Some critics have described The Social Network as a modern-day Citizen Kane; in that it examines current trends in a smart, yet understandable way. The creation of Facebook is something that, in 2003, pushed technology and online social networking further than it had ever been before. It allowed people from different countries to interact with one another in seconds, creating a new dimension for socialising. Despite being established seven years ago, the themes of technological advancement, social exclusion and determination are noticeable in today’s society.
The Social Network is loosely based on Ben Mezrich’s non-fiction novel The Accidental Billionaires and is a strange choice of material for Fincher, whose past films such as Se7en, Fight Club and the more recent The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, tended to rely heavily on his direction and vision over source material, leading to many labelling him as the auteur of his generation.
The Social Network, however, is a film that relies less on the direction, and more on the other aspects, such as script and the actors’ performances. It’s a truly modern-day piece of cinema, one that explores certain subjects relevant in today’s society. It’s one that asks questions of its viewers, and captures your imagination for the full running time, and pretty much does away with any pre-conceived ideas, immersing you into the full story, letting you make your mind up at the end, based solely on what you’ve seen on screen. It’s an intelligent way to present a piece of film. Fincher has stepped back and presented Sorkin’s script on the table for us to take however we please.
The film itself opens with Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) being dumped by his girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), which prompts him to create a website called Facemash.com, where users are presented with pictures of two fellow female students and asked to click on the one whom they find sexier. The site notches up 22,000 hits in the first hour and eventually crashes the Harvard network, which leads to Zuckerberg landing 6 months of academic probation for violating security measures. When he’s then asked to create a social networking website exclusively for Harvard students by the Winklevoss brothers (Armie Hammer and John Pence) and their partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), he instead steals their idea and so Facebook is slowly unleashed upon the world, university by university, country by country.
This would all appear to be plain sailing. However, the Winklevoss brothers and their partner Narendra decide to sue Zuckerberg for stealing their idea, which eventually leads to Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Zuckerberg’s so-called best friend, suing him as well. The film goes between the two different depositions, while flashing back and telling the story of the creation of the social networking phenomenon and discovering why these two entities are suing the youngest billionaire in the world.
In terms of structure, it’s certainly an interesting way to present a film. Sorkin’s script is centred around the two court cases that form the ultimate conclusion of the film, while flashbacks are used heavily to flesh out the reasons behind the testimonies. While never being too long, or too talky, Sorkin allows time for the viewers to get to know the characters and understand their reasons behind their decisions, allowing you to feel for their situation, while never particularly portraying one character to be better than the other; everyone has their flaws, and this film documents that superbly.
Zuckerberg’s passion is what drives the main body of the film. He’s portrayed as a focused and highly intelligent – verging on autistic – student who, despite being hated by most people during his time at Harvard, never lets anything block his vision or interrupt his objective. He’s efficient, emotionally stunted and appears to be cold, but, as you’ll see at the end of the film, most definitely has an emotional centre that many fail to notice.
Throughout the film, he’s never shown to be engaging in university life, or his studies. It’s quite obvious that, to him, he’s intent on making an online community to connect everyone everywhere, rather than do anything for himself. However, he doesn’t appear to have this approach when it comes to his personal relationships. He never seems to warm up around people or share his most intimate thoughts – everyone, some way or another, leads back to his vision. There’s always a purpose behind the acts he commits or the people he interacts with. His negligence and naivety leads to the break-up between himself and his girlfriend Erica at the very start of the film, and the way his friendship with Eduardo erupts into a battle for control, neither of them particularly focused on money. Zuckerberg wants the success for himself, while Eduardo wants it to make his father proud.
Zuckerberg himself, who was somewhat of a social outcast, retreated into the world of Facebook, using his supreme intelligence to benefit others, while his own self-esteem and name suffered in the process. Throughout the film he is shown to have a limited number of friends, and those who are his friends, turn against him in a battle for power and control over what has been created. The theme of domination, and ambition, is necessary in exploring characters relationships, pitting them against each other. It’s evident from the beginning of the film that things will eventually turn for the worse, as the characters have similar takes on life, are from similar backgrounds and want to succeed in a harsh world as much as the next man.
There are, however, aspects of the film that don’t work quite as well as you’d expect. The structure of the film – though appearing solid and direct with its viewers, offering up information slowly, so viewers can follow the story without it getting ahead of itself – sometimes suffers due to its open-ended nature. The start of the film is perfect: it has the right tone, keeps viewers interested, while leaving open-ended questions that you assume will be answered in the second part. The latter half, however, isn’t nearly as effective. It’s slow, temperamental and can be described as dull in comparison. Although it still keeps you interested, it doesn’t have nearly the same hold on you as the first half did.
It’s assuring to see, then, that even after a comparatively poor second half, the ending is poignant, humourous and real enough to leave you feeling satisfied. Sorkin leaves the film with Zuckerberg as a hollow man in despair, representing the idea that success isn’t everything. No matter how many friends you may have in an online community such as Facebook, it doesn’t help in the fact you can still be lonely in real-life. Zuckerberg has quite clearly learned from his mistakes. He’s learned that in order to pass through life, he can’t rely on the millions of “friends” he has in an online community, but needs real-life friends in order to live and feel accepted.
The Social Network is a film that deserves your attention. It’s not only a film about Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook, but also one of morality. One that requires your full attention and questions your beliefs and values; but also one that rewards you with its passion, attention-to-detail and humourous nature. It’s a truly remarkable piece of cinema.