by Nick Ubels (Online Editor)
The Social Network is equal parts courtroom drama and character study, depicting a complicated narrative of power, loneliness, jealousy, deceit and betrayal. That it all takes place behind the scenes of the genesis of the most pervasive communication medium of the new millennium is secondary to the central story, but critical to its meaning.
The film paints a gripping portrait of the tremendously talented, but socially tone-deaf co-founder of Facebook: a computer programmer and Harvard dropout named Mark Zuckerberg whose meteoric rise to success is mirrored only by his ability to betray and alienate those around him.
Network’s opening sequence finds the protagonist, portrayed with calculating, self-absorbed brilliance by Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, The Squid and the Whale), anxiously discussing how he might gain the attention of one of the school’s prestigious and exclusive “final clubs” with then-girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). From the start, Zuckerberg has a chip on his shoulder and his arrogant self-focus manages to estrange himself from Erica. She breaks up with him immediately.
Zuckerberg returns to his dorm and exacts cruel revenge on all of Harvard’s female population by hacking into the various residence house websites and violating privacy laws by launching a site called FaceMash that invites users to compare the relative “hotness” of other students. It receives 22 000 hits in less than four hours.
This cycle of selfish, ruthless and vindictive behaviour repeats itself throughout Zuckerberg’s mercurial, divisive rise from small time programming student to multi-billionare media mogul in a few short years and seems to fuel his relentless work ethic. It is a timeless, lonely-at-the-top fable reminiscent of the ascension of another one of cinema’s most famous communication tycoons: Charles Foster Kane. The Social Network even has its own “rosebud”.
At once the audience has a snapshot of the contradictions that exist in the character of Mark Zuckerberg. He is an unsympathetic misfit and intuitive genius, yet viewers cannot help but identify with his misguided desire to be successful and accepted. And Zuckerberg ultimately pays a hefty price for all his success.
David Fincher’s film is structured around two concurrent lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg by his once best friend and co-founder of Facebook Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and three fellow Harvard students claiming Zuckerberg stole their idea for a website that would digitize the college experience.
Network does an excellent job of showing these multiple perspectives surrounding the founding of the internet’s most populous social networking site and ultimately leaves it up to the viewers to make up their own minds.
Although the audience is thrust into the middle of the proceedings, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s fast-paced, evocative dialogue and Fincher’s judicious direction keep things clear and on point as the film deftly shifts between both depositions as well as scenes depicting the origin and development of Facebook itself.
The screenplay has a distinctive noir-ish quality, every line ripe with meaning and characterization, not to mention endlessly quotable, occasionally quite humorous and perfectly delivered.
While Jesse Eisenberg perfectly balances the hubris and humanity that make Mark Zuckerberg such a compelling character, the supporting performances in this film are also stellar. Andrew Garfield provides the emotional core of the The Social Network as its most relatable character whose deteriorating relationship with Zuckerberg is at the centre of the conflict. Justin Timberlake steals his scenes as the conniving and charismatic advisor Sean Parker who slowly drives a wedge between the two friends and business partners.
All of the technical elements of this film are likewise flawless with Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, The Zodiac) crafting his most cohesive and pertinent piece to date. The regatta scene is particularly arresting with its dark vivid colours and unique use of depth and focus to create a toy-like appearance.
This is a story that 500 million people have played a part in, making it inherently reflective. What is the cost of success? What is the meaning of friendship in the digital world? The Social Network never gives us any definitive answers, but it asks the right questions, as all true art should. This is why it is not only the best movie of the year, but the most important.