On its base level, David Fincher’s latest film is about how Mark Zuckerberg replaced a long, shameful walk home after a pathetic ego-bursting date with a pathetic stroke of the keyboard. It’s the analog date turned digital. It’s also about twins (literal and metaphorical), codes (ethical and computer), and networks (all kinds). The movie also manages to be both biopic and thriller, legal drama and parable, comedy and tragedy. The Social Network can be read however you want, because the film is filled with many ideas and details that only enrich the allure of a film already crammed with great acting, extremely memorable dialogue, and top-notch technical skill.
The film is, of course, about the creation of Facebook and the people its founder may or may not have stabbed in the back on his way to becoming the world’s youngest billionaire. The unique structure of the movie has the story blitzkrieg its way from 2003 to 2007 via flashback (the pace purposefully fast like the technology), all the while cutting between dual legal depositions taking place more recently.
This movie isn’t about social networking websites and whether they’re good or not, be it Facebook or some other invention that has had a profound effect on society is irrelevant. Ambivalence is the true order of the day. The film presents certain facts, most of which are based on true stories, but not all of them. So, the story we are presented with can’t be trusted entirely either. The film’s brilliance is in this uncertainty… this vaguery… In fact, I can’t decide what I think about any one character, which is actually more intriguing than you might think.
Is Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg (an Oscar-worthy, breakthrough performance) a giant asshole or just trying too hard or both? Was he leading people on or simply oblivious? Is he intentionally obfuscate to serve his own diabolical ends or merely too smart to be slowed down? Good or bad, there is some empathy to be had (no doubt enhanced by the wonderfully melancholic, synthesized score).
It helps that the twin-Olympian “villains,” Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, are terrifically nuanced and contradictory. Armie Hammer plays both twins, another breakthrough and Oscar-caliber performance, with the aid of a stand-in and some Benjamin Button wizardry. Hammer flat-out owns every scene he’s in. Any other movie might paint the twins as mere bullies, but here they are refreshingly self-aware antagonists, wonderfully illustrated by a Karate Kid reference in my favorite line in the film. The twins have most of the best lines. The acting has you almost rooting for them, except for the fact that they’re privileged elitists. (Or am I just jealous?)
Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield in another breakthrough, Oscar-worthy role) is supposedly the most sympathetic character, but methinks there’s more to him than meets the eye. Even the devil on Zuckerberg’s shoulder, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, breakthrough but not quite award-worthy), can be construed as a somewhat tragic figure and he’s the shoulder devil, nobody likes that guy.
The film is smart, presenting technology as a shortcut around class, relationships, and power. It’s no accident that the film has got me questioning today’s social mores. It wants us to feel uneasy about these people, these ideas. What does it say about us if we kind of like Zuckerberg? The same way Fight Club shows you the dark side of buying into Tyler Durden’s impulsive and dangerous worldview; The Social Network wants you to think twice about what is lost and what is gained in the New World Order.