Film Review – The Social Network (Second Take)
We can agree that none of us thought a Facebook movie sounded like a great idea when it first surfaced, right? I personally had a flash of some sort of emo You’ve Got Mail. (No offense to You’ve Got Mail.) But once it was clear that the intention was to tell a story not just using Facebook as a marketable backdrop, but to really comment on one of the specific phenomena of the 2000s, my interest was piqued. When the director and writer turned out to be David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, I knew that whatever we got, brilliant or failure, would be worth talking about.
I must say that my feelings are not colored by whether I believe The Social Network‘s events accurately depict real events. If I thought it was complete slander, maybe that would be different. But that’s a discussion for another time. Here, I speak only to how the film—as a narrative, as a production—made me feel as a viewer. In a word: thrilled.
We are presented with Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), Harvard student. He would like to make something of himself. The path to this seems to him to be joining one of Harvard’s exclusive clubs. He tries, unsuccessfully, uncomprehendingly, to explain this to his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara). She’s not a Harvard student, but, in Mark’s opinion, she’s still pretty much worth spending time with. You know. In a few taut, stunning minutes, as he explains his wishes to her, we’re given all we need to know about Mark. It’s one of those opening scenes that makes you sit up in your chair and think “I’m in for a treat.” Eisenberg and Mara’s sparring is a marvel of electric interaction, and the dialogue is only a glimpse of the glee to come. I wondered if there had ever been so emotionally satisfying a moment so early in a film as her reaction to his speechifying in this scene.
This is said as someone who goes back and forth on screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s style. I love it in A Few Good Men, but find The West Wing insufferable…et cetera. Here, his style transcends anything it has been before. It lends itself perfectly to a story that has to cover a lot of ground, time-wise and emotion-wise. Every line is precious. The economy of storytelling, combined with those sparkling gems of dialogue, produces a smooth yet ardent momentum that makes the film’s two hours pass quickly.
Also—it’s funny. At first: in a pleased, satisfyingly self-satisfied way, as one-liner after one-liner hits purely. Armie Hammer, in a dual role as the Winklevoss twins, who find their Harvard-centric social website idea (allegedly) stolen by Zuckerberg, was one of the true highlights for me. The twins’ indignation over Mark’s actions, their desperation when they can’t get any authority to understand the gravity of what he (allegedly) did, their determination to crush him in spite of that—it’s all played perfectly to generate intense sympathy, but also to break greater tensions with cleverly-worded outbursts.
Past that, the film is both funny and astutely serious in the way it explores the excesses of human behavior, such as the way we act when confronted by something we find to be breathtaking, or infuriating, or baffling. We see this in the deft way the surge of Facebook, in its revolutionary functionality, is recounted; in the way Mark and his best friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) impulsively throw everything they have into the site; in the way they react so differently to the excesses displayed by those that have come before (especially Justin Timberlake in his role as Napster founder Sean Parker). This is no shallow commentary on human desire.
Some people may be bothered by how unlikeable Mark truly seems to be. Now, everyone who knows me knows of my exasperation over the barrage of stories about the woes of middle and upper class straight white men (fun experiment: consider how many of your favorite films belong to that category. It’s flooring). Here exists that rarest of things: a film that qualifies, and still makes me ache for the characters. Yes, truly, all of them. Even the assholes. A lot of this is because the acting captivated me truly. I’ve heard murmurs about Best Supporting Actor nominations for Garfield, Timberlake, and Hammer, and I’d be in favor of any or all of those. Beyond that, I’d be surprised if the film doesn’t earn nominations in many major categories. And I hope that Eisenberg will be recognized as well.
The main hurdle this film jumps is the fact that, essentially, we already know how all of this turns out: Mark gets rich; some of his friends, and many of his enemies, get screwed. The film wisely focuses on the smaller personal stories within the main drama. The characters themselves often embrace the inevitability of their trajectories, which nicely sidesteps some situations where the tension might feel forced otherwise.
I don’t believe David Fincher can ever really be faulted for his direction. Even for his films I’ve thought to be overrated, I speak mainly to the story; when his direction is matched with a story worthy of it, we get something like Zodiac—something overcoming. That sense is crystallized perfectly in one moment in this film, built to so assuredly you don’t notice. For all logic, we should know exactly what’s coming. But I gasped along with the entire audience at the reveal of the true depth of what friend can do to friend, if the stakes are high enough. That moment says everything about what this film accomplishes.
Final Grade: A+
If you are interested in seeing our original review, it is available here.