By Andy Frisk
October 10, 2010 - 12:13
After Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), founder of Napster, finishes telling Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) that he basically founded Napster in an attempt to gain the attention and affection of his unrequited high school crush and Zuckerberg asks, “Do you still ever think about her?” to which Parker enthusiastically replies, “No!” the theme of Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher’s The Social Network is brought clearly into view. Forget whether or not the events of the film, taken from depositions given in relation to the many hearings between Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin (Facebook co-founder and former best friend of Zuckerberg’s—played by Andrew Garfield), and the Winklevoss twins (the privileged Harvard brothers who claim that Zuckerberg stole the Facebook idea from them portrayed simultaneously by Armie Hammer) as well as from Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network, at its core, is the story of what drives us all: human connections, be they real, perceived, or fake. It’s all about making connections with those in our lives, connections that don’t take each other for granted, don’t use one another for personal gain, and aren’t superficial stepping stones to the achievement of a higher goal. These are the ones that really matter. At this aforementioned part in the film, it’s hard to not remember back to Saverin’s declaration of “I’m here for you” to Zuckerberg when he first meets up with him after Zuckerberg’s girlfriend dumps him, prompting the creation of the most recognizable, most trafficked, and most powerful digital connection tool ever created: Facebook.
Parker has connected with Zuckerberg out a desire to reestablish himself, and make a large amount of money, whereas Zuckerberg already had a real, and honest, connection and friendship with someone who was truly “there for him” in every sense of the word as a friend. Zuckerberg, as portrayed in the film, is aware of what type of connection is worth preserving, but being unable to make the most powerful connections, with his girlfriend, his best friend, and the Harvard Final Clubs that he so desperately desires to be accepted into, he ends up showing the world how to connect digitally, in a way that removes what keeps him from connecting physically. With Facebook, one can really become “another” self, or at least be perceived as such, and consequently the physical ineptitudes: lack of social graces, lack of what society deems as physical beauty, lack of social skills, and lack of privileged money can be glossed over. In our age of digital profiles, legal litigators and mediators, and the ever present email, text, and blog post, we almost don’t need to connect physically in one on one settings anymore. Sadly, very few characters in The Social Network do either, and when they do, there is usually an ulterior motive for doing so, and those like Zuckerberg who are inept at such social games often end up hurting those around them and themselves when they fall prey to the smooth talkers and fast living tricksters and schemers like Parker. One ends up pitying the “Rich Man” of The Beatles song that plays over the end credits that Zuckerberg now is. He might have all the money in the world per se, but he still doesn’t have the connections that make it all worth while.
The Social Network addresses this timeless theme set within the context of the hyper-fast and instant gratification world of Generation X and Y (or Millennials as Gen Y’ers prefer to be called). It just so happens that the creation of Facebook and the personalities involved are easily adapted as representations of the very archetypes that represent more than just the members of Gen X and Y. Our generations might be the driving force in the world right now as we make use of and create new ways of connecting with each other (and screwing each other over) due to the digital revolution that has brought about the Information Overload and Sound Bite Age, but the original human drives that have been in existence for eons haven’t changed. Only the way they are packaged and portrayed has. Never before in the history of mankind though has such a tale (inspired by real life events) actually happened, been reported, commoditized, and brought to life on film as quickly as the Facebook story has. Facebook and The Social Network are perfect examples of the instant gratification, and monetization, of the most basic human stories that defines our age. From creation to fictional recreation, Facebook and the story of its creator has taken a scant 7 years. Where there is a profit to be made there is a means to make it quickly and, ever more increasingly, artistically…
…and The Social Network is a very artistic film, no doubt. David Fincher (Fight Club, The Strange Case of Benjamin Button) has been solidified as an artistic and inspired filmmaker, and The Social Network simply adds to his now extensive resume. Coupled with Aaron Sorkin’s staccato-like and incredibly witty and authentic dialogue, The Social Network stands head and shoulders above its box office competition and easily makes its own case for Oscar consideration. Fincher is a master at capturing the darkness of human isolation, not just in the portrayals he coaxes out of his actors, but in the very atmosphere and surroundings he creates by way of setting, lighting, and staging. The simple opening sequence shot of Eisenberg (as Zuckerberg) running, as opposed to everyone else’s strolling gait, up the wet steps of one of Harvard’s many cement stairways leading to what could be any number of academic buildings or housings during a Fall night where the turning leaves float down and are tussled by the wind conveys atmospherically the damp loneliness that must be weighing down his beer dampened mind. Later on, the dark circles that Fincher’s cameras capture so effectively on Eisenberg’s face as he mulls over the loss of his best friend, and is subsequently jarred by Timberlake’s call from the police station to inform him of his cocaine bust, tell the story of Zuckerberg’s mental state. Not since Edward Norton’s portrayal of the sleep deprived protagonist (Tyler Durden) of another of Fincher’s directorial tales of isolation and the need to make connections while attempting to reinvent oneself (Fight Club) have we seen so effectively portrayed the toll such isolation and mental stress takes on a person.
As artistic as the film is visually and directorially, it is a very artfully acted film as well. Eisenberg, with his portrayal of the film’s version of Zuckerberg has taken his career, and his skill, to the next level. I mention him in the same breath as Edward Norton, not lightly, but seriously. Fincher might be a master at capturing the pain in a trot and in the look on the face of his subject, but the actor must create the image, and visage, that the director must catch. Eisenberg does this powerfully and seemingly effortlessly. Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg’s one time best friend Eduardo Saverin just as effortlessly conveys the tempered youthful exuberance and maturity of a young man of means, honor, and heart. Armie Hammer, in a brilliant portrayal of the Winklevoss twins captures in the two all that is great and deplorable about Harvard the institution and its type of privileged, or self deludingly privileged, student and atmosphere. Justin Timberlake, who portrays what can be considered the film’s only villain, Napster founder Sean Parker, delivers a simply brilliant portrayal which captures all the swarmy, yet appealing, charm of a user and conniver.
Finally, the master of the musical portrayal of isolation, anxiety, and the lack of human connectedness, Trent Reznor, creator, performer, and composer of one of the most influential and artistic (digitally and otherwise) musical projects of all time: Nine Inch Nails creates (with collaborator Atticus Ross) one of the most fitting soundtracks ever produced for a film. Reznor’s signature haunting piano coupled with the oddly moaning sound of his digitally washed guitar delivers a powerfully and painfully dark sonic incarnation of the disconnected soul of the isolated.
For a story that can’t be described as having a happy ending (even if it doesn’t have a particularly sad ending) one can come away from The Social Network, and the Facebook experience by extension, with the comforting thought that no matter how disconnected we become from each other, digitally, generationally, intellectually, or spiritually, men and women have dealt with these types of isolations from one another and their essences for eons, way before the creation of Facebook, and we have overcome them. Men and women will do so again, and history has shown that we don’t necessarily need another Facebook to do so.
Rating: 10 /10