As I watched The Social Network at its midnight screening in Harvard Square one name kept popping up in my mind. No, it wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg, the protagonist villain or David Fincher, the film’s director but instead I kept thinking of Shakespeare. The characters and themes in The Social Network are Shakespearean in magnitude. No, there are no monarchs or castles in the film but at a certain point one begins to see Zuckerberg turn into a modern day king, Harvard become the kingdom he is banished from and his Facebook headquarters grow into his new domain. What always impressed me about Shakespeare was that he was able to both come up with incredibly complex plots and characters while also writing them in the most beautiful prose. David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are able to achieve both of those qualities.
As I’m sure you all know, The Social Network is “the Facebook movie” but in the film Facebook is simply a vehicle for its characters to grapple with power, enact revenge and stroke their own highly inflated egos. It all starts off with Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) getting dumped by his B.U. girlfriend, subsequently blogging nasty comments about her and from there getting the inspiration for Facebook, if we are to assume that Facebook was all his idea in the first place. The first half of the film takes place primarily at Harvard, inside its buildings and inside of its minds. Fincher deliciously captures the world of the Ivy League and the social hierarchy that drives a nerdy undergrad like Zuckerberg to strive to become one of the elites. The hulking Winklevoss twins (both played with a brilliant sense of superiority by Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) begin to challenge Zuckerberg, claiming that they were the creators of Facebook. In the end though the film never devolves into a typical courtroom brawl.
After Zuckerberg leaves Harvard and sets up shop in Palo Alto we see him get a taste of the good life, overseeing his rapidly growing business while rapidly growing away from human connection of any meaning. We see him lose his girlfriend, his best friend and a community that knew him only to replace them with money driven opportunists and “friends” that he can add with a click of a button. Jesse Eisenberg plays all of this with a veneer of calm collectedness that could crack at any moment. He seems all right but we know that he is not. When his best friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (played exceptionally by Andrew Garfield) confronts him over his misdeeds in a final scene of climactic brilliance we see how insecure he still is despite his billions.
The technical aspects of the film succeed on all fronts too. The cinematography is better than it ever had to be for a film of this sort. Harvard is awash in dark tones that exude prestige, Palo Alto’s brightness reflects a coldness about the place and one rowing match scene is particularly mesmerizing. Trent Reznor’s score is unlike any other you will probably here this year. It is electronica meets classical, fully embracing the film’s modernity with its timeless themes. Eisenberg and Garfield are both fantastic in the film while smaller parts like those of Hammer and Rooney Mara’s complement each other in their dissimilarity. Mara plays Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend and though she is only in the film for a matter of minutes she excels in each one. Justin Timberlake (Sean Parker) does his Justin Timberlake thing. Though he plays sleaziness well, he seems at times too conscious of the fact that he is in a film and we become too aware that he is acting.
Much could and should be said about The Social Network. It is certainly one of the most original and exciting American films to have come out in the last decade. It also reflects our own lives in frightening ways. Fincher shows us that through Facebook each one of us can become a celebrity, if not a king. But just like the king that Zuckerberg becomes, we too can become disconnected from our friends and those we love and at the end of the day when we go online and check our emails or Facebook pages all we’ll be looking for is someone to come mend our broken and lonely hearts.
Bottom Line: The Social Network is not too be missed, go see it in the theatre!
What did you think of the film? Comment!
Here is a fun interview with the cast and screenwriter: