that is purely transaction-based. This, of course, should come as no surprise in a work that is a paean to contemporary capitalism, and one that bestows hero status on a socially awkward computer whiz-kid simply for striking it rich.

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Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are less interested in the nature of Facebook and its impact on social mores than they are in crafting a creation myth, and in that the film succeeds tremendously. With its brisk pacing, stellar performances and sharp dialogue, it is unquestionably one of Hollywood’s best efforts this year, but is that reason enough to forgive its shortcomings? Auteurists will deservedly find much that is praiseworthy in Fincher’s remarkably fluid and stylised direction (particularly after the turgid sap-fest that was The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button), while cultural critics will appreciate just how deeply entrenched it is in the zeitgeist. Yet even with all that going for it, there’s still a sense that something is lacking.

A Fight Club with words instead of fists, the film employs both a non-linear and quasi-Rashomon structure to present the story of Zuckerberg’s rise and rise. From the drunken Facemash experiment to the creation of the Facebook that we know today, most of Zuckerberg’s actions resulted in him being brought up on charges for one thing or another, and the bulk of the film plays out in various hearing rooms, depositions, or other legal gatherings, with the young hacker cum genius being asked to defend himself from charges that range from illegal use of a computer network to outright intellectual property theft.

His two biggest ordeals are a pair of multi-million dollar lawsuits, one brought by his former partner and best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and the other from the Winklevoss brothers (Armie Hammer), elite upper-crust identical twins who claim that the idea of Facebook was originally theirs. Both cases are told via flashback, and from multiple perspectives, yet through it all, Zuckerberg remains positively stoical, with his thoughts more on improving his site than on the ethical and moral baggage attached to the charges.

If the film’s mythology is to be believed, Facebook (as well as Napster) was born solely from an inability to win a woman’s heart, and from a sense of social inadequacy and inferiority. Why go through the complicated manoeuvres to find out a woman’s relationship status when one can simply look at her profile? That Zuckerberg takes such tremendous pains to create a tool to communicate and connect virtually because he lacks the skills to do so in the real world is the film’s real centre, yet there’s a hesitancy to delve into that idea.

Zuckerberg is presented as a nebbish – a pale, poorly dressed Jewish schlub who stands in sharp contrast to the perceived privileged perfection of the WASP-y Winklevoss brothers, gifted with both brains and brawn, and who belong to private organizations to which Zuckerberg would never be welcomed. Obviously this is what, at least in part, drives and motivates him, yet Sorkin’s script only scratches the surface of the social, economic, and cultural factors that separated and alienated Mark, particularly at a school like Harvard. (See Robert Redford’s Quiz Show for a far more forthcoming study of this dynamic.) That Facebook was originally limited to elite schools only emphasizes

The film’s critical and financial success thus far is understandable, as it is both remarkably compelling and brilliantly entertaining from start to finish. Justin Timberlake’s performance as Napster creator Sean Parker, the devil on Zuckerberg’s shoulder, is especially praiseworthy. Ultimately, however, The Social Network frustrates in that it has all the necessary ingredients to be something much greater than a bog-standard biopic, but chooses to play it safe rather than exploring the factors that led to one of the most significant changes in social interaction in recent history. Instead of doing for the Naughties what Easy Rider did for the Sixties, Fincher and Sorkin have given us a slick, up-market version of Revenge Of The Nerds.

Reviewed on: 14 Oct 2010
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The story behind the founding of Facebook.
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Read more The Social Network reviews:

David Graham ****1/2

Director: David Fincher

Writer: Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Ben Mezrich.

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Joseph Mazzello, Andrew Garfield

Year: 2010

Runtime: 150 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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