“We lived on farms; then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the Internet.”
There seems to be a certain type of movie on the rise in recent years. It’s about a young person striving for greatness and the costs associated with that. Watching The Social Network, I was reminded of Whiplash and Ex Machina from recent years. These movies are strikingly different in many regards, but the thing that stuck with me the most for all three is this common thread of ambition. With Whiplash and Ex Machina, it seemed more about greatness for the sake of being great, while Zuckerberg’s story took a bit of a spin, but it’s a theme that can be explored in such an interesting way regardless. David Fincher demonstrates tremendous directorial skill once again with this movie, and I found myself both amused and impressed with The Social Network.
I think this is a movie that will be revisited throughout history as indicative of a certain time. In 2010, Zuckerberg had established himself as the world’s youngest billionaire, and a movie about his rise to greatness was a golden idea. Thankfully, the concept was dropped into the hands of the incredible screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and immensely talented director David Fincher. Before I dive into the specifics, I have to admire the overall quality of The Social Network. The cinematography, the script, just the entire vision behind this film is so crisp and well done. This could be a movie about anything at all, and I would have stayed engaged. Fincher has adapted his directing style to a smoother, more modern technique that complements every second of the film beautifully. It’s no wonder the movie got so much Oscar buzz, and I would make a strong case that it deserved Best Picture over The King’s Speech in 2010.
From the start, you get a fascinating look at the character of Mark Zuckerberg. The opening scene where his girlfriend breaks up with him, a plot element I didn’t even care for too much, is so well written and catapults the film into its wild upward climb. Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield give fun performances that complement the hilariously awkward but also obnoxious portrayal by Jesse Eisenberg. The script doesn’t pull any punches with its source material and refuses to paint anyone as a good guy. It even goes out of its way to create an antihero sort of asshole out of Zuckerberg, but you’re still drawn to the genius of the character for the entire ride. At first, I didn’t care too much about the lawsuit thing and saw it as a weak framing device, but by the end I was accepting of it. You eventually see that it’s not about losing the money for Zuckerberg, rather finally admitting guilt and facing consequence for his actions that makes the lawsuit significant. The movie keeps the focus on characters, as opposed to just telling a story.
There’s a commendable sense of atmosphere to the movie, and you can tell the research was spot on. The film’s take on Harvard University was very entertaining, touching on elitism, prestige, and some real truths about the college experience. I’d like to say I enjoyed the first half of the movie, Zuckerberg’s rise to power, more than the second half just for this aspect. Seeing him as an underdog piecing together this creation of his is where the movie shines the most, although the second half has some real treasures as well. My major issue with the film, although it wasn’t too detracting, was the whole ex-girlfriend element. As an audience member, I would have accepted that Zuckerberg did all of these things just for the sake of being great. It seemed low stakes to go for the “he did it to get back at this girl” thing, a point they probably could have dropped a lot sooner than they did. Either way, the character work was still strong with commendable acting all around.
Aaron Sorkis’s script deserves some real recognition (which is certainly attained) for its sharp dialogue as well. The film is heavily quotable, primarily for Zuckerberg’s sarcastic quips in high stakes situations. Every character has such a distinct voice, and every conversation feels smooth and bouncy. Despite this, Sorkis maintains an element of reality to the dialogue that keeps the movie genuine and smart. Zuckerberg is given just enough awkwardness to seem like a believable programming genius without coming off as a comedic stereotype, but he also toes the line of detestable jerk at the same time. It’s a complex characterization that guides the plot and keeps the movie interesting, because you really never know what’s going to come out of Eisenberg’s mouth in this movie. The script also dodges tropes really well. I loved seeing the Winklevoss twins constantly fail to bring down Zuckerberg, particularly the scene with Harvard President Sommers (played by Douglas Urbanski) which is perhaps the funniest bit in the film. Every scene feels playful, keeping the narrative from being dragged down in too much plot. Sorkis trusts his audience to follow along and make leaps with him as he unfolds the story, and the payoff is huge.
The Social Network works on a lot of levels: social commentary, historical narrative, outrageous adventure, troubling character study, and it leaves you feeling both informed and satisfied by the time the credits roll. It’s like a Wolf of Wall Street with a lot less excess and a touch more intelligence. It’s a movie crafted so well and paced so seamlessly that you’ll be thoroughly engaged for the entire duration, and I ended up far more impressed than I expected going in. I thought I’d be seeing a fun take on the Zuckerberg story with a lot of details and explanation, but I walked away with a deep appreciation for a really cool film that had me both laughing and thinking. It’s a movie that succeeds on a lot of different levels, and for this reason, I think I’ll give it a Like.
Films Left to Watch: 952