This review was first published in a slightly different form by Suite101. It contains spoilers.
With more than 500 million subscribers in over 200 countries Facebook is perhaps the largest social networking phenomena on the web. The enormous interest generated by the 2010 release of The Social Network – a film that tells the story of the birth of Facebook – is consequently not surprising. However, David Fincher’s film (screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Ben Mezrich) is less about the Facebook craze than it is about the difficulties that come with being young and intelligent. The Social Network says more about Mark Zuckerberg than it does about social networking.
The Social Network focuses on the creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg). The film opens with Zuckerberg and his girlfriend breaking up in a university bar. Zuckerberg is portrayed as young, very intelligent, and somewhat egotistical. It is his girlfriend’s decision to end their relationship that gets the film rolling, and ultimately leads to the creation of Facebook. The film ends in a similarly quiet way, with Zuckerberg alone in front of his laptop, waiting for the same girl to accept his friend request. The Social Network is in many ways a very personal story, about a person driven by motives we can all relate to – love, youthful idealism, and money.
The Social Network is unquestionably a David Fincher film – the dull lighting that makes each scene feel as if a thunderstorm is about to break is reminiscent of Fight Club. There is also the vague sense of a sort of 21st century emotional and moral wasteland that characterises many of Fincher’s films. The humour is dry, and the characters are often disillusioned and slightly eccentric. A subtle and slightly unsettling score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross gives the film an emotional depth while still maintaining a level of detachment from the characters.
The Social Network says very little about the politics of Facebook, or the ways in which online social networking has the potential to change human relationships (the documentary Catfish focuses much more on these issues). Zuckerberg’s girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) is one of the few characters to comment in any way on the potentially negative aspects of social networking, when she tells Zuckerberg that not every thought he has is worth immortalising online: “As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared”, she says. This is certainly one of the main criticisms aimed at Facebook and other social networking sites – that they are ultimately time wasting games full of trivial and selfish information.
It should be noted that there are few strong women in The Social Network – apart from Zuckerberg’s (ex) girlfriend and one female lawyer, most of the women in Zuckerberg’s life are drunk and/or stoned college students, or Facebook groupies. This fact, however, perhaps says more about the cultures of Harvard University and the business world than it does about the film itself.
In the end, The Social Network is a film that tells a story – a very entertaining and revealing story – about a young man’s experiences with success. Zuckerberg is an interesting and relatable character, if not always a likeable one. He is a little too aware of his own intelligence, and spends much of the film sighing and making witty remarks about the stupidity of other people. However, he is also portrayed as young and easily manipulated, struggling with the complexities of love and friendship. The Social Network is not a story of success, but neither is it a story of failure. It is simply a sensitive and balanced treatment of an episode in one man’s life – judgement is left up to the audience.
The Social Network (released in 2010, directed by David Fincher) won three Academy Awards, including Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score. It is rated PG for sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and language. It runs for 120 minutes.