The Social Network: Film Review

The Social Network — Sorkin, Structure, and Collaboration - YouTube

A film that many are demanding a sequel to, given recent events, is 2010’s The Social Network. The film is an interpretation of the events surrounding the development of Facebook and its creator Mark Zuckerberg, notably, the circumstances which led to multiple lawsuits being levied against Mr. Zuckerberg for allegedly stealing the idea for the site and cheating his friend out of the profits. The film was directed by the great David Fincher and written by the possibly greater Aaron Sorkin, who won an Oscar for this particular screenplay. The film stars Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, and Justin Timberlake among others.

I’ve really tried not to write Sorkin reviews, for fear of the towering shrines to my love for his work they would pretty much inevitably become. I’m deciding to screw that for this particular movie, partly because it’s pretty much the most universally recognized “great film” that he’s done (some of his other stuff might be characterized as an acquired taste by others, definitely not me), and partly because I see nothing wrong with a towering shrine to my love for his work. Aaron Sorkin is, in my opinion, the best writer in the history of the known universe. He’s known best for his soaring, snappy dialogues and characters who value morality and integrity in the work they do above all else. Those characters tend to populate his TV shows, for which he is certainly more acclaimed but doubtfully as well known. For his films, Sorkin has had a tendency to pick up on ‘true stories’ about exceptional, potentially morally ambiguous people who’ve done incredible things, and making sport out of dissecting their psyches and motivations. That pattern brought Sorkin to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, hence The Social Network.

Sorkin himself has been pretty open about the strange first-glance reaction to his pairing with David Fincher of all directors, a legend in his own right. Fincher is best known for creating visual masterpieces, with a insanely methodical filming process geared towards making things visually beautiful, while Sorkin writes “people talking in rooms.” It turns out to be an unbelievably happy marriage of styles, as Fincher’s knack for visual dynamism gives a new kind of rhythm to Sorkin dialogue in The Social Network. For a film that doesn’t lend itself to a variety as far as visual settings go, Fincher does an incredible job making it really easy on the eye to watch. Between some expert filter use and some crazy editing (for which an Oscar was taken home), The Social Network makes visual beauty out of pretty innocuous visuals. That understated feeling of just being nice to look at makes it that much easier to sit back and let the barrage of words that is Sorkin dialogue wash over you. The writing on this film is genius. I mean there are moments when you just sit back and wonder which planet this guy’s from kind of genius. It’s a very different breed of writing from what anyone who’s seen The West Wing might be used to from Sorkin. It’s less soaring and measurably more sarcastic, for the purpose of a very different character from Jed Bartlet. Regardless, the energy and rhythm is still there, it still strikes as hard and as deep, and it still manages to be easy on the ear all at the same time.

Credit certainly has to be given to a spectacular cast that takes the task of working with the two most attention-to-detail-obsessed men in Hollywood into their stride. Criticism on the basis of the accuracy of the portrayals and plot aside (we’ll get to that), Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic at conveying what was meant to be conveyed about Zuckerberg’s character on paper. He’s got a voice and a tone that was made for Sorkin dialogue, and he delivers the socially awkward genius in a way that no one else is capable of (of course it’s a type-caste at this point, but he’s only ever pulled it off). I really enjoyed Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Eduardo Saverin. I know that he’s basically the centre of the criticism of the film in terms of its accuracy, one of the main sources of information being a book that he was consulted on. Again, we’ll get to the accuracy of it all in a second. That aside, Garfield does a pretty stand-up job giving the character legs and likability. Armie Hammer deserves a recognition for his performance as not one but two Winklevoss twins. Aside from contributing to the Oscar for editing, Hammer does a pretty interesting job in making two distinct characters out of the “Winklevii” which I don’t think is acknowledged nearly as much as it ought to be. Justin Timberlake shows some chops in this film, giving Sean Parker a delightful smoothness and face-value appeal. Collectively, the entire cast of this movie contributed to a pretty perfect performance of Sorkin dialogue which just never gets boring.

I also want to get into the narrative structure, which is one other piece of genius to come from the Sorkin himself. One of the things that keeps the story as engaging as it is the back and forth narrative structure between the story and the depositions. The way the story is told through the depositions is really interesting, and, notably, from everyone’s point of view except Mark’s (I promise we’ll get into that in a sec). It keeps the suspense and the pulse of the film, as well as making for a more interesting source of exposition than in most films.

Alright, let’s get to it. The big question surrounding The Social Network is one of accuracy. A few people, many of who were Mark Zuckerberg, have contested the representations of the facts in this film. Zuckerberg contends that the writing makes him come off as mean (a little bit), deceitful (It does), and callous, as well as ignoring a lot of allegedly key details. Sorkin based the screenplay for this film on a book called “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, the primary consultant for which was one Eduardo Saverin. Understandably, people argue that this is the root of the inherent bias in favour of Saverin in the telling of the story, as well as the source of a few key omissions. It’s a hard thing to properly understand, I don’t know that I get to say that I’m particularly in the know about the ‘true’ events of the story, so I don’t want to paint a blanket picture. The reality is I just don’t know, and having seen this film before knowing any of the facts, it’s hard not to be skewed. With that in mind, I think two things. One is that there are certain facts that aren’t deniable, to my understanding, such as the fact that Saverin’s shares were the only ones diluted to allow for new investors. If that’s true, it’s hard to spin anything anywhere else. I guess it’s harder to identify a “fact” like that in the case of the Winklevoss twins, so their situation and representation is a little murkier. The second is that Sorkin has, on multiple occasions, reiterated that the Mark Zuckerberg you see on screen is essentially a fictional character, borne of his personal interpretation of the situation, and isn’t necessarily intended to be an exact replica of the real thing. I can understand that to a certain extent, no biopic has ever been 100% accurate and bias isn’t an inherently bad thing, it’s what allows for different perspectives (hence this review). At the same time, I get the sense that Sorkin saying that is kind of like him saying that The West Wing isn’t making a political statement or supporting a political agenda, or that The Newsroom isn’t telling current News media what they’re doing wrong; similar in that it’s partly valid and partly bullshit. I think it’s not unfair to suggest, based on his work as evidence, that Sorkin has a certain amount of disdain for the Social Media industry, and that’s not going to be a non-factor when you’re writing a movie about them. In my opinion, even that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bias just makes for a point of view, and they’re all valid here. That drags up the question of the ethics of unabashedly putting your point of view in a film, which is always going to make a deeper impression in the court of public opinion than facts and black-and-white text on a page. It’s a difficult thing to understand, especially in a place where the real facts are hard to identify. You could even argue that Zuckerberg’s character has some sympathetic angles, I certainly thought so. There’s more depth to Eisenberg’s portrayal than just a genius jackass, he’s a wounded animal with his experience with Erica Albright, and that spurs him on to do a lot of what he does in the film. That may or may not be accurate, but it’s certainly not a purely assholic representation.

It’s a complicated film, with a complicated story. “But they’re not saying it was badly written.” The Social Network is probably among my favourite films ever, one of those I can watch any number of times without getting bored, which is a testament to the quality and craft of the filmmaking. The subject matter isn’t the kind of thing that would ordinarily put it that high up on my list, but something about it is compelling enough to get me to care a great deal, and my thanks go to David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin for that. With recent developments in the story of Facebook, a not insignificant proportion of people are calling for a sequel to The Social Network. Now that would be something. We have only to wait and watch for the possibility of that. In the meantime, The Social Network is an incredible film which is undeniably worth a watch, or a re-watch if it’s been a while. I promise you, Sorkin and Fincher don’t let it get boring.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 91/100                                                       Aryamaan’s Score –