Okay, so I'm a bit late on the bandwagon, but I just saw The Social Network. And like most reviews, I have to give it a thumbs up, too. Now, I certainly had to ask myself how much of that positive review is based on all the positive hype it's already been given by the media as well as the public; how much influence did that all have on my liking it? Maybe a little, but I also don't think it'll be my favorite movie of the year - I liked Kick-Ass and Inception more, for example. But there are a few things that made this film quite unique amongst its brethren films this year and which make it worth blogging about.
The film is the story about the inception of the most popular website in the world... as of right now. It was so strange to see that the story begins in 2003, a mere 7 years ago. I grew up watching movies like Apollo 13 or Almost Famous that recounted a moment in America's past in which the story begins decades ago. This film practically takes place here and now. It'd be nearly impossible to distinguish 2003 from today in this film if it weren't for the references to MySpace, Friendster and Napster as the popular websites of the day. Fashion, music and historical events are not relevant or eluded to in the world of 'The Social Network'. For all intents and purposes, this movie takes place almost entirely in the present moment.
David Fincher won't be winning an Oscar for best director for this film. And why not? Because he simply did his job perfectly well - he told the story clearly and succinctly. No flash or flair, no crazy gimmicks or elaborate set pieces. Just a good story told exceedingly well - and that rarely wins Oscars. After earlier successes with Seven and Fight Club, and - to a lesser extent - Zodiac, Fincher seems to have matured and focused his craft down to the simplicity that a good story requests of its director. No single shot, camera movement or creative edit in this film is noteworthy or memorable enough to comment on it now - only the characters and the performances their actors offered, and the faithfully-captured takes they performed. The film is a textbook example of efficiency. Think about it - to tell a story with so much dialogue about code-writing and algorithms, and at the same time to make it this intriguing to the viewer takes decades of experience on top of a polished talent as a storyteller... and probably the help of a great screenwriter, too.
Which brings me to Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter from TV's The West Wing and such films as A Few Good Men and Charlie Wilson's War. I'm starting to really get to know Sorkin's voice from his films, and more specifically, from his characters. He makes bold moves with his characters, who's real-life counterparts would dispute as wildly inaccurate, to which I can only imagine Sorkin responding, "Yes, but a story about the real you would be much more boring." It seems a bit of a shit-storm has already come and gone about the inflammatory creative liberties Sorkin and Fincher took on the real-life story, but that's their job: to make it entertainment! And Sorkin's characters are given powerful dialogue. In the opening scene, our hero's girlfriend has just dumped him and she scorns him with the film's mission statement:
"You're going to be successful, and rich. But you're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole."Sorkin spends the rest of the film proving her point and motivating his character to disprove it, resulting in 2 hours of here-and-now meta-drama revolving around law suits, broken business partnerships and friendships, and an unwittingly-cannibalistic chicken... all because of a little heartbreak. Ain't that just how it is? (Click here to read some of the more memorable lines from the film.)
Before diving into the analysis of the story itself, I'd also like to say that I think it was a brilliant decision to team up with Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) for the films musical score. He, along with composer and some-time Reznor collaborator, Atticus Ross, created a score that was timely, subdued, but perfectly poignant in the right moments for this film. Some great moments include a scene I'd dub "The Sean-a-thon" and the Rowing scene on the Themes river (a beautifully-shot and edited little sequence that could easily have been for a Timex commercial). The music masterfully mixes a hint of the digital in a sea of the emotional.
Now, the story, as you will know whether you've seen the film or not is about the creation of the social networking site, Facebook, by Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg - a socially-inept but creative computer programming wizard, as played by up-and-comer Jessie Eisenberg, who, over the past 5 years, has worked his way from total obscurity to leading-man Oscar-buzz-worthy performances in just a handful of films. We follow Zuckerberg and his best friend Edwardo Saverin (and the Best Supporting Actor award goes to... Andrew Garfield, who is best known as... well, the next Spider-Man) as they spin a wheel of lies and brilliance into a golden thread tainted with treachery and greed. Zuckerberg is the bane of the existence of three fraternity brothers, including the Winklevoss twins, (amazingly and surprisingly played by one actor, Armie Hammer - I had no idea!) who accuse him of stealing their idea for an exclusive social website. Spoiler Alert: They're not totally wrong.
Superstar Justin Timberlake plays Napster founder Sean Parker as an overconfident millionaire playboy who's facade of perfection is on the cusp of its inevitable crumble. He steps in to help Zuckerberg and company realize the full potential of such a radical idea as Facebook and he is first worshiped and then villainized all within an hour of screen-time. His character slowly pulls a believable "180" without ever coming across as evil or mean. I credit this more to Sorkin than Timberlake, although J.T. does his job well.
That's the plot in a nutshell. But the real meat of this film comes in the character study of Mark Zuckerberg. Is he really the nerdy, introverted and manipulative sociopath that the filmmakers have portrayed him as in real life? Does it really matter? For just another film-goer and Facebook-member like myself, I will probably forever see Jessie Eisenberg in my head every time I hear the name "Mark Zuckerberg" in the news, so this is the image that will prevail to the public. And the character was made deeper and more interesting to watch this way. It would make sense that someone with these particular personality traits, combined with the super-powers of divine computer programming skills and the ability to read social structures as mathematical algorithms, would have not only the ability to create the world-wide phenomenon that is Facebook, but the balls and the greed to pull it off. And yet, as the film's initial statement about Zuckerberg's asshole-ishness is again addressed at the end, it's all fueled by something else... something to which any of us can fall prey: desire.
The film ends without ending, for the story is still going on as we speak. Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world, Facebook has over 500 million members in over 200 countries world-wide, is valued at over $24 billion and undoubtedly, the real-life drama is still raging on behind closed doors. The film ends almost unexpectedly, with loose-ends still not tied up, relationships still unstable and lawsuits yet to be closed... and rolling the credits in the midst of such tension reminds us how über-present this situation really is (as well as situations like it that we may know from our own lives).
As clean, simple and everlasting as it all appears to the general public from this side of the Facebook main page on our computer screens, one thing I took away from this film is the reminder that nothing lasts forever. Not MySpace, not Napster, not friendships nor fortune. Not Facebook. Not glory. The only constant in the universe is change. And perhaps its only fuel is desire.