It’s safe to say that there are few geniuses left in the world. As things generally turn out, these few geniuses do something genius; books are written about their genius, and then other geniuses adapt those books into genius movies. Enter The Social Network, a film so rife with genius that it’s hard to believe that it can exist.
The Social Network is, primarily, a behind-the-scenes look at the conception of Facebook. It does not depict the subsequent advent of the social network as we know it nor does it describe its hand in toppling governments; the plot is just that basic. What becomes of it, however, is pure brilliance, and it would take a man like director David Fincher to build the film into exactly that. Fincher, the master craftsman behind Fight Club, Seven, and Panic Room, has at his back what is perhaps the greatest arrangement of talent seen in years.
At its foundation is a screenplay penned by The West Wing and A Few Good Men creator Aaron Sorkin. Based on the 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich (author of 2003’s Bringing Down the House, which was adapted into the film 21), Sorkin’s script is both symbolically significant and culturally relevant, and is neither
a sequel nor a remake. With The Social Network, Sorkin has created a Citizen Kane for our generation; it is a gripping tale of both human ingenuity and human greed while at the same time a shout-out to perhaps the most globally-embraced social experiment in 100 years. While (allegedly) partly fictionalized, the story is real enough to stay shockingly believable.
Fincher’s contribution, however, is half of the power. The direction is flawless and Fincher, long seasoned in the business, delivers his own personal touch to a product that perhaps no other director could manage. By enlisting his Director of Photography from 1999’s Fight Club, Jeff Cronenweth, Fincher sees to it that the film’s contrasting themes of greed, human potential, and the advancement of civilization coincide with the beautifully raw, dark, gritty cinematography that has become his trademark. From the start, The Social Network appears almost like a blurred dream, while still bearing the thinnest thread of consciousness connecting the audience to an equally grim reality, something very characteristic of both Fincher and Cronenweth.
The film even enlists the help of the infinitely talented Trent Reznor to contribute its score. With 23 years of experience under the moniker of Nine Inch Nails and two Grammys to show for it, Reznor, along with English composer and frequent Reznor collaborator Atticus Ross, delivers an array of music that draws on the Industrial-based electronic melodies that Reznor is known for (a few songs from the score are remixed Nine Inch Nails instrumental tracks). Both emotional and strikingly simplistic, the score
complements the tone of the film perfectly.
On camera, however, The Social Network employs a cast that, while unconventional, performs beautifully. Zombieland’s Jesse Eisenberg leads, portraying Harvard student turned Internet billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. The greatest aspect of Eisenberg’s performance is that it is remarkably static. Both Mezrich’s book and Sorkin’s screenplay depict Zuckerberg, who is today known as the CEO and “co-founder” of Facebook, in an unflattering light, something Eisenberg’s performance furthers from beginning to end. His Zuckerberg is a man who obviously believes himself to be too intelligent for humility or remorse (the film opens with Zuckerberg engaged in an embarrassingly condescending conversation with his girlfriend). Most importantly, Mark Zuckerberg is a character that not a soul can relate to, and this unfamiliarity makes his descent all the more intriguing. Justin Timberlake contributes an unexpectedly potent performance, as well. His character, Napster mogul Sean Parker, is the devil on Zuckerberg’s shoulder. Parker is so slimy and sleazy from exploits in the dotcom frontier that the audience cannot help but worry that the same may become of Zuckerberg himself.
The most powerful performance of the film, however, comes from the dually American and British actor Andrew Garfield. Eduardo Saverin, another “co-founder” of Facebook and Garfield’s character, is repeatedly referred to as Zuckerberg’s sole friend. If Sean Parker is the devil, then Saverin is the urgent voice of reason, whose respect for the friendship he shares with Zuckerberg drives his attempts to save his friend from
falling over the edge. Yet, when the beginning of the film (which utilizes flashback narrative) shows the two boys on opposite sides of two different depositions, it is immediately evident to the audience that Saverin’s futile attempts as an honest friend cannot trump the human capacity for greed.
The point is that the genius of The Social Network does not lie in any one aspect; rather, it is the perfect execution of every aspect that places it ahead. It is original, powerful, smart, riveting and relevant, leaving nearly every other film of 2010 miles beneath it.