The Social Network

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Facebook: a presence so pervasive that even I’ve jumped on the bandwagon, dropped my kecks and presented myself to all and sundry. Yeah, look to the right of this page. Look at the purity of my site obliterated by my massive Facebook widget (and my Amazon links and my Twitter feed and my sad, desperate plea for money - give me some money you ungrateful fuckers!). Like me. Please like me. Only thirteen people like me at the moment. How pathetic is that? Add to my numbers. Add to my glory! I’m a whore.

I guess lots of great ideas have been driven by ego or revenge or the need to impress girls. The creation of Facebook seems to follow all of these lines. As told in The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg is a talented but friendless loser. Yes he’s a smart bastard and yes he’s studying at Harvard, but if success if judged by the amount of people you know and the number of friends you have, and in lots of circles it is, then Zuckerberg is at the bottom of the heap. He has one friend and he loses his girlfriend in the opening scene.

To show how clueless Zuckerberg is when it comes to inter-personal relationships you just have to watch the film’s opening exchange. Boastful and dismissive of his girlfriend, he pisses her off to the extent that she leaves him. He’s not too concerned until he realises that she’s serious. Only then does he apologise and he does it with a complete lack of sincerity. He knows that these are the words that he’s supposed to say and the script he’s supposed to follow but there’s no feeling at all - even the biggest idiot would know that he’s not really sorry; he just desperately wants to cling onto this ornament, this decoration that shows that he’s not as big a loser as he seems. But it doesn’t work. His girlfriend still leaves him.

Subsequent to this, Zuckerberg, in a fit of drunken pique, creates a website called Facemash. It features every girl at Harvard and has them lined up in a ‘Hot or Not’-style women-as-meat contest. It successfully degrades every woman on campus and briefly entertains the male half of the university - it gets so many hits that it brings the school network to its knees. Revenge successfully achieved, Mark then has to face the music. But at his hearing Zuckerberg doesn’t display any remorse. He feels that he’s provided the university with a useful lesson - he’s highlighted the flaws in their security.

With Facemash as his first success, Zuckerberg then uses his petulant streak to achieve even greater notoriety. Hired by the Winklevoss twins (who are seamlessly portrayed by one actor) to create a kind of Harvard dating site, Mark decides to plunder their idea and create The Facebook (as it’s known then). As he’s working on it, he manages to avoid meeting his bosses by sending them texts and emails with various excuses. He gives them the runaround for six weeks before finally revealing The Facebook. The Winklevoss’ are understandably pissed off.

One of the many things I like about The Social Network is the ambiguity. It’s never made entirely clear why Zuckerberg decides to screw over the Winklevoss twins. They’re a few of the only people on campus that will actually speak to him and they give him a decent opportunity. But for many reasons Zuckerberg decides to take the offer the wrong way.

The first reason is the fact that the Winklevoss’s only allow him into the bike room of the Porcellian Club (the final club they’re a member of). The Winklevoss’s think they’re being incredibly generous by allowing Zuckerberg on such hallowed ground, but Zuckerberg takes it as a slight. He’s well aware that Jews are still treated like second class citizens in such places and his limited admittance only confirms his suspicions. Secondly, the Winklevoss’s are exactly the kind of people he wishes he could be - rich, good-looking, physically fit; they’re almost Aryan. Mark, on the other hand, is a misfit - a social reject, which makes it beautifully ironic that he goes on to create the most successful social networking site in the world. Thirdly, Mark does it because he thinks that he’s better than everyone else (an arrogance that is interestingly at odds with his inferiority complex). He doesn’t want to be an employee. He wants to be a boss. He won’t tolerate being bottom of the food chain. So Mark’s creation of The Facebook is also an inspired act of petulance. He wants to prove that he can make something on his own - he doesn’t need to be part of special clubs or have powerful friends. While most people of his age would resort to writing bad poetry or indulge in chronic masturbation, he uses his anger to begin the process of making himself a billionaire.

The process has its casualties, though. Zuckerberg hires his best friend (his only friend really) Eduardo Saverin as his business manager. Saverin gives his heart and soul to the business as well as quite a bit of money, but Zuckerberg’s head is turned by Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake), founder of Napster. Again, Parker is the kind of person that Zuckerberg wishes he could be - good looking, confident, good with women. But unlike the Winklevoss’s, Parker will take Mark all the way.

Timberlake is excellent as Parker, even though he’s basically just playing an extension of himself. He’s a cocky superstar - the kind of guy that men want to be and women want to be with. So the part isn’t exactly a stretch for Timberlake, but he still brings lots of charm and charisma to the role.

Parker’s seduction of Zuckerberg is the saddest thing about the film. Because of Parker, Zuckerberg ruins the one real friendship he has. This element of the film actually nicely encapsulates the problem with Facebook. Facebook allows us to have the illusion of friendship without having to deal with all the complications. We can friend someone but not really have to see them or talk to them on the phone or write them long emails or letters. We can stay in touch by occasionally looking at their wall or commenting on their status. Everything is a lot more shallow - it’s all less real. And that’s what Zuckerberg chooses. He chooses a shallow friendship over one with any real meaning.

One of the best scenes in the film is when Saverin visits Facebook in its swanky new offices (they’re about to celebrate the one millionth user). He thinks he’s there to celebrate but he’s there to sign papers because his 30% share of the business has been reduced to 0.03% due to restructuring. To make matters worse, all the other main players in Facebook still have a decent share of the business - Parker even has 7%. It’s the equivalent of being defriended and Saverin is understandably pissed off. He smashes Zuckerberg’s computer and says that he’s going to sue him. The coward that he is, Zuckerberg can only tremble. Parker, though, is over the moon - he verbally attacks Saverin. Well, until Saverin pretends that he’s going to punch him - at this point, Parker almost shits himself. But after Saverin’s left, Zuckerberg tells Parker that he was too rough on him. So Zuckerberg obviously still has feelings for his ex-friend, but he’s too much of a coward to stand up for him.

Again this accurately reflects current life, where conflict is avoided at all costs. We’d rather quietly defriend someone or ease them out of our lives than actually speak our minds. We don’t even have the option of a dislike button. Facebook and other social networking sites were supposed to bring us together but if anything they’ve driven us further apart.

But while the film is very timely, is it the all-conquering masterpiece that some people think it is? I wouldn’t go that far. It’s certainly one of the best films of the year, but that isn’t really saying that much, as it’s been a very lean year for cinema so far. However, it’s nice to see David Fincher returning to form after the disappointment that was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. That was a film that I sorely wanted to like but it fell way short of expectations. Thankfully, though, The Social Network is a film of subtle pleasures. As great as Fincher is, he sometimes gets carried away with the technique of making a film - the worst case being the unnecessarily flashy shots in Panic Room (flying through locks and such). Here he allows the film to speak for itself while still retaining his magnificent eye for visuals. The opening shots as Zuckerberg runs through Harvard are wonderful, as is the boat race at Henley (a scene that initially seems self-indulgent until you realise that it’s cleverly showing you that the Winklevoss’s are second best at everything). And the film also has an excellent score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (going back to the boat race, the score and the slow motion makes it feel like something out of A Clockwork Orange).

The final scene has Zuckerberg using Facebook to try and friend his ex-girlfriend. After sending the friend request, he refreshes the page every few seconds to see if his request has been accepted. Maybe he’s finally trying to make up for his mistakes or maybe he’s still a slave to his impulses. We don’t know. You can only hope that he’s learnt his lesson and that he understands that all the success and all the money in the world are meaningless if you don’t have any deep, lasting attachments.

Having said all that, go back to the top of the page and click on ‘like’ in my Facebook widget. And after that, donate me some money. It’ll do my self-esteem wonders and I promise that I’ll only use the money to bring you more reviews. I won’t use it on booze or whores. You have my word. I’ll be refreshing Facebook until you like me. Thanks in advance. :)

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  1. Quick nit-pick. At the end Zuckerberg sends a friend request to his girlfriend from the beginning of the film, not the junior lawyer at the lawsuit.

  2. Oops, that's a crucial bit of information I missed. I've updated the review accordingly. Thanks for the heads up!

  3. I thought it was a good thorough review. Aside from david fincher directing the film, i had no interest to see it. I am glad that someone else thought that bj button was lame also. One thing i gotta disagree with is that i like finchers style of shooting... The camera swooping in through the keyhole in panic room, or the apartment xplosion in fight club. It defines him as a director. I appreciate it.

  4. As much as I hate facebook I'm going to have to see this simply because im unhealthily obsessed with David Fincher films. Would like to hear (read) your thoughts on the Hurt Locker if you've seen it and if you get a chance. Tom from Oz

  5. Great review. And everything you've said about Facebook/the shallow state of friendships that it fosters is dead-on.