David Fincher’s “The Social Network” is one of the best American films in the past few decades. Other films premiering from this past week, such as “Let Me In” and “Alpha and Omega,” are excellent examples of the usual muck to which American audiences have become accustomed. Jesse Eisenberg’s face isn’t in 3D (sorry to disappoint all fans of Jesse and the third dimension.) Nope, instead of effects, gimmicks and dumbed-down dialogue, Fincher creates a complex drama that can be read like any great text.
The story is based on Ben Mezrich’s novel, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal. I haven’t read the novel but if it’s anything like the film, I’m assuming Mark Zuckerberg’s portrayal therein is complex and smarmy. Eisenberg does a fantastic job of translating anger and jealousy into this brooding, socially anxious anti-hero. Every word that comes out of his mouth feels like an attack, and Mark’s a narcissism, arrogance and intelligence give him the upper hand in any conversation. If there had been any other director involved, this film would have been an absolute shitstorm. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay moves with speed and sophistication; the dialogue is so delicious, the audience wants to talk like the characters do. (Think “Gilmore Girls” only without two annoying protagonists that you would rather dip in acid than imitate.)
“The Social Network” is also about, in essence, the Internet Generation, a digital utopia of text messages, mp3s, the World Wide Web and, more recently, Facebook. The film’s first scene is a conversation between Mark and his girlfriend at a bar. Zuckerberg is hyper-analytical, hyper-sensitive and hyper-judgmental; a neurotic social outcast. This is the sharp-mouthed, billionaire, anti-hero who builds an empire based on failed social interactions. Fincher alludes to Zuckerberg’s obsession with Harvard’s exclusive Final Clubs as one of many factors that led to Zuckerberg’s creation of www.thefacebook.com. That, and also, some dude asks Mark about this girl in their bio-lab and then Mark gets the idea to add relationship status.
In the film, race, class and sex are portrayed as superficial commodities that provide social hierarchical structure even before Facebook. Zuckerberg’s pet project, www.facemash.com, a site in which you choose which girl is ‘hotter’, elucidates the misogynistic nature of not just dudes at Harvard University, but most dudes in America. Enter villainous Justin Timberlake as the Napster founder Sean Parker, who, in the film, seems to manipulate Zuckerberg into ousting co-founder Eduardo Saverin.
The story is told from multiple perspectives, three in particular, as the film cuts between the origins of Facebook and the lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg’s side of the story is the first perspective, the second perspective is Eduardo’s side of the story, while the third comes from the Winklevoss twins’ point of view. Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, both played by Armie Hammer, and their business partner Divya Narendra have some of the most memorable one-liners in the film (“I’m 6’5”, I weigh 220 lbs. and there’s two of me!”). These different perspectives give the audience at least an illusion of an objective perspective on the creation of Facebook.
This is a biopic that is not explicitly about Mark Zuckerberg. Fincher has molded Zuckerberg into an archetypal product of this Internet Generation. Only this generation could produce such hyper-thinking, acute self-awareness. Fincher surmises that Mark’s creation of Facebook and interconnectedness has brought him for a loop. The girl from the jarring breakup in the initial scene is revisited in Mark’s thoughts at the end of the film when, in the ultimate irony, Mark awaits her response to his friendship request.