Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

Why should anyone be interested in a story charting the birth of Facebook? The story of a bunch of privileged Harvard students suing each other over the rights to a multi-billion dollar website should be a tedious and unsympathetic affair. It's frankly a hard pitch to sell but in the hands of Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher The Social Network becomes an important film full of allegorical insights and one which encapsulates the spirit of the naughties much like Oliver Stone's Wall Street (1987) did for the eighties.

Like so many stories do, The Social Network begins with a girl; Erica (Rooney Mara) dumps her current boyfriend Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in a scene full of bombarding dialogue and wise aleck comments. During this scene we must tune our ear to Sorkin's high-speed assault, the film begins as it means to go on and almost flows as if set to a metronome. David Fincher apparently refused to disregard a page of Sorkin's brilliant script (adapted from Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Millionaires) so instead of cutting lines or entire scenes he just sped his approach up to fit it all in. The results are on a par with the frenetic screwball comedies of old, most suitably His Girl Friday (1940). 

After Mark's been cut out by Erica he vents his anger online; in this drunken rage he creates a spiteful website where female members of Harvard can be rated on looks alone by men. This introduction to Mr Zuckerberg shows off his unprecedented computing skill as well as his vacuous and often contemptuous personality, he is both a repulsive and fascinating human being. Erica unknowingly is the catalyst for all that follows. Mark is soon called on by the Winklevoss twins - a couple of entrepreneurial types who have an idea for a website that captures the lifestyle of college and puts it on the internet. Having been made aware of Mark's talents they want him onboard to help them realise their product. At this point it all gets a bit messy as the film flits between time frames becoming non-linear, we're now in the territory of the court room drama as we hear the defences of three separate parties claiming their right to ownership and royalties for their part in the creation of Facebook. The parties are Mark Zuckerberg, his ex-best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and the Winklevoss twins. We leave the ongoing hearings and trials as we're transported back to 2003 to view the subjective takes on 'actual events'. At no point does the film lean towards one set of said events over the other, they are displayed and treated with upmost indifference. The Social Network's story is a universial one of friendship, betrayal, and greed - the ingredients of any good story told since the dawn of time. No matter how alien a concept Facebook is for the viewer there is plenty to relate to here. 

As the 'actual' events that charter Facebook's origins continue, we see how Zuckerberg could have blended his own ideas with the Winklevoss's own (inferior but promising) idea to create what was an early basic stage of the infamous website. The site picks up taking American Universities by storm. Not knowing the possible sabotaging of the Winklevoss's product at the hands of best friend Zuckerberg, Eduardo is all too keen to invest his money in the website and does so in spades. The two best buds take their business to the mind of Sean Parker - creator of Napster (played here with perfect arrogance by Justin Timberlake), he is a character worthy of worry but only Eduardo sees this. As deals are agreed and contracts signed Eduardo soon sees himself losing control over the website he (allegedly) co-founded with Zuckerberg, the friendship turns sour and leads to one half of the court case we're constantly grounded back into after the rise and fall nature of the film's 2003 events. 

The Social Network simply cannot be done justice in writing alone, the pitch for the film's story sounds utterly uninspired and the events described now hardly jump out as 'must see' exciting material. Why is it then that this film is so groundbreaking? How can a story about the birth of a popular website have such a resonating voice?

At the heart of the film is of course Mark Zuckerberg (in real life the actual owner of Facebook), he is portrayed here as an almost high functioning autistic genius - his face rarely expressing more than an ounce of emotion with a monotonous voice devoid of empathy. What is so interesting is the idea of an individual who encompasses zero interpersonal skills yet one who creates a device that revolutionised the way the whole world communicates. Sorkin's script really latches onto the times we live in and the time surrounding the birth of Facebook; a technological revolution where the young are now more powerful through the technological world they adapt to at such an early age, through the course of the film we are reminded that it really is the young who hold the key to the future, now more than ever. This is made prominent in a standout scene where Sean Parker takes Zuckerberg to a club, over drinks Sean recites a story ( though it does sound like a parable) about the creator of Victoria's Secret (Sean's date is a model for said company), he explains how the company was sold in its earl stages for 4million dollars except two years later it's worth 500 million dollars, the creator jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge. Sean tells Zuckerberg that the time for adults to take over young people's prospects are over, "this is our time" he says as the music pumps and the club feels positively alive. This statement feels true and not just something Sean says to butter Zuckerberg up further, it sounds true because it is. Parker at the time was a millionaire still in his lesser twenties and now Zuckerberg still owns Facebook which is valued between 75- 100 million dollars to date. The world is truly theirs.

David Fincher's direction heightens material of people typing on laptops or sat around tables arguing legal disputes into something truly spectacular. In the wrong hands Sorkin's incredible script could have bombed but through Fincher (one of the most meticulous and technically minded director's since Kubrick) we're given a rise and fall story as intense and just as riveting as any gangster epic, his detail reaching the levels witnessed in his 2007 masterpiece Zodiac. Enough praise can't be said for the awe-inspiring music of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross; the music is seamless, feeling completely at one with the film and creating a modern industrial atmosphere of impending doom which elevates the film even further adding extra scope.

The Social Network is one of those rare beautiful occurrences within not just mainstream fare (such as this) but in all of cinema; an example of a brilliant and poignant script utterly realised by the perfect director for the material, perfectly cast and performed with a memorable and fitting score accompanying. The Social Network is likely to be the Citizen Kane (1941) for a whole new generation and a defining film of the 21st century that will continue to remain relevant. When the film reaches its powerful and rather low-key ending we're reminded that it all started with a girl, and maybe this is what makes it all so relatable.