There’s a moral ambivalence to The Social Network that’s refreshing. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is good? Who is evil. The movie doesn’t tell you and it doesn’t seem to care. All it’s saying is these are the events and this is how they happened (or is it?). Nothing is defined, nothing is spelled out, nothing is spoon fed to the audience. It’s refreshing.
But it’s also a little irritating. Let me elaborate. But first–
The Social Network— or ‘the Facebook movie’ as many have dared to call it– is the newest film from director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) and writer Aaron Sorkin (All The President’s Men, “The West Wing”). The film follows Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) as he takes the grain of an idea (but whose?) and spins it into one of the most successful websites of all time, becoming the world’s youngest billionaire in the process. The story is told through flashbacks stemming from the testimonies at depositions for two lawsuits against Zuckerberg: one by fellow Harvard alums Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer seamlessly playing dual roles) and the other by his former best (and possibly only) friend, Eduardo Saverin (the fantastic Andrew Garfield).
Fincher has made, once again, an amazing film. The acting, the cinematography, the editing, the music (the music!), and most especially the script are top notch across the board. Much like Zodiac (the closest of Fincher’s previous films in both tone and look), The Social Network has charisma and visual flare to it that is likely to endear and engage audiences from the very first scene. This is a movie that knows what it is, knows what it’s telling, and knows exactly the best way to do it. Like Justin Timberlake‘s character of Shawn Parker (founder of Napster and an early investor in Facebook), The Social Network has a charm and confidence to it that makes you want to immediately stop what you’re doing, pay attention, and listen to exactly what it has to say. For a film that in lesser hands could have bored an audience to tears or drowned it in melodramatic sap, this is a high complement.
Going into this film, I had been annoyed with the constant references to this being ‘the Facebook movie,’ and had more than once defended it as being so much more than that. You see, while Zuckerberg at many points in the film refers to the site as ‘cool’, these days many see Facebook as the epitome of uncool, and are uninterested in a film based around its founding, no matter what the pedigree of the filmmakers behind it. But cool or no, after seeing the film, ‘the Facebook movie’ is perhaps the most accurate way I can think to describe it. For not only is it a film about Facebook, but in many ways the filmmaking seems to reflect the current state of social networking and shared information in the digital era.
Rambling, cluttered, impersonal, and yet scandalously personal at the same time– and all of this at a breakneck speed, The Social Network‘s biggest strength and biggest weakness are one and the same. The film does not judge, it does not present anyone as the true hero or villain of the story (though Garfield’s Eduardo Saverin comes out in the best of light when it’s all over). Dialog and scenes cut back and forth between locations and time periods at an extraordinary speed, never slowing down and always expecting the audience to be interested enough to not get left behind. It works, but I think it also hurts the picture, since we’re rarely ever given the chance to stop, breath in, and really get to know the atmosphere of a moment or character. Everyone is presented with so little narrative decisiveness or background that it’s often hard to get a real sense of characters’ true motivations and intentions. This is great for making a film that doesn’t preach to the audience– and in that sense it succeeds– but it also keeps the film from becoming truly involving, always keeping its characters and their fates an arms distance away from those watching.
Like the actual Facebook, the film seems to replace real, intimate interactions between the characters and the audience with distanced observations and muddled, vicarious experiences. In one of the lighter moments of the film, an incident involving Saverin and a chicken is described to several different characters, but is never shown. We are only told both sides and left to imagine our own version of the events, as comical or tragic as they may be. This scene indicative to the approach taken by much of the film. Who is right? Who is wrong? Does it matter? There are no clear answers. Is this a criticism or a complement? I’ll leave that up to you.
No, this is not a film that will define a generation. At least not for the people actually in this generation. It may define how we’re seen by the older adults still struggling to understanding us, though how good that impression will be has yet to be determined.
This is in no way a bad film, in fact I have no reservations calling it a great film, and certainly a worthy edition to the works by both Fincher and Sorkin. Is it the Citizen Kane of the Internet? …not likely. But if nothing else, The Social Network has proved that in the right hands, compelling drama can come from anything and be about anyone. No matter how cool or uncool it may be.
The Facebook Movie: B+