True Connection or False Validation is The Social Network's Question
- 2010 1 Oct
DVD Release Date: January 11, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: October 1, 2010
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and strong language)
Run Time: 120 min.
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara, Joseph Mazzello
I Like The Social Network.
Irresistible pun aside, that glib Facebook expression doesn't do justice to what is a searing examination of the world's biggest social media Web site. As the 1970s classic Network was to the Television Age, so is this to our Digital Age. To date, The Social Network is the most important film about American culture in the twenty-first century.
Not that it's overtly about that. On the surface, this is an exposé of Facebook's formation and its Ivy League founder Mark Zuckerberg. Beneath the surface, what drives Zuckerberg—i.e. the need to define himself to the world—isn't too far removed from what drives millions of people to update their Facebook status ten times a day (or Twitter account—Facebook's obnoxiously-needy little brother).
The parallel is clear (if not stated) and perceptive in disturbing ways. Every status update is more than informational; it's defining. It's about class and status, about being liked and affirmed and cheered and, well, "friended." What are the implications of (and revelations found in) the need to post every precious thought that crosses our minds? The Social Network isn't just about Zuckerberg's narcissism; it's about ours.
To be fair, it's hard to discern how much of this scandalous retelling is actually true, and we should respect that personal reputations are on the line. Still, fidelity to facts becomes moot as the fable told here unveils broader truths about our core impulses—individually and collectively—in ways that should, quite frankly, cause millions to reflect on their own motives and obsessions. It's not so much a biography as it's "The Morality Tale of Our Times."
Based on Ben Mezrich's best-seller The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network depicts a more debaucherous and cutthroat origin than one would ever expect. What began innocently enough as a way to help Harvard students connect online steadily ballooned into a media empire—and at a rate that Zuckerberg couldn't handle, at least not morally.
Yes, he's a genius. A computer-programming whiz with deft instincts about what people would respond to, Zuckerberg was born to birth this revolution. But a cocktail of arrogance and insecurities sabotaged his working relationships—and friendships—until, billions of dollars later, Zuckerberg was sued by the people he burned.
That legal action is intercut throughout, providing context to events as they unfold at a blistering, exhilarating pace. Zuckerberg—equal parts elitist and geek (and the worst sides of both)—takes advantage of the naïve while disposing of partners when they don't tow his line, and does so in a way that no one sees coming.
It's a trail highlighted by parties and littered with groupies; excess that grows with success. Yet while Zuckerberg's crew is seduced by immoral trappings, the film's tone—from dark atmospheres to Trent Reznor's unnerving score—paints it as a destructive slippery slope. (One soundtrack cue title defines it best: "The Gentle Hum of Anxiety.")
That juxtaposition best describes the film itself: simultaneously cool and unsettling. As everyone is ecstatically swept up in the whirlwind, writer Aaron Sorkin (TV's The West Wing) and director David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) help us see it as a destructive tornado. The result of their collaboration—from Sorkin's rapid-fire intellect and wit (Zuckerberg throws out historical trivia like President Bartlett) to Fincher's meticulous craftsmanship—is a thrilling, challenging experience. Rarely has one film so equally married two diverse voices and styles. It's Sorkin's best work, and Fincher helped make it so.
Indeed, what seemed an odd addition to Fincher's filmography is actually characteristic of his best work (Se7en, Fight Club, and Zodiac). Like a cinematic prophet, Fincher tells stories that examine society by exposing the darker urges we regularly disguise. Each concludes not so much with closure but rather a lingering unease, like a warning to us all that unless we change who we are we'll remain lost. Or, in this case, that gaining hundreds of "friends" is an empty pursuit if we must mask (or even betray) who we truly are in the process.
Fincher—whose fusion of thematic indictment and aesthetic precision makes him a modern-day Kubrick—has assembled a brilliant young cast, led with a ferocious turn by Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland) as the Facebook founder. Eisenberg inhabits Zuckerberg's complexities, from social insecurities to intellectual vigor to intense ruthlessness. He is a force of nature, staging a powerful front to the world (his "Wall", if you will) while suppressing an underlying emptiness.
Newcomer Andrew Garfield stands out as co-founder (and best friend) Eduardo Saverin, whose business-minded patience gets steamrolled by Zuckerberg's ambition. Armie Hammer plays both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, Harvard jocks who provided Zuckerberg the means before being double-crossed (that I actually thought identical twins were cast is a testament to both Hammer and the seamless visual effects).
Justin Timberlake is the scene-stealer; what real-life figure he plays I won't divulge as it's a neat reveal halfway through (though I can say it's a clever stroke of ironic casting given JT's day job as a pop icon). He's more than just another player here, too; Timberlake becomes the little devil on Zuckerberg's shoulder (his face is lit in red like a demon in one L.A. club scene), tempting him with a wicked combination of logic and lust, tapping into this upstart's biggest dreams and deepest fears.
Facebook isn't just about the need to connect (though it is that), but more so the compulsion to control your identity; to create the best version of You. It's how you want to be perceived; an illusion of who you fully are. Many will walk away from this film judging Zuckerberg; instead, even if not guilty of the same sins, they should be chilled to the bone by recognizing the same impulses.
Using Zuckerberg's compromised ascent to the "status" of Youngest Billionaire Ever as a parable, The Social Network asks a broader question of us about the Web site he founded: does Facebook offer true connection or false validation? The answer lies, as with all things, not in the amoral device being used but rather in the souls that use it.
Drugs/Alcohol Content: Party scenes where alcohol (both as drinks and shots) are consumed, as are drugs (from bongs to lines of coke). More benign drinking occurs in bars.
Language/Profanity: Though not pervasive, most profanities are used—including one f-word. Others include the usual suspects: a few variations of the a-word, b-word, and s-word, as well as a couple uses of the Lord's name in vain. A lewd word for male genitals.
Sexual Content/Nudity: No nudity, but women strip down to their underwear at parties. Two couples go to bathroom stalls, begin to strip, and then from outside the stalls sex is briefly heard/assumed. Oral sex is implied off-frame but not literally seen. Conversations that include discussions of sex and sexual dialogue. Provocative dancing, kissing, and making out at parties, close physical intimacy. A woman gets out of bed in her underwear.
Violence/Other: One person flips both middle fingers at someone.
Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla. He is also cohost of "Steelehouse Podcast," along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture.
To listen to the weekly podcast, please visit www.steelehouse.com. You can also subscribe to "Steelehouse Podcast" through iTunes.