I’m sure there’s going to
be some twit whose entire review of The Social Network will
be the thumbs up Facebook Like button; that’s a cute visual joke, but
it misses out entirely on the joys of writing about David Fincher’s
latest film. The Social Network is a big, chewy movie,
one that is about so many things and has so many things to say. It’s
dense and deep and often delightful. It’s a great film not just about
the founding of Facebook, not just about living in the modern digital
age, but also about the very impetus for creativity. In the end The
Social Network
is a movie about why we invent things.

Spoiler: it’s out of
spite. And insecurity. And sometimes for pussy.

David Fincher seems to
have found the perfect partner in screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin
has always been known for his dialog – his huge stretches of witty,
sharp dialog. The banter he gives two characters as they walk through
hallways, the bon mots he puts in everyone’s mouths. But despite some
forays into movies, Sorkin’s a TV guy, since TV – until recently –
was just radio with pictures, the perfect medium for his wordy prose.
Fincher, the obsessive visualist, the detail-oriented stylist,
manages to take the words and meld them with pictures. Fincher’s work
at its worst – like the tedious The Curious Case of Benjamin
Button
- can be visually astonishing but narratively inert.
Sorkin’s work at its worst can be intellectually stimulating but long
winded. Putting these two together was a stroke of genius – a stroke
of these two geniuses, anyway – allowing each to supplement the
other’s weaknesses and to bolster each other’s strengths. David
Fincher wouldn’t know how to shoot a scene that looked bad and Aaron
Sorkin wouldn’t know how to write a scene that didn’t sing. 

Based on Ben Mezrich’s
book The Accidental Millionaires, Sorkin’s script
avoids easy judgments. There are many sides to the founding of
Facebook, and the script presents them all with remarkable fairness.
Nobody is a villain, nobody is a hero. Success, as they say, has a
thousand fathers, and in this story they all litigate to get proper
credit and cash. The main throughline follows Mark Zuckerberg, played
with hard-edged Aspergian abruptness by Jesse Eisenberg. A Harvard
University computer whiz, Zuckerberg seems driven by the fear not of
rejection but lack of acceptance; he’s looking to create an
impressive computer venture that will impress the Final Clubs, elite
secret societies in whose hands he believes his future resides. But
that’s not where Facebook was born. Rather, the site was born out of
Zuckerberg’s desire to stick it to the Final Clubs, personified by
the Winklevoss twins (played remarkably by Armie Hammer, a guy who I
had previously written off mostly based on his looks and porn
star-sounding name). It’s also created, just a little, to try and
impress a girl who had dumped Zuckerberg for being kind of a creep
and a dick.

Zuckerberg finds himself
embroiled in massive lawsuits from not only the Winklevoss’ but also
his best friend, Eduardo (Andrew Garfield, the new Spider-Man). The
film uses the depositions for these lawsuits as the narrative
outline, jumping around in time as it brings us from the beginnings
of Facebook all the way through to Zuckerberg’s own personal Michael
Corleone at the end of The Godfather moment, with the
massive social network only getting bigger by the minute. 

This isn’t a movie about
coding (although it does present computer work more realistically
than any other film I’ve seen), but rather about the people behind
the code. We know the end of this story – Zuckerberg is still running
Facebook and he’s still very rich, so at worst the lawsuits resulted
in him making some payments to people – but because Fincher and
Sorkin are more interested in the people, and their motivations, The
Social Network
remains gripping. It’s also, as is expected
from Sorkin but rarer from Fincher, very funny. It’s bolstered by
frankly incredible performances from a young cast. Eisenberg is
phenomenal, barely finding the line where Zuckerberg can be a dick
but still be bearable as a main character. The secret, I think, is to
show that Zuckerberg’s dickish tendencies come from being miles ahead
of everyone around him; he’s a genius who is endlessly irritated by
the rest of us apes. That isn’t all of it, though – Eisenberg gets
that Zuckerberg is hurting, nearly crippled by his own anxieties and
needs, and that his nastiness (which is often hilarious), stems from
that. He’s ahead of us all, but he needs the rest of us in ways that
he doesn’t understand, and while he can crack the complexities of
code and has an innate understanding of business, he doesn’t
understand the people around him. For some viewers these nuances will
be too subtle, but they’re all there.

The other heavy hitter in
the movie, believe it or not, is Justin Timberlake as Napster founder
Sean Parker. Remember when I said the film didn’t present any bad
guys? I sort of lied – Parker, who came into Facebook late in the
game, is a spineless scumbag whose main talent seems to be that he
understands Zuckerberg and can give him the validation he so
desperately needs. Timberlake is just terrific in the part, playing a
guy who is essentially a leech and whose entire life is an unending
charade. Parker is a bastard, but he’s a sad bastard, one who nurses
grudges and who feels threatened by everyone smarter than him.
Timberlake gets to the wounded soul of this asshole, and while he
never makes the character likable, he makes him at least human, which
feels like a great achievement. 

Garfield is also very
strong; delivering his lines in that Brando/Dean down-by-the-docks
accent that so many young British actors have when they try to be
American, he ends up being the closest thing the movie has to a hero.
Eduardo is screwed over, but he’s also someone making the wrong
decisions. Garfield doesn’t much change his looks yet he’s all but
unrecognizable from The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus or
Red Riding Trilogy. For those wondering about the new
Spider-Man film his performance here isn’t particularly
Peter Parker, but it displays a range and a sympathy that bodes well
for that project.

There were times when The
Social Network
reminded me of Zodiac; both
films are meticulous in their details, and both use big world events
as excuses for character studies. Like Zodiac, The
Social Network
is about more than what’s it’s about. The film
cleverly finds ways to comment on how Facebook has infiltrated and
changed our lives; it riffs on privacy concerns and the stresses
relationship status updates have on us and the change in basic social
paradigms brought on by social media and the weird weight a friend
invite can have. It’s a film that manages to make the reality of the
founding of Facebook a metaphor for what Facebook is and has become.
I don’t know the factuality of it all – although with Fincher in the
director’s seat I imagine it’s fairly high – but I don’t at all doubt
the truth of it all. 

Absorbing and
hilarious and smart, The Social Network is a very old
fashioned movie about a very new world. It’s the most accessible
movie Fincher may have ever made, but that doesn’t mean it’s missing
his touch. I’d love to see Fincher and Sorkin collaborate together
again. I’m also excited to see The Social Network again.
I walked out of it knowing that this was a damn fine film, but I
suspect a second viewing may reveal it to be a great film, an All
the President’s Men
for the Farmville generation.

9 out of 10