Conal’s review published on Letterboxd:
Another scene by scene before I disappear for a while. I have a lot of fondness for The Social Network. I was a late comer to the world of cinema and this was one of the first films I saw that made me seriously consider it as an artform, beyond mere popcorn entertainment.
It was one of my first blurays and I watched it obsessively. With each rewatch I get more out of the film than before, recognising more and more of its genius. The Social Network manages a great balance of thematic density and entertainment. How does it do it?
"I wasn't talking about China anymore, I was talking about me."
This scene is absolutely amazing, one of the best openings of the decade. A simple scene of dialogue, Aaron Sorkin style, mile a minute. It's exhausting and it's meant to be. The character of Mark instantly makes an impression. What a jerk. Fincher's obsession with doing take after take pays off, the actors are worn down, we feel how tense and combative they are with each other.
It's a bold starting point. How many films can you think of that start on 6 minutes of straight dialogue, dialogue that for the most part is not filled with exposition? It's all character work. A complete encapsulation of a relationship in one scene, we will see how it drives Mark for the rest of the film. It is the root of his toxic behaviour, by placing the scene at the opening of the film the audience can infer a lot.
Plus the exchange is entertaining as all hell, every other line is gold. The performances are pitch perfect, straight out of a screwball comedy, they bounce off each other with impeccable timing. Golden reaction shots aplenty.
As the scene draw to a close we get our only close up as Rooney Mara delivers the following line:
"You're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that wont be true. It'll be because you're an asshole."
From this neat piece of dialogue a film is born. Mark is a character who thinks he is smarter than everyone else, he takes pleasure in proving it, to his own destruction. She has completely burnt him, now he either has to prove her right or prove her wrong.
Mark runs home across the campus. The scoring is wonderful, the lonely piano with this creeping dread of synth. Toxicity born out of loneliness. It's so sad to me for reasons I can barely explain.
"Erica Albright's a bitch"
I mean, this film becomes more relevant by the day. The internet becoming an increasingly toxic place, and men being a huge part of that. As society becomes more and more insular men tend to blame their loneliness on other people. Entitled to relationships they do not inherently deserve. This is only becoming worse with time, as people descend further and further into social media the loneliness grows.
In this scene Mark starts work coding a sexist website in a thinly veiled revenge against his ex girlfriend. His process is detailed meticulously, mostly pulled straight from the real blogs of Mark Zuckerberg. How does the film manage to keep this technobabble interesting? A few things.
For a start Jesse Eisenberg is really good. He's spitting this stuff out at such speed, inflecting on all the right points to make the dialogue sound super condescending and cocky. The editing and score give the scene some great energy. It feels lowkey like an action scene in some ways. Rapidly moving between keyboard strokes, clicks of the mouse etc, it's very kinetic.
Finally, intercut with the coding are scenes of a Final's Club party. A level of social status Mark aspires to. There are a few things here to analyse as well. For a start we see the men of this club hand picking specific women to enter, showing that the toxic approach to women is not limited to the nerds. It's an interesting juxtaposition to what Mark is doing, bitter and coding alone, while others are having a raucous good time. Finally, since we already know it is Mark's aspiration to join this club, the intercutting implies to me that he thinks he can somehow attain that goal by making a gross website in one night. Aping the sexist behaviours of his social betters.
"It's on your blog"
One of the first screen performances of Andrew Garfield, he shoulders a lot of burden in this film as a straight man, the only barely likeable lead. It wouldn't work without him. We instantly get a sense that he is a bit of a bridge between social worlds. Much better dressed than Mark's other friends, more handsome and suave. He's come to help his friend uninvited, he's a good kid.
After this stall the coding and partying continues, the scoring changes, it has a record skip sound layered in. It's so off. As the website launches, the campus wide sexism begins, the feeling is so hollow. We don't feel any happiness for Mark's success. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
As an early taste of what is to come the entire campus dances to Mark's tune. Meanwhile he sits in his dorm eating ice cream, not even using his creation. One step removed from something he has only made out of cynicism.
"Well I guess that would be the first time somebody has lied under oath"
A quick cutaway and we are in the future. Mark is being grilled for doing something wrong, even more the asshole than before. It's not a very consequential scene but it sets up the structure of the film.
Everything we have seen so far has been the visual depiction of deposition testimony. It's probably necessary to do this in a simple way to start off with, getting us used to the idea that the film is juggling multiple timelines.
What does this add to the film? A lot. The Social Network cribs heavily from Citizen Kane, it is as much about interrogating the truth as it is about presenting it. We can never be sure exactly what motivates Mark. It never presents us with concrete proof as to whether he stole Facebook, or why he cut Eduardo out. By framing the film around these depositions it can get away with not giving all the facts.
Plus it is very efficient. It's hard to believe it, but at the time these lawsuits were the only scandalous thing about Facebook, by sowing them into the structure of the film it allows us the get to the controversy while still mainly focusing on a small fraction of the Facebook story. The film has its cake and eats it too.
The film has already smartly established that being in a rowing crew puts you in some elite social stratus, so we instantly understand that the Winklevii are an antagonistic force to Mark. A representation of old social structure where the rich and handsome have the world handed to them on a plate. In other words they are everything Mark has a complex against. We can see from the rowing scene that they are used to winning, arrogant about it even. They may not take it so well once the world turns against them.
And of course... they are suing Mark as well, in a very amusing cut we are taken from the instant they decide to hire Mark, to the very start of their case against him.
With a wink and a nudge we are taken back again to Mark being disciplined by Harvard for his Hot or Not site. Yet another hearing about the bad behaviour of Mark Zuckerberg. It's so perfectly done, we are moving about in time with such ease. One moment carrying us into the next.
The Winklevoss Proposal
"Yeah, I've got a minute"
The instant Mark says this we know he's up to know good. A slight smirk playing up across Eisenberg's face. It's so subtle and perfect. He communicates so much of his intentions and feeling towards these characters with only a slight facial tick.
In the following scene this perfect understated performance continues. The Winklevii condescending to Mark, talking about how smart he is, how he can rehabilitate his image. Mark Zuckerberg may care what other people think about him on a deep level, but on a surface level he sees the social ladder as a kill or be killed scenario. His way of getting people to like him is to "Well actually..." them. So that's what he'll do. Upstage the people on a hire rung who dare speak down to him.
Harvard Connection = Facebook
The two depositions are brought into one, as they crosscut between each other. Drawing the parallel between the idea the Winklevii just presented and Facebook. After introducing us to the concept of multiple timelines, Sorkin now just throws us in at the deep end, and surprisingly we find we can swim easily enough. There are a lot of smart differences between the two hearings and this quick little exchange forces us to recognise them.
Also, trying not to intellectualise it, this is a lot of fun. The cutting between different scenes, dialogue bleeding across one to the other. It's deftly done and makes these depositions exciting in a way they wouldn't be if we were just cutting to them every 5 minutes out of 20. The Social Network is so tightly woven together and it just clips along.
"I think I've come up with something"
A functional, exposition scene. It plants the idea that Mark may be motivated by jealousy of Eduardo and also has a lot of intercutting with the deposition. It is treated like the scene of a crime, we are forced to psychoanalyse Mark, despite the fact that taken alone it seems fairly innocent.
It's interesting to note that this is set at yet another party, where women and how to woo them is the focus. It is being intellectualised by the men. Relationships are a shallow, box ticking exercise to them, an achievement, nothing more meaningful than that. As much as Mark craves social validation he does not stay at the party, he is not participating in the system but he feels jealous of the people who are succeeding in it. Mark wants to find the cheatcode for social success, he does not want to put in the work.
Leading the Winklevii On
"We are about to find it in evidence"
More efficient storytelling. A montage of Mark working on the site with voiceover describing his work to the twins. Really cleverly making this exposition dump entertaining.
Meanwhile Eduardo is completing his trials to get into the Phoenix club. Speaking to what I said before, this is the difference between them represented on screen. They are both pursuing the same goal of social status, but in totally different ways.
"People don't walk around with a sign on them..."
The site is completely linked in to the wider themes of the film. Someone who is socially defunct completely reinvents the way romantic relationships work in 5 minutes. What could go wrong?
And just like that the site is ready. This is the first time I've noticed but Facebook goes from pitch to launch in less than 10 minutes of screen time. All the while they are dumping exposition seamlessly. Fucking hell this screenplay is tight.
"Zuckerberg, he stole our website"
The idea of young people going out to watch acapella groups in their free time is so obnoxious. What a nice way to make me hate these characters!
The Winklevii realise they have been screwed and there is some very real butthurt. From all the evidence the film has presented we can only determine that Facebook was not their idea. Mark definitely intentionally lead them along, but the resulting site is very different. Nonetheless these characters are filled with entitled rage, something has gone wrong for them for the first time.
More Courtroom Scenes
It's pretty impressive how these scenes control the flow of the movie. Here they link us from the Winklevoss twins, to Eduardo, to the Eduardo trial, to the info dump that facebook was successful and Mark had become well known. There is never a hard cut. The final line of one scene relates to the first line of the next.
For a film that cuts around so much it is critical that it stays coherent, The Social Network does it with such ease.
"Is that Mark Zuckerberg?"
Cutting back, as indicated by the previous scene, Mark is famous now. The use of the newfound fame is to pick up women. So yeah, keeping on theme.
"Fashion is never finished"
There is a debate here about monetising the site. A driving conflict of the film going forward. The scene is mostly exposition, but I find the quote above interesting. Eduardo is in utter disbelief that Mark is talking about fashion, something he clearly does not understand. It links back to the idea of Mark's cynical approach to the site. Mark has created a new means of socialising, but he does not understand the first thing about socialising to begin with.
I find this idea of the film profoundly interesting, especially given the impact that social media has had on the world around us. It's frankly frightening the extent to which socially stunted people have had an impact on the way we communicate with each other.
"You write your snide bullshit from a dark room because that's what the angry do nowadays... Good luck with your video game"
Eduardo and Mark score. Mark's cheatcode has worked. At least when it comes to obtaining empty, meaningless sex.
It's such a great detail that Mark encounters Erica again following this. Desperate to impress her, gain some kind of redemption. Nothing he can do will erase the stain of his past actions. What Mark craves is not sex, he wants genuine human connection, and he resents the idea that there is someone in the world who doesn't like him. So long as he keeps up his aggressive behaviour there is no repairing this by building websites.
Rooney Mara is so good. Her character is kind of sage-like, the only one who can cut past the bullshit of Mark and get to his core. Almost every time we observe an argument in this film Mark is the winner, except with Erica, who expertly destroys him every time.
This encounter is about half way through the film. We will next see her again at the very end.
Based on this encounter Mark decides he needs to expand the site so Erica can see it. We can see clearly what drives him.
Sean Parker, like Mark, is introduced through a conversation with a woman. The aftermath of a one night stand. Sorkin sets him up as a smooth con artist. He's a leech, instantly plotting to manipulate his way into Facebook. By showing him first through his relationship with a woman it shows some parallels between him and our other characters. Is he an aspirational figure, or a worst case scenario? Broke and alone.
Meeting with The Harvard President
This is a fun scene. We hate these characters so much, and so does the film. The Social Network does not believe the old world order is worth maintaining. Nor does it believe in the new one. The twins are trumped at every turn finding doors closing that never closed before. For the first time they are losing, the world is changing.
"Is that a tsk!?"
This scene makes no sense anymore since Facebook changed the chat notification sound. Also, Aaron Sorkin cameo.
Dinner with Sean Parker
"Just Facebook, it's cleaner..."
Comparing this scene to the Winklvoss's pitch is really interesting. Mark does not respond with any hostility. Sean someone he can relate to, they have similar backgrounds and levels of dorkiness. Sean's success has given him lots of unearned confidence and charm that Mark clearly desires, Given what was set up earlier we wonder just to what extent Sean is grifting him. Even his hair is similar to Mark's in this scene. You cannot make Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake look like each other by accident.
The scene plays out with just the score, Parker taking them in, we see Mark loosen up before our eyes. However, we see it all very much from the perspective of Eduardo, with the benefit of foresight, possibly tainted by the unreliable narrator. Sean Parker represents the worst of capitalism, at least in the eyes of Eduardo. All flash and no substance. As proven by the relative lack of dialogue in this scene
Nonetheless, in a few short minutes the story entirely changes course. Turning from the gradual building of a business to a corrosion of a friendship through greed and exploitation.
This is mostly comic relief. A true story that Aaron Sorkin couldn't help but incorporate into the plot. Nonetheless it helps to seed some paranoia into the plot in a pretty lighthearted way.
Some more exposition follows, we are reminded that Mark is still at college. He's doing finals exams! The decision is made to move the business to California for the summer, against Eduardo's wishes.
"Welcome to Facebook"
Mark's elaborate drinking game/job interview. A direct parallel can be made with the finals club hazing process. Mark has invented his own club, and it's very popular. This scene is the apex of Mark's happiness, from here on out it's all downhill for him until he eventually renders himself totally alone.
"Eduardo didn't come out"
They have moved to California, as much to have fun as to work. Sean runs into them by "chance". Timberlake is actually doing some great work in this. He has to play someone who is merely pretending to be cool, going through the motions. He does it perfectly. When he's told Eduardo isn't there you can see the wheels turning in his head, the sense of opportunity, even as he plays it off as nothing.
Anyone with even the slightest iota of sense could see straight through this guy.
"I'm sorry, I was looking at the uh... architecture". He was ogling women. He can pretend to be above it as much as he wants.
Eduardo plays Mark like a fiddle, saying so many things he wants to hear. How important he is, how he can change the world, disrupt the establishment, piss people off. He voices concerns about Eduardo that play perfectly into Mark's ideas. No doubt if he had to suck up the Eduardo the script would be flipped.
"This is our time" - a key line, the internet providing an opportunity to rise up in a capitalist system that exceeds at maintaining a status quo. Unlike in our usual story of man vs machine we're not sure if it's a good idea for Mark to win. His version of the American Dream is that everyone likes him while he still maintains his asshole behaviour. Facebook is merely a means to an end. Mark has no real vision for the future.
The Henley Regatta
"Let's gut the friggin nerd"
This scene is pretty cool, great score, very nicely shot, tilt shift photography making the boats appear like models. Fincher is not content to just shoot a boat race, he has to do it like no other film before him.
The Winklevii suffer one defeat too many. Humiliated as they get told by person after person just how close they were. Finally they discover that Facebook has launched in the UK and the camel's back is broken. What was once civil becomes aggressive. They rich jocks no longer pretending they can still take ownership of the world's new social structures. They can still exploit their wealth for revenge, the last resort.
Sean Parker Has Taken Over
"You don't hear anything, you're writing code."
Wonderful visual storytelling. The difference between the house before Sean and the house after Sean is night and day. Everyone is working, where it was once only one or two of them. Everyone except Sean who is chilling with his groupies, playing video games and getting high. What amounts to working for him is scolding others for not working. It's pretty clear that Sean is taking advantage of Mark to facilitate his own lifestyle, turning Facebook into a pure capitalist venture, while openly mocking Eduardo for having the gall to seek out advertisers.
He is so transparent in his intention that it is shocking Mark is letting this happen.
Eduardo Confronts Mark
"Still it's nice you have a girlfriend"
Mark is so caught up in his own little world. It's very hard to parse what his actual motivation might be. But one key thing is clear, Mark is jealous of Eduardo, for having social means that he simply does not possess.
Eduardo may also be in his own world. As far as this film goes we do not really see him do anything positive for the company other than invest money. This is a weakness Sean has exploited, undermining his friendship with Mark. It's up to you to decide if there was a friendship to begin with. Was Mark simply using Eduardo the same way Sean is now using Mark? The pursuit of wealth and power is no doubt a corruptive force, but as seen from the very start of the film Mark was corrupted to begin with.
Freezing the Accounts and Getting Dumped
"Who is Eduardo Saverin?"
Mark gets funded by Peter Thiel (who will absolutely be a huge character of The Social Network Part 2). However the investment calls into question Eduardo who has frozen the accounts, preventing the investment. A move that will cost Eduardo dearly.
At the same time as this his girlfriend goes nuts and he dumps her. This is easily the weakest element of the film. The Social Network has so few female characters that it hurts that one of them is so underwritten and lacking in depth. I guess the point here is that obtaining love by the means of fame and fortune does not end well, that you can't cheat your way into a quality relationship. Nonetheless, it really could use more substance.
Mark is right to an extent when chewing out Eduardo, but there is a distinct sense that he is overreacting. Do we really believe Eduardo's actions could have destroyed the company. Not for a second. Perhaps this is a convenient scapegoat to use when removing Eduardo. Who knows? It's up to you to decide.
Eduardo Gets Screwed
"I like standing next to you Sean. It makes me look so tough"
You cannot escape from the idea that Mark wants to piss off Eduardo. He's clearly in on the whole thing, even inviting him back so he can have his meltdown. Mark is a sociopath, smiling on, acting as if he hasn't just completely screwed his best friend over.
In one moment Sean Parker gets Mark to carry out a personal attack on one of his enemies while wearing a dressing gown. Parker is clearly puppeteering him in these scenes, is he his master in others? The film leaves so much unclear as to what exactly happened, to what extent this was Mark's idea. What exactly motivated him.
The moment of betrayal is a powerhouse of a scene, masterfully directed, written and performed. That tracking shot of Eduardo walking towards Mark, Garfield looming large over the camera. You feel his anger coursing through the film. When he smashes the laptop Mark's terrified reaction speaks volumes.
When Eduardo brings up the Phoenix club it would seem he has hit some kind of nerve, but for the most part Mark remains speechless in this exchange, Sean providing all the capitalist justification while we can only read Mark for the true cause of the betrayal. Without a doubt, jealousy, to some extent. Mark is Sean's useful idiot. He has exploited him perfectly.
One of the final beats of the scene is my favourite, Eduardo goes to punch Sean, who cowers before him in glorious fashion. All the tough guy posturing gone in an instant. Sean is a nerd playing at the jock, an asshole like Mark but one who learnt how to talk to people. This makes him the most dangerous jerk of all.
"We lived on farms, then we lived in cities and now we're going to live on the internet!"
Fucking chills man. This line horrifies me to my core. The dickheads have won their battles, they are alone, living vacuous lives. But it is these people who in this story get to change the paradigms of our society? We're so doomed.
The Social Network depicts a culture shift. The tearing down of old social structures, and the establishment of new ones. When this film first came out it was not yet clear the extent to which the internet was changing society. 8 years later, it is all too clear. We live on the internet and it is killing us. Social media isolates us and causes depression. You can also consider how Facebook was recently used to manipulate mass consciousness and control election and referendum results. We have slept walk into a new society, and it was created by people with little interest in their fellow humans. Theirs is a world without empathy.
Diatribe aside, this is a good scene. Justin Timberlake is perfect, as in the previous scene his tough guy attitude is stripped away after being caught. The fact he needs to carry an epipen and an inhaler is a lovely touch. What an underrated actor, I wish he did more dramatic roles.
When he calls Mark the jig is up, Mark has finally realised Sean is a scam artist, but it's too late, he's already alone. The damage is done forever.
"When there's emotional testimony I assume 85% is exaggeration"
In a stroke of genius the final dialogue exchange calls into question everything we have just seen. Rashida Jones's character tells us the extent to which a Jury's thoughts can be lead one way or another. She makes us realise one crucial fact. We are the jury. It is time to pass judgement.
"You're not an asshole Mark, you're just trying so hard to be"
This final line of the final scene parallels the final line of the opening scene. Which one is the truth? Both, in my opinion. Mark is an asshole, he is trying to be an asshole, but he will also never fully acknowledge his own asshole status. Maybe you could read it that Mark is a good guy deep down, and that Sean Parker is the true asshole. A physical representation of greed that manipulates Mark. You could view it that Mark was a dick all along and planned to cut his friend out from the beginning. You could decide that Sean simply enabled Mark, or that Mark felt a need to pretend to be tough just like Sean does. There are so many interpretations, it's what makes the film so perfect.
Mark is a shifting and nebulous character, but his final actions remind us once again about the only thing we can be sure of him. He wants to be liked.
Mark opens up Facebook, looks up Erica, and adds her. Refreshing the page until the credits roll. His motivation is unchanged from the opening moments, but the method he must employ to pursue it couldn't be more different, more cold, less satisfying and it's all his fault.
The Social Network is a classic in my opinion. With each passing year it only becomes more and more relevant to our society, and its fast, entertaining and smart storytelling will keep people watching it for years to come. Just look at the cast on this thing. Rooney Mara, Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer early roles for all of them and all of them have taken off since this came out. On retroactive star power alone this is extremely watchable.
Apart from its relevance to wider society it is perfectly constructed. There's a masterclass on writing, direction and editing to be found in this film. It never allows us to get bored or bogged down in details, moving from beat to beat effortlessly and before we lose interest. This construction made the film really hard to write about in this way. If I actually went scene by scene on this it would probably take all day. The average length of a scene in this script has to be less than a page.
I genuinely think a sequel could be made given recent events with Cambridge Analytica and Peter Thiel. The story is taking more sinister turns that are a natural extension of the existing plot. Frankly The Social Network is starting to feel incomplete to me, the scope of the story now limited compared to the potential.
As it stands The Social Network is a prescient film, depicting the beginning of the end for human interaction. It will be interesting to see how our approach to it changes over the years.
To continue my tradition of not doing the film I claim I'll cover next, next time I am going to cover Kieslowski's Dekalog in full. Given the rate at which I can write these it should take me about 2 days.