When rumours began in 2008 that Hollywood had greenlit a Facebook movie, online cynics heaved a collective sigh. You could almost imagine the board meeting: a polished oak slab flanked on either side by power-suited financiers turned in benediction towards a monolithic whiteboard, upon it scrawled a simple one-line equation: Facebook = $.
However, as details slowly emerged over the intervening months, critical expectations began to shift. It was revealed that the script was to be based on Ben Mezrich’s excellent book, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook. Then there was news that the script was to be penned by Aaron “West Wing” Sorkin – a screenwriter eliciting devotion verging on the religious amongst his many admirers. By the time David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club) was confirmed as director with Trent Reznor on board to score, the critical rehabilitation of “the Facebook movie” was complete. While there remains no doubt that a guaranteed payday factored into the film’s fast-tracked production, when shrewd business turns into something as polished, relevant and considered as The Social Network, the why’s cease to matter.
“Private behaviour is a relic of a time gone by.” These words are spoken by Justin Timberlake in a surprisingly convincing turn as Sean Parker, the charismatic and paranoid Yoko to Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin’s Lennon and McCartney (played impeccably by Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield). While lamentations of dwindling face-to-face interconnection in a world of instant information transmission have attained the status of stale truisms, The Social Network successfully breathes new meaning into this over-used trope.
While descriptions of Zuckerberg’s portrayal as verging on sociopathic may be overstating the case, they’re not far off. The Social Network’s cinematic version of Facebook’s principal founder painfully lacks any kind of interpersonal skills. The contradiction embodied by the man responsible for the world’s most used social tool is as beautifully a conceived archetype for our age as can be recalled in recent cinema. That he cannot maintain any meaningful personal relationships of his own – alienating his only friend on his way to successfully connecting more than 500 million people – is the distillation of a key societal dilemma. When a frenzied Parker states that “we lived on farms, we lived in cities and now we live on the Internet,” it’s hard to think of any contemporary figures that so successfully capture the social moment as those involved in the rise of Facebook.
While the film’s focus may not be unique (even The Matrix, for example, arguably attempts similar social criticisms) the mastery and restraint displayed in Fincher’s film certainly is. The relationships fuelling The Social Network are decidedly relatable; delivering an arrestingly human postmodern fable that could have otherwise easily descended into melodrama. A character-driven drama of genius, greed, betrayal and revenge, The Social Network’s writing, direction and performances conspire to produce what is easily one of the year’s best films.