Posts Tagged ‘The Social Network’

As if we weren’t already deluged with movies based on books, movies based on plays, movies based on comics, movies based on computer games, movies based on theme park rides, and movies based on (for heaven’s sake) toy ranges, it seems we now have to contend with movies based on social networking websites. Presumably iPhone Apps: The Beginning is also on the way. (Oops, I forgot – movies based on board games. Don’t laugh – Battleship: the Movie is currently filming, starring Rihanna.)

I refer, inevitably, to David Fincher’s The Social Network, charting the origins and rise of just such a popular site, which I understand is called ‘Facebook’. The easy capsule plot outline here is ‘how the dream turned sour’, though according to the movie Facebook’s ultimate origins were fairly bitter to begin with, inspired by brilliant but socially inept Mark Zuckerman (Jesse Eisenberg) getting chucked by his girlfriend and executing a spiteful, inspired on-line revenge.
The general direction things will take is signposted early on by the film’s being structured in the form of flashbacks to two separate lawsuits brought against Zuckerman, one by a trio of preppy types who claim he stole their idea, the other by his former best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who believes himself wrongly forced out of the corporation Facebook ultimately became.

I’m the kind of person who’s quite happy to use a website, but who (a smattering of ancient HTML aside) has absolutely no idea how it works. Being sensible people, the film-makers (Fincher and scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame) almost entirely avoid techie jargon and concentrate on the personalities involved. The exact issue of whose idea Facebook actually was is somewhat fudged (probably to avoid the film-makers’ starring in a lawsuit of their own), but the movie goes on to recount its spectacular success as it spreads from being limited to Harvard students, to universities across the USA, to the point where… well, my ‘People You May Know’ box is usually full of Kyrgyzstanis, Taiwanese, and other assorted foreign coves. Along the way Zuckerberg falls under the sway of dangerously glamorous internet entrepreneur Sean Parker (an accomplished turn from a shrewdly-cast Justin Timberlake), at which point the friendship of the two founders comes under increasing and ultimately fatal pressure.

This is a sharp and witty film (as you would expect with an Aaron Sorkin script, you can crack the dialogue like a whip), but not an especially warm one. Of the principal characters, only Saverin emerges as truly likeable. Eisenberg’s central performance is pitched superbly, keeping Zuckerberg just about sympathetic without omitting any of his (allegedly) less attractive qualities. But beyond this, the film casts a somewhat baleful eye across all of its characters and settings – the opening sequence intercuts deftly between Zuckerberg and his pals gleefully hacking into private information in order to set up a fairly misogynistic website from a cramped bedroom, and the privileged Harvard in-crowd pursuing their own, deeply hedonistic interests, and the film appears to find nothing appealing about either of them. And this comes across as simply the wider world in microcosm. The view of society I came away from this film with was of a rigidly hierarchical and ultimately rather unfair and unforgiving construct. (Though, you know, personal opinions may be creeping in there, and what are you going to do? It is, after all, the only game in town.)

'...and if the site really takes off, we may even be able to pay the electricity bill.'

The Social Network has apparently drawn some stick for various reasons, some of them factual – there are claims that the chronology is inaccurate and even (shock horror) that some of the technological details are wrong. I have to admit that as a moviegoer this sort of thing doesn’t particularly bother me, certainly not in comparison with things like story, performance and direction. The Social Network scores notable hits in all of these areas, and everyone involved seems to agree that the general thrust of the story is true. And it’s not like it’s being marketed as a documentary, or anything. (And if Mark Zuckerberg truly objected to the way he’s depicted here, surely he could have bought the film company and had the negatives burned, or deleted, or whatever.) It’s a compelling and entertaining account of something of at least passing interest to a massive number of people in the world today, with thoughtful things to say about the way we live. And if it isn’t the truth, as John Ford once said, go ahead and print the legend.

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