THE SOCIAL NETWORK: 1 Person Likes This
Mark Zuckerberg, the world's youngest ultra-gazillionaire, founded Facebook in his Harvard dorm room in 2003, so the tale goes. Along with his friend and bankroller Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg took a simple idea, that the young people these days want to waste every spare moment of their goddamned time oglin' at swimsuit pictures of each other on the intertubes ('intertubes'? Am I saying that right?) and he built a business that would largely re-define popular communication in the new century. So, who is Mark Zuckerberg? And what perspective could anyone have on such an important figure when he himself is barely old enough to embark on his own memoirs? What truth can we gain about a guy whose life is still, arguably, in its opening act?
David Fincher's new film artfully sidesteps this question by treating truth as springboard, not blueprint. THE SOCIAL NETWORK takes the idea of Zuckerberg, and builds around it a highly entertaining morality play for the Intertubes Age. Really, who needs truth when you're ripping such a good yarn? In one scene, Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg,) who's just moved to Silicon Valley, accidentally demolishes his rented house's chimney by running a zip line over the backyard pool. There's a knock at the door, and who's there? Why it's Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake,) founder of Napster, and precisely the guy Zuckerberg moved to Palo Alto to impress! Wow, California isgreat! Great and small. Parker was across the street, he explains, and saw the chimney explode. Yes, I'm certain that's exactly how that happened.
Several such moments of coincidence help to propel THE SOCIAL NETWORK's plot, even as they highlight its fast & loose relationship with reality. An early sequence in which Fincher cross-cuts between an exclusive rush party with Zuckerberg writing code for Facebook alone at his laptop, captures the momentum of the great first act of FIGHT CLUB - but where FIGHT CLUB ultimately sagged under a ludicrous finale, THE SOCIAL NETWORK's pace never wanes, as it jumps between dueling depositions, a framing device which works much better than it might. (Look for editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall to collect themselves up some statues in a couple months.) FIGHT CLUB, the film closest to this one in Fincher's CV, was an exploration of masculine self-loathing and aggression, and the director's newest seems to come away with similar conclusions; Zuckerberg, like Sean Parker, builds his empire to take revenge on a girl. In the absence of emotional connection, the neutered protagonists of both films put into place structures to empower men by degrading others. In FIGHT CLUB, the target of the soap peddlers was a feminizing consumer culture. In THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Zuckerberg's targets are, more directly, women.
We have essentially two female characters in the whole film, Erica (Rooney Mara) and Christy (Brenda Song.) The former's rejection of Zuckerberg is painted as the catalyst for his journey to the top. The latter lady is a Facebook "groupie" (read: slllut) who jumps Eduardo in a public restroom, becomes his girlfriend/glommer-on, and then, in the film's most ridiculous scene, goes ballistic because his relationship status on Facebook is still 'single.' Oy vey. THE SOCIAL NETWORK's approach to the fairer sex is about as complex as those found in any of Fincher's films - which is, not complex at all. (No offense, Ripley...) Perhaps this remove is meant to convey Zuckerberg's own mystification with women. But considering the director's track record... Hey, the guy's not Almodóvar.
But even as he does, Zuckerberg doesn't change in any way. He never trades his sweats for a blazer, and Jesse Eisenberg's performance conveys nothing of what his character might think, or even understand about the ramifications of what he's doing. Disappointingly though, the film itself also finally draws a blank on Zuckerberg. In its last scene (urrm, spoiler alert,) a token female played by Rashida Jones spells out what we're meant to take away about our young subject. "You're not an asshole, Mark," she says. "You're just trying so hard to be one." ... The End. No, really, that is the last line of the movie. It's reductive - not revelatory. No matter what Peter Travers (or as I call him, Mr. Relevancy) has said about this film defining the last decade with its portrayal of a stereotypical insular narcissist blogger, there's a big difference between this film's beat line, and the reveal of, oh, say Rosebud. And I'm not just saying that because I'm an insular narcissist blogger myself.
Though it may ultimately miss the Mark, THE SOCIAL NETWORK is irrepressible; it's charged with energy and crisp on every level - from the witty and often terrifically unbelievable dialogue by Aaron Sorkin, to the techno-inflected Trent Reznor score, right down to the digital splatter of champagne on a window during a scene of celebration. Each droplet lands exquisitely. It's a perfect special effect - but it's not real champagne. David Fincher's got no interest in making a mess.
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