Theatrical Review: The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg is a Harvard student who’s having a conversation with a girl who he’s dating in a local bar. He’s a brilliant guy and he wants to make sure that everyone knows that he’s smarter than them and in turn better than them. He’s buried deep in his computer skills and his desire to make something extraordinary of himself and as such, his social skills are at a level near zero. He says one thing too many to this girl, and in turn she dumps him rapidly. Mark, who’s only definable human emotion seems to be his anger, runs back to his dorm room. In a drunken state, he blogs insults about this girl while simultaneously setting up a web site that takes out his anger on women in general. The web site seeks to take all of the women in the surrounding campus and systematically puts them up two at a time to be compared as to who’s the hotter of the two. This web site shuts down the Harvard network and starts to form a plan in Mark’s head of how to put himself on the top of the world with what will become the eventual creation of the internet sensation known as Facebook.

That’s the opening of the new movie, The Social Network from director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin based on the book, “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich. To be perfectly honest, about a month ago, my interest level in seeing this wasn’t very high, with the only appealing factor to me being that it was directed by David Fincher, one of the best filmmakers at work today. I’m not really what one would call a big Aaron Sorkin fan, being turned off by his superiority messages on display in such TV shows as The West Wing and Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip. And as well, at the time, I had really nothing to do with Facebook, though I’d been skirting joining the site for awhile now for professional reasons.

And then three weeks ago, I joined Facebook, and my interest in The Social Network increased dramatically. I was all of a sudden a convert. I was back connected in a big way with relatives, old high school friends, professional friends and associates of mine from all around. I was having fun exploring the site, finding all of the pages related to my personal interests and even whiling away some time playing the assortment of Flash-based games that they offer.

So now, I’ve seen the movie and by it’s end, I almost wanted to quit Facebook out of spite… but don’t let that statement fool you, The Social Network is one brilliant and even scary film.

Fincher has been a hot commodity for years now, and after his last film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which I enjoyed quite a bit), he was being attacked with being overly sentimental. The Social Network almost seems to be a strike back at all of those attackers because there’s nothing even resembling sentimentality here, with most of it’s characters having little to no human emotions at all, but an overwhelming anger to prove themselves beyond anything human.

Fincher’s trademark visual style is at an extreme minimum with this movie. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it looks great, but it’s not there to overwhelm you with his visuals. Instead, you’re asked to follow this through extremely smart and smarmy dialogue, delivered in a way that just knows one speed and one intonation, except for extreme circumstances. And here, Aaron Sorkin’s style shines… and shines brilliantly.

The scary aspect is just the question of where the humanity lies with these young internet geniuses out there today. It’s somewhat unsettling to see this site, which has connected so many people in such diverse ways could be put together by one man who seems to be devoid of anything remotely resembling humanity.

You couldn’t get that without a brilliant cast who has their finger right on the pulse. Jesse Eisenberg leads the cast as Mark Zuckerberg. His portrayal of Zuckerberg is grotesque and cartoonish, with just anger and superiority firing it. The only time he even begins to display the slightest notion of being able to be charmed by anyone is when he meets Sean Parker, the creator of Napster, brilliantly played by Justin Timberlake. Parker’s already been through everything that Zuckerberg is about to go through, and when they meet, it’s almost like sparks appear in Zuckerberg’s eyes. Here’s the one person who gets him and wants to give the finger to the world, while becoming filthy rich along the way. Timberlake is smooth and slick and charming in about the same way as a snake, and it’s thoroughly appealing to Zuckerberg.

But not so much to Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield, Mark’s initial partner in the Facebook venture. Saverin is what could be seen as Mark’s real true friend here and he’s the one character in the main cast with the most humanity about him. Other cast standouts include Max Minghella as Divya Narendra and Armie Hammer and Josh Pence as Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. This trio originally engages Mark Zuckerberg to create a dating site for their house and once seeing the creation of Facebook, decide to sue Zuckerberg for stealing their idea. The Winklevoss Twins are probably the closest thing that comes to a fantastic visual effect in the movie. Both are primarily played by Armie Hammer and I have to say that Fincher fooled me into thinking it really was two separate actors throughout the film.

Now of course, it’s been very big in the news that the real Mark Zuckerberg is calling this whole thing fiction and really seeing Eisenberg’s portrayal, I don’t blame him in the slightest. The movie certainly acknowledges this as well with some carefully chosen words said by actress Rashida Jones (who plays as associate to Marks’ attorney). At the same time, there’s enough other accounts of what’s really happened that one has to think there’s something truly representative here. What you have here is truly a tale of ambition for our times, with money and power being thrown in the hands of someone who’s just too self-obsessed to know what it is to be truly human. Highly, highly recommended.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

03. October 2010 by Darren Goodhart
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