Comfortable and Furious

The Social Network


Considering the mammoth overexposure of Ferceberk and the obnoxious nature of its avid users (rivaling only BMW drivers), the effort required to make the story of its creation in any way interesting is nothing less than Herculean. Director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin rise to that challenge, and it is indeed cracking entertainment, even though the result is considerably less than the insane amount of hype surrounding this film. Seriously, why is there such a drive to crown the Best Picture Oscar winner in fucking September? To be the first to guess who will eventually win that allegedly august dog show is akin to being a truly great LARPer. You win nothing and you still look like an asshole. The party of internet criticism passes by the established writers and the intellectually warped trolls. In the world of the innernets, even great ideas and the cleverer turns of phrase are lost amidst the noise, the waves keep coming, and all is forgotten by the next update.

One thing The Social Network gets right is this sense of disposability – of online content, of human relationships that develop, of anything except perhaps the sea changes that grow the global web. Facebook, from its beginning, was not as much about social connections or a tool for networking or marketing – it was a party. A gathering of virtual avatars and a sense of connection rather than the real thing, and the party keeps moving. Facebook has outgrown its origins as a college hookup tool and into a true worldwide phenomenon. Though I lack a Facebook page and would rather slide down a block-long razor blade than chat online for any reason not involving work of some sort, I cannot deny Facebook’s impact on our culture.

At the same time, the artificial experience and the faux-connections that come from such online communities do not sate our desire to be gregarious as a species. Even the most friendly people cherish the ability to hide online from those who annoy them, and Sax-like ninjas use anonymity as a vessel for scathing remarks that are either egregiously hateful or necessarily just, depending on your viewpoint. For those not in the know, Sax is the forum moderator who is rarely wrong about anything, a most excellent fellow in person, and online will hope for your house to burn down.

Jesse Eisenberg nails the role of Mark Zuckerberg, the cofounder of Facebook with social skills in absentia and a robust case of Asperger’s. His acting style complements the writing of Sorkin, who pens dialogue that can tend towards improbably astute and faster than humans can think. Well, here it works lovely since Zuckerberg is a genius, and Eisenberg plays him as a vessel for an inhuman focus and continually racing mind. In Harvard, he is one of many nerds who, despite their work and mental gifts remain unchosen people. They are always on the outside of the social circles, the exclusive clubs and fraternities brimming with entitled twats bred from solid blue blood stock. Their smug emitters set to maximum, they revel in their money and priceless connections, but their primary reason for being is excluding.

This sets the tone for the first act of The Social Network, as Zuckerberg feverishly works on a program that enables social networking. The difference between this and Myspace and other such sites is that of exclusivity – anyone can sign up, but you must invite and be invited by friends to have any communication. This simultaneous sense of democracy and exclusion is what made the site a great idea. Well, Zuckerberg stole it from the blue bloods he despises, and tirelessly turns it into a winner.

A recurrent theme is that he was driven by jealousy and rejection, from both high society and women. Though The Social Network pounds this needlessly into the ground, this is a good point to make. While the next generation of insiders indulge in bizarre and homoerotic hazing rituals, Zuckerberg crafts a tool that by comparison makes their world irrelevant.

The magic of the innernet is way overdone in movies, explaining plot holes and impossible events, but here it is given appropriate due. Handshakes are no longer required in this age, and though the world wide web has hardly created a meritocracy, it has gutted the aristocratic traditions of the business world like no other event since the Second World War. Fincher manages to tie this together brilliantly, when by all rights a story about a computer programmer should be dull as balls.

As Facebook takes off, it spreads to other college campuses, and then the mainstream, and the project becomes far bigger than anyone realizes. Whereas a straightforward narrative would belabor the meteoric rise and anticlimactic plateau of Zuckerberg, Fincher wisely fractures the story to intersperse the legal battles between Mark and others who claimed (some more correctly than others) to have played a part in Facebook’s genesis. Fincher gives The Social Network a propulsive energy that does justice to the size of the subject, while allowing the fruit of this ambition to ring completely hollow. Today Facebook is valued at US$25 billion, and is a decent representation of the new vanguard of entrepreneurs who broke with the dusty business traditions of the past. Sorkin’s screenplay breezes through some of the nuts and bolts in how the project developed, and fortunately the script expects us to keep up rather than dumbing it down for the mouth breathers.

As a cross-section of our times, the film is quite good. Where it stumbles to some extent is in the motivations of Zuckerberg. The entire affair, the people he fucks over along the way, pushing his business partner out of the deal, the first girlfriend who he humiliates online – all of these things are an offshoot of his social ineptitude, hatred of rejection, and loathing of the social nobility that has no use for him. There are some moral lessons herein, and a reach for the irony of a social retard creating the world’s premier social networking website, but I did not give a shit.

Eisenberg won me over with his portrayal of Zuckerberg as a total dick. He is confident, disrespectful, and blows acid in the face of every entitled person who so much as looks at him in a condescending fashion. For him, money is never a concern, nor does he desire any validation from those he views with contempt. He is hardly a hero, as he is selfish beyond reckoning and has no use for other human beings. Perhaps I just enjoyed his own sense of entitlement – namely that unlike the bluebloods he left behind, he has good reason to feel entitled. Being the world’s youngest billionaire does not require you to be a complete cock, but I can sort of understand why one would feel that way. If being the king is all he wanted, then so be it. It is not as if he made his fortune by starting a war for oil money and tucked away taxpayer-funded reparation windfalls, or manipulated public fear in order to shill for gold coin sets on a propaganda-driven news station.

He was the driving force behind what turned out to be a massive networking and marketing tool. Good for him, and so what if he is, as the screenplay notes on two occasions via conscience stand-in characters, an ‘asshole’? At the end, the point is made none too subtly that despite his success, he is alone. I would imagine that part of parcel of being a billionaire is that you cannot afford the luxury of friends – there are only loyalists and enemies. Zuckerberg, as portrayed here, never had that much interest in friends anyway, apart from verbal sparring partners.

The Social Network makes for surprisingly good entertainment based on smart direction from Fincher, a rapid-fire dialogue-heavy screenplay from Sorkin, and a strong performance from Eisenberg – an asshole I enjoyed immensely. Even the support work from Justin Timberlake as the paranoid delusional founder of Napster and Andrew Garfield as the deposed business developer of Facebook was spot-on and provided much-needed shading. Fincher is one of the best in the business at sweeping along an audience, and the story of  the creation of Facebook is no exception.