The Social Network

The Social Network ★★★★½

What is the modern world? How did we get to this age of ubiquitous social media? The Social Network is a modern parable, a story of how we got here. It may be a biopic of Facebook (not just Zuckerberg), but it's also a perfect encapsulation of our interconnected world and the people it turned us into. This story matters because, as with all history, knowing what shaped society tells us more about it. The Social Network may be inaccurate, but it's art which shows our relationship with the recent and very consequential past. The fact it's a masterpiece just makes it more significant.

David Fincher is a director of control and precision. He does what he needs to, even having one actor play twins, just to achieve his vision. The colour palette is distinctively Fincher, cool and brooding. In fact there's a blank stillness to the cinematography in general, capturing the world without flashiness but making it feel like somewhere the characters truly inhabit. The music used is lively, making the focus on computing seem alive and human, not dead and alienating (it is actually the characters who push away the world). Jesse Eisenberg may be perfect as the over-confident Zuckerberg but Andrew Garfield also gives an outstanding performance. For these many reasons, The Social Network is a clearly executed work of genius and such an easy, hypnotically engaging watch.

The second auteur of The Social Network is writer Aaron Sorkin, whose superb script constructs every moment elegantly. This is a film with so much dialogue, and so much fast talking dialogue, that it sometimes remains hard to keep up with the characters, even though the writing is so clear that you never actually lose track of the events of the film. This is a film with dialogue over dialogue, dialogue from one timeline heard over visuals from another, conversations and topics overlapping one another, and yet it is beautifully concise in that barely a line feels wasted. The dialogue is efficient, characters speak just to emphasise themselves, the story, or the themes. Conversations also flow from topic to topic, effortlessly cutting between them. Much of the verbal sparring is condescending and much more deeply probes the characters to find out who they are. This isn't a film with perfectly natural dialogue, but one which punches with every line and makes words the essence of its cinematic ambitions. Beyond the dialogue though, the script is also structured in a brave way, forcing non-linearity into a simple story. It creates more psychological tension, seeing Zuckerberg remain the same as everything around him changes. What the lack of chronology also provides is a streamlining effect, making the film fast and efficient, and able to capture the essence of its characters without trawling through their life details. It's a film which just jumps between moments and interlinks them across time. There's no denying the strength of the writing in The Social Network (although my only nitpick might be some of the humour) and it's the backbone of the film's greatest strengths, however much Fincher's expert direction may elevate them.

Mark Zuckerberg is presented here as confident and cocky, but also quiet and callous. Early on we see his brutal overthinking of situations lead to a bluntness in the way he speaks, as if using rationality alone will hide and protect his feelings, but when is being blunt just being a douchebag? Mark is trying so hard to be an asshole, to him people are farm animals, irrational and in need of control. This is like the goal of Facebook, to bring social structure to a controlled place of Mark's choosing - a world of computing, algorithms, and programming. The characters often dig deep to understand others and Mark creates an entire website to do just that. We see the shady side of student life in The Social Network, with social capital controlled by the popular kids, the rich kids, and the clubs. Getting into a club matters so much to Mark because, just like everyone else, he has simple and mundane goals in life. Being unable to get into a prestigious club almost makes Mark vindictive, as if he needs to create a new club to prove himself. When his only friend gets into a club, we see (across the timelines) that jealousy lasts longer than success. Mark's best friend becomes a vacant seat in his life. Mark destroys his only friendship out of spite, jealousy, and the poison fed to him by Justin Timberlake's thoroughly dislikable character. This is a film about a friendship gone wrong, a fire that is spreading but difficult to put out whilst also running a company. Friendship can be better and richer than money and fame, but it's difficult to connect and maintain, so a callous disregard of friendship is often the best way to avoid being hurt. But how can we make friends in this world of falseness, where connections are easy online but true friendship is hider to find. The fantastic ending ties this idea together and cleanly concludes the film's themes, bringing everything back to the person who called Mark an asshole in the first scene. As the onscreen text tells us that "Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world", we see him relentlessly refreshing the profile page of the woman who broke his heart. He's constructed a new way to socially connect and made loads of money, but he's back where he started. He's still stuck, unable to make true friends and connections, and now more alienated than ever.

Facebook changed the Internet and society, creating or inspiring almost our entire current Internet culture. It's changed each of our lives drastically. For instance, we wouldn't have Letterboxd without the changes to Internet culture instigated by Facebook, and I wouldn't have anywhere to post thoughts like this (which is the only thing keeping me going sometimes). But nothing in our world was changed or created without someone being screwed over or some dirty things happening. The film may not be historically accurate at all, but it is accurate to the spirit of Facebook's emotionless attempts to interconnect our world, reducing society to an algorithm to be figured out and made more efficient. It's a true depiction of a seismic cultural shift and how innovation happens - through petty people all clambering for social success. Really, this all comes down to sex, with men wanting to get women, men angry at women, men using women. The characters want to get sex through clubs, through technology, or through their university. Sex makes people want to use Facebook. Facebook was created by guys thinking with their dicks, and so much in society has progressed for similar reasons. Is that a sad indictment of our world, or just a reality we have to accept? Either way, Facebook is so important, and its inception created a new culture. It has made the world smaller, and transcended anything physical in our world. Mental and societal constructs connect us more deeply than our physical reality and Facebook just moves what society is and places it on a screen. It creates a world with no privacy and no mistakes, where whatever you post can be remembered and traced. This is where we are now, and Facebook brought us here.

Time has only been kind on The Social Network, as Facebook has lasted longer than we thought and successfully morphed culture into an algorithmic cyber alternative. It's a deep look at how this came to be and a fascinating psychological examination of its lead character. It's made with unquestionable skill by David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, and one of the greatest American films of recent years.

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