The Social Network (Film Review)
4 out of 4 stars
Love it or hate it, Facebook has impacted our society arguably more than any other new technology of the decade. With over 500 million users as of 2010, the social networking site isn’t just the most popular site of its kind in history, but the second-most visited site in the world according to data collector Alexa. Undoubtedly, the site’s place in pop culture will only grow in the next decade and beyond.
As fascinating as those figures are though, they pale in comparison with the human story of the site’s creation, which ranks as quite simply one of the most powerful tales ever seen in film. Against all odds, director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have created a true masterpiece, an epic, bittersweet drama crafted with the same expert skill and passion that Mark Zuckerberg used creating Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. Without question, ‘The Social Network’ is a classic of its era from start to finish.
The film opens with Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Einsberg), future founder of Facebook, getting angrily dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). As a 19-year old freshman at Harvard, Zuckerberg doesn’t appear to be a future leader at first glance: he’s rude, arrogant, socially awkward, and has only a single close friend, his roommate Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).
Despite his questionable personality, Zuckerberg does display an incredible talent for software design, so much so that all who meet him are amazed by his skill. After being dumped by Erica, Zuckerberg creates a site called ‘Facemash’ where users can comment on and rank college girls based on their sex appeal. Almost instantly, the site becomes a phenomenon on the campus, catapulting Zuckerberg to infamy among the local student body and attracting the attention of fellow IT designers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer).
Inspired by his success, Zuckerberg takes his concept a step further as he remodels his site into ‘thefacebook’, where users can see information on any of their friends and post information on their profiles. With his friend Eduardo as his business partner, Zuckerberg officially incorporates the company and begins looking for backers, a journey which will take them from the most upscale offices in Silicon Valley to the most glamorous clubs in New York, ultimately changing their lives forever.
Firstly, the film’s story itself deserves recognition for its sheer originality. Based on Ben Mezrich’s 2009 non-fiction novel ‘The Accidental Billionaires’, the film is at its heart a story of a friendship between two young adults, never losing sight of the human drama between Zuckerberg and Saverin. In fact, ‘The Social Network’ is arguably the most realistic depiction of teen culture in recent memory, unflinchingly showing the tough lessons that the pair learn in an adult world of deceit and betrayal. It’s a testament to Fincher’s skill as a director that the film works so well as a character piece while still showing the historical growth of Facebook.
Additionally, ‘The Social Network’ also features the most memorable acting of the year to date. As Mark Zuckerberg, actor Jesse Einsberg is one of the most unsympathetic lead characters ever seen on screen, manipulating all who cross his path with a coldness which only increases through the film. Yet for all his flaws, Einsberg’s character is somehow still infinitely watchable, capturing both the audience and the other characters in the film with his undeniable genius and offbeat quirkiness. As it stands, Einsberg’s performance easily stands as one of the richest and most complex of the year.
As fascinating as its lead character may be, the film’s diverse supporting cast is arguably even more impressive. The biggest surprise is arguably pop singer Justin Timberlake, whose magnetic performance as Napster founder Sean Parker should easily silence any critics of his acting ability. A shady businessman who offers funds and advice to the duo, Parker only aggravates the tension between Zuckerberg and Saverin, offering riches and prestige to the former in return for greater control over the company. Unlike Zuckerberg, Parker possesses both a calculating coldness inside him and a charming exterior to hide his intentions, qualities which have allowed him to swiftly rise to the top of the country’s corporate ladder. In fact, Timberlake’s Parker may even be more of a delightfully despicable villain than Zuckerberg himself.
Also of note in the supporting cast is Andrew Garfield, who plays Zuckerberg’s partner and best friend Eduardo Saverin. As the only main character with a clear moral conscience, Garfield often provides the emotional anchor for the entire story, masterfully portraying a noble man whose means are unfairly taken away by those around him with lesser intentions. Displaying both an honest, straightforward charm and a heartfelt vulnerability, Garfield easily gives the film’s most human and empathetic performance.
Most importantly, ‘The Social Network’ is a rare film where every audience member can form their own personal, exclusive interpretation of its events. From the importance of friendship through difficult times, to Western society’s obsession with money and status, to the effect of technology on human relationships, the film is among the most thematically rich and thought-provoking of the decade, effortlessly challenging the viewer’s perception while telling a riveting, engaging story. Not since ‘Inception’ has a film offered such a multitude of profound subtexts on so many levels.
Without question, ‘The Social Network’ is the best film of the year to date, and a guaranteed winner at this year’s Oscars. Like ‘Citizen Kane’ in the 1940’s, it is a film which defines an era in our history: an era where we can easily communicate with friends millions of miles away with the click of a button, yet our face-to-face relationships become ever more strained and we become ever more isolated. Clearly, ‘The Social Network’s impact will only grow more profound in the decades to come.
‘The Social Network’ is currently available on DVD in Shenzhen.