Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Film Club: The Social Network

Kyle Boulton reviews the 2010 biopic exploring the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook empire.

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Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

“I don’t want my fidelity to be truth,” screenwriter Aaron Sorkin noted. “I want it to be storytelling.” And thus Sorkin penned the most unexpected commercial and critical success of 2010, the ever-evolving and uniquely digital, The Social Network. David Fincher’s eighth directorial effort (Fight Club, Zodiac, Mindhunter) explores the murky, campus-based origins of technological behemoth, Facebook, along with the legal landmines and eternal inflictions of misogyny and betrayal left in its wake.

It’s October 2003 and Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is dumped by Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). Drunk and deflated, he blogs about his “bitch” ex and creates an illegal prototype of what we now know as Facebook called ‘Facemash’. Zuckerberg’s actions lead to 6 months of academic probation, giving him the free time and campus notoriety to program and create Facebook, an idea pitched and debatably stolen from old money frat-twins, Cameron and Tyler Winklesvoss (Armie Hammer x2). Initially funded by best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Zuckerberg’s campus-based social network soon transcends from two campuses to two continents, propped up by Napster founder, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). As the film’s clever promotional art states: ‘You don’t get to 500M friends without making a few enemies’, hence biopic elements are interspersed with sudden transitions into a contemporary courtroom drama where Saverin and the Winklevosses’ seek to reclaim their entitlements to the Facebook empire.

If the above doesn’t sound riveting to you, fair enough. But Sorkin’s screenplay offers a fine balance between Rashomon’s perspectival nuances and Citizen Kane’s tragic meditations on unfettered capitalism, masculinity and subterfuge. Like Welles’ masterpiece, information is king. That much is made clear by the quickfire dialogue peppered in Sorkinian witticisms and profundities - “The internet isn’t written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink.” Like Zodiac, the script is exposition-laden as characters risk becoming narrative mouthpieces. Fincher, however, retains a naturalness to the dialogue while condensing the bloated script into a lyrical free-fire of arrogant one-ups and timeless one-liners. Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter’s fast-paced, deliberate editing intrinsically upholds this inexorable rhythm of the film, corroborating the punchiness of Sorkin’s script. Equally spellbinding is Jeff Cronenweth’s pristine digital photography, beautifully capturing not just the excitement of campus-life, but also the commencing digital revolution and creeping interiorisation brought along with it. And what about that soundtrack? From the digital euphoria of ‘In Motion’ to the monolithic drones in  ‘Gentle Hum of Anxiety’, Ross and Reznor’s electronic soundscape perfectly encapsulates what logging into Facebook felt like in its infancy.

The core of these elements is Fincher’s direction. Known for his autocratic tendencies, The Social Network establishes the director as a surprisingly collaborative filmmaker. Although Fincher’s presence feels somewhat detached throughout, it’s impossible to imagine how Sorkin’s script, based on Ben Mezrich’s novel The Accidental Billionaires, would have translated into a motion picture without the maestro himself.

For all its brilliance, The Social Network does have glaring issues. Unironic dialogue such as “let the hacking begin” and “[Bosnians] don’t have roads but they have Facebook” are indicative of a script-writer just as privileged and out-of-touch as the people he’s critiquing. And for a film which tackles misogyny so profusely, you would be forgiven for assuming that Sorkin had never spoken to a woman before. Themes of rejection, male-rage and privilege, while excellently explored and somewhat profound for the decade it was released, are blatant exaggerations on behalf of Sorkin’s script. The film’s events are an unreliable depiction of three contradictory stories, most of what we witness being a heavily dramatised concoction of them all. If you want a better understanding of why Zuckerberg is the devil incarnate, you might be better off watching Netflix’s The Social Dilemma.

Regardless, The Social Network has been acclaimed by Esquire, Polygon, Quentin Tarantino and countless film disciples as the best film of the 2010s and the Citizen Kane of our time. The comparisons to the latter are understandable - new money wonderkids ascend social hierarchies through excitingly modern inventions. In the process, both protagonists must evaluate the insecurities behind their serendipitous rise to pop-culture bogeymen. Sorkin, uninterested in veracity, unleashes the same slander and misinformation towards Zuckerberg that Facebook is now infamous for perpetuating. In this regard, the audience mirrors the journalists of Citizen Kane who scrutinise the meaning of Kane’s last word: Rosebud. But instead of Rosebud, the question is, from the audience to Zuckerberg: “Do you have to be a dick?” The answer, to the detriment of our democracies and ourselves, was “yes.”

Whatever feelings you may have on Zuckerberg, The Social Network remains a technical masterpiece with career-defining performances, hilarious dialogue, endless rewatchability and a soundtrack that is perfect for studying. It remains Fincher’s greatest directorial effort (until Mank, hopefully) and so much more than simply a film about Facebook.

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