March 25, 2020 – Archie Borders

Social Distancing by watching The Social Network; we watch older movies with our teenagers during self isolation. 

Viewing David Fincher’s 2010 film The Social Network, is like watching the step by step prognostication of our recent cultural history; the lack of privacies, the longing need for connection through digital means, and how social media can hurt or help, especially when Facebook the company, explodes all over the place.  

The film begins in a small way, initially, and builds through Aaron Sorkin’s literate and snappy script (based on “The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich”) that chronicles the events leading up to Facebook’s inception. It is both innocuous and ominous. Forget whether the minute details of the screenplay are historically accurate (they sort of are) it is the overall arc of what’s good and bad about Facebook that makes The Social Network a remarkably prescient piece of cinema. 

When we meet Mark Zuckerberg (played with a compelling intensity by Jesse Eisenberg, right down to the trademark ‘fuck you flip flops), he’s in the midst of a highly literate, two-subject-conversation-at-once break-up with Erica (played by Rooney Mara). Written deftly by Sorkin, the opening scene does what great screenplays are supposed to do; set up the entire movie, including the ending, by cleverly laying out its themes and exposing character through dialogue and rapid, verbal interplay. It’s comical, sad, and exhilarating. 

It’s also filled with great lines, like “dating you is like dating a Stairmaster,” as Erica and Mark engage in a dizzying back and forth which results in Erica’s final thesis statement about Zuckerberg:

“You’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”

It’s one of those great Sorkin zingers that read the way you wish you could talk during the argument, but you usually only think of afterwards on the drive home.

From this scene, the spiritual beginning for Facebook evolves from Face Smash, the sophomoric (i.e. degrading and objectifying) site Zuckerberg, (at least in the film’s telling) uses as revenge against Erica and indeed, most of the women on the Harvard campus. It’s a dizzying scene, shot like an action movie, all fingers on keyboards and reaction shots set to Trent Reznor’s dynamic score. The bile spreads over a hyper realized Harvard campus culture that oozes privileged exclusivity. The women in The Social Network, with the exception of Erica, are side characters (to the men in the script, not to Sorkin) usually seen as either sex objects or as assistive aids in either the legal or social circumstances of the male protagonists. 

The film’s subtext, that Zuckerberg, being the guy who didn’t fit in with the elite, who are embodied in the film by the Winklevoss twins, (played mainly by Armie Hammer, with Josh Pence providing one of the bodies) wanted to make the biggest club in the world, one that you were invited into and one that Zuckerberg was in complete charge of.  The character of Edward Saverin, played engagingly by Andrew Garfield, provides the moral compass that is often out of sync with Eisenberg’s (torn?) Zuckerberg.

It is their genuine friendship and just beneath the surface affection for each other that gives the betrayal to come it’s heft and intellectual might. Before that however, comes the surprisingly good Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker, the true Mephistopheles (“A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billon dollars”) to Garfield’s moral guardian. Timberlake’s intro, a post-coital morning conversation with a then-unknown Dakota Johnson, is so sharply written and fun you could shave with the script pages. With the buddy rivalry set, The Social Network marches relentlessly to it’s litigious conclusion, with a scene of confrontation between Garfield and Eisenberg that is so perfectly set up, it’s positively cathartic. 

“You write your snide bullshit from a dark room because that’s what the angry do nowadays. I was nice to you, don’t torture me for it.”

Looking back ten years to the release of The Social Network, it’s chilling to watch the metaphoric idea trains heading for a collision. From the simmering misogyny to the me-too movement that’s primed to a boil, (ironically, Kevin Spacey is one of the film’s producers), we see a Mark Zuckerberg who is indeed angry and resentful, but with a genius that is capable of bringing everyone together with his addictive, now ubiquitous social platform. The story comes back to its people. The lost, the hurt, those still seeking connection, but with no clue on how to emotionally reach out. 

As one of his attorneys (played by Rashida Jones) comments before the end, “you’re not an asshole Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.”