The Social Network

The Social Network

Social Network PosterSome of you may have heard of Facebook. It’s something about 500 million of you use apparently. Even we’ve got a page there. The social networking site perfectly captured the zeitgeist when it was unleashed onto an unsuspecting public in 2004, with predecessor’s My Space and Friendster already on the scene. Starting out as a way for the Harvard college social experience to be taken online and perpetually with you, founder Mark Zuckerberg’s empire is now worth over $25 billion. Yet it has not been without its critics. Indeed, there is an entire Wikipedia entry dedicated just to criticisms of Facebook, with controversies from privacy, identity theft, censorship and their own terms of use. Yet this giant website that has come to define life for many of its patrons started its own life as the product of a geek in a dorm room. The Social Network is its story.

Mark Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenberg, Zombieland) has just been dumped by his girlfriend, and is determined to do something to impress the Harvard clubs. He creates FaceMash, a site that pulls images of college girls from the college facebooks and asks users to rate whether they are hot or not. Attracting the attention of the powers that be, Zuckerberg gets a wrap over the knuckles, but not without tens of thousands of hits in the process. He also gets the attention of twin Harvard superstars Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) who want Zuckerberg to build their website, Harvard Connection. Along with roommate Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), Zuckerberg comes up with the idea of a social site that allows people to see what their friends are up to. They call it The Facebook. It is a runaway smash almost immediately, rapidly growing outside Harvard’s walls to other colleges (and as we all know, eventually the world). However, partly thanks to the shrewd business advice of Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), Zuckerberg has everybody after his pocketbook. The Winklevoss twins sue him from stealing their idea, and Saverin for bilking him out of millions and sidelining his involvement in the venture. Will Facebook triumph and become a successful site? Only time will tell…

The Social Network is undoubtedly and important film, dealing with the social networks that hundreds of millions of people entrust their most private information with on a daily basis.  Written by Alan Sorkin (Charlie Wilson’s War) adapting Ben Mezerich’s non-fiction book The Accidental Millionaire, and directed by master storyteller David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), The Social Network is a historical document detailing current events. It is rare for such recent events to be covered in a major studio film, and this is perhaps the first issue that raises its head. Fincher managed to completely tap into the zeitgeist with his adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, that epitomised the angst of a generation about to butt heads with the Gen Y-ers that would dominate the Facebook scene. With the benefit of time, generations will understand the pitfalls of sharing their most intimate details and having their own paparazzi online for the world to see. However, we still do not fully understand where these networks are headed, and The Social Network doesn’t attempt to dissect the aforementioned controversies at any depth.

More troubling is that as a simple narrative, The Social Network is very hard to get close to. This is thanks largely to the cold performance of Jesse Eisenberg, who is rapidly becoming the Michael Cera of his time. Under-playing his already limited range, Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg is the definition of a cold fish. Exhibiting very little emotion, beyond a casual contempt for anything and anyone that is not him, Eisenberg gives us very little in his rapid-fire dialogue to aid us in understanding why Zuckerberg would sell out virtually everybody who committed the ultimate crime of getting close to him. Indeed, we probably understand more about the intricacies of American college life, and all the elitist cliques that go with it, than we do about the main character. Perhaps through this we are expected to understand why someone as intelligent as Zuckerberg would be desperate to connect and be popular. Ex-girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara, Youth in Revolt) aptly summarises this in the first scene of the film: “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 won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole”. The Social Network never gets more insightful than this.

Far more interesting is the character of Eduardo Saverin, who reportedly served as an advisor on Mezerich’s book. He is the closest we have to a human connection throughout the film, and as the sidelined chief financial officer of the company, also gives us an understanding of the lure of the success that comes with something like Facebook. The Social Network has been ridiculously compared with Citizen Kane in some circles, in that this is the twenty-first century equivalent of Orson Welles’ dissection of William Randolph Hearst, the powerful newspaper tycoon. Yet where Citizen Kane used fiction to protectively wrap itself from the barbs of truth, it is unclear what is truth in The Social Network‘s world. Sorkin doesn’t make the connections as evident between cause and effect as he did with Charlie Wilson’s War, nor does it have the well-rounded or even engaging characters of The West Wing or A Few Good Men at its core.

Yet perhaps this was not the point of The Social Network. It is a tale about a very boring person with extraordinary talents who had an intense amount of drama going on around him. Indeed, it is these characters that really make the piece, including Timberlake as the hedonistic Sean Parker, who is truly a revelation in this role. Perhaps it really is time he quit his day job. The Social Network is the story of the building of an empire, and not the consequences to those that now live under its rules. Perhaps that is the role of a follow-up film. We’ll just have to see if enough people like button this one.

The Social Network is now showing across the country.

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