Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Social Network

Changing my mind

This isn't a review I thought I'd be writing. When I first heard there was a movie about how Facebook was created I thought it perhaps one of the dopiest idea for a film that I'd ever heard. But, not that long before it opened, I saw the credits list: directed by David Fincher, screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross1.

Aaron Sorkin is the creator of The West Wing and writer of many of its best episodes, as well as the play/film A Few Good Men – meaning he's been responsible for some of the best dialogue I've ever heard.

I don't own too many films on dvd – I just don't watch movies at home – but two of them are Fincher films: Seven and Fight Club. And they're two of my favourite movies of all time. He's responsible for some other great films over the last few years, most recently the award-winning The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Trent Reznor is the man behind Nine Inch Nails, and put together one of the best soundtracks of all time – David Lynch's Lost Highway.

Three of the most talented creative minds in the entertainment industry working together? Yeah, there's no way I wasn't going to see how that turned out.

1Okay, him I'd never heard of before. But if Trent Reznor thinks he's good enough to work with, that's all I need to know.

A surprisingly interesting story

I probably knew as much about how Facebook came about – a couple of Harvard nerds created an application for people on-campus to find each other and keep in touch; it exploded from there onto a whole bunch of colleges in the US and then around the world, eventually being made available to the public where it quickly became the most popular social networking site on the planet.

That doesn't really sound like a movie, does it? Hell, no. But there's a lot more to it than that, and it's the fine details of how it all came about that makes it interesting, and the fact that it's presented in a way that leaves you to decide certain things for yourself – is Mark Zuckerberg (the Facebook creator) a socially awkward asshole2 who stole the idea from some privileged rich kids? Did he screw his best friend out of the company they created together because he was jealous about the latter's invitation to join a prestigious club? How much was he influenced by Napster creator Sean Parker, who became involved in the project3?

2He comes across – to my untrained eye – like someone with Asperger's or at least some kind of autistic spectrum disorder. He definitely did some assholish things, though.
3This was probably the biggest surprise for me. I had no idea he was involved in Facebook at all.

Okay, so there's a story – but is that enough?

Perhaps in the hands of lesser mortals it wouldn't be, but thanks to Sorkin and Fincher it becomes one of the most captivating films I've seen in years. The dialogue – particularly that of Zuckerberg and Sean Parker – is razor sharp, and the way the stories are cut together – back and forth over several years, and at one point jumping between the two lawsuits Zuckerberg was involved in – kept things compelling.

There's a stunning scene where two of Zuckerberg's enemies, the Winkelvoss twins4, are at the Henley Regatta (in England) rowing for Harvard; it's just a superb piece of work, set off by Reznor/Ross's whacked-out version of Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King.

The performances were of a very high quality – Jesse Eisenberg does an amazing job of giving Zuckerberg the combination of awkwardness, naivety and sheer freak genius. Justin Timberlake is brilliant as the obnoxious, paranoid Sean Parker. Also good is Andrew Garfield, as the Facebook co-creator and eventual ex-best-friend Eduardo Saverin.

4In one scene Zuckerberg refers to them, collectively, as 'Winkelvi'; it's hilarious.

Things to think about

It made me think is that it's probably a good thing I never became successful in any way, since I'm almost certain I'd have been just as much of an arrogant, condescending asshole as Zuckerberg is portrayed as being. But – fortunately or unfortunately – that's not something I have to worry about.

What it also made me think about – and something I saw mentioned a lot on Twitter – was how amazing it is that someone so young was able to come up with something that changed the world in such a profound way. Even if you don't use or even like the idea of Facebook (and I know there are plenty who don't do either) you can't not appreciate exactly how big of a deal it actually is.

The verdict

It's definitely worth seeing. There's never been another film like it, and brings together some of the best film-making talent on the planet, and they've succeeded in capturing a pivotal event in history and presenting it in an entertaining and interesting way.


  1. I saw The Social Network on the weekend with some friends, and my favourite individual moments were the "Winklevi" comment and the opening scene - Sorkin's rapid fire dialogue has a kind of kinetic poetry to it that was perfect for a world of cool intellects and sharp wits.

    As someone from a marketing background, I also loved the notion that social media technology often has "coolness" as a primary asset, and it can be tough balance in making a profit versus and keeping the technology in as pure a form as possible.

    Jesse Eisenberg is one of my favourite actors - as you'll know from my blog I am a HUGE zombie mythology fan and loved him in Zombieland, and was pleasantly surprised to discover he doesn't play the same role in different movies; he is a bona fide character actor.

  2. I'd like to think that the conversations I have are of the same quality as those Sorkin writes - but I think I'm kidding myself...