The Social Network was an odd bet for director David Fincher, who was more well known for his disturbing psychological thrillers. His first foray in the genre of drama resulted in the disastrous The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Fincher’s impeccable direction worked against the film’s bland script and soulless story. Fortunately, The Social Network is the complete opposite. Fincher’s cold, precise and austere direction harmonizes perfectly with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s rapid fire, witty dialogue. The end result is something that is completely emblematic of its time and place, which is what makes The Social Network one of the defining films of the 21st century.
On the surface, the film is about Mark Zuckerberg and all the troubles he faced in his journey to create Facebook. However, such a synopsis does the film no justice because it is much more than just “The Facebook Movie.” At its core, The Social Network is a classic story with elements that are as old as storytelling itself. Friendship, loyalty, jealousy, social structure and theft are all tribulations that humans have been writing about for thousands of years. And yet, the film still finds a clever way to incorporate those timeless story elements into a setting that is distinctly contemporary. The Internet hasn’t so much altered or replaced human nature. Instead, the seemingly global communication network has amplified it.
The film’s nature is reflective of the modern world’s calculated methods of communication. Much like how we self-edit and fine tune our texts for maximum efficiency, The Social Network is curated such that every aspect is swift and flawless. Fincher’s digital camera pans and tilts in an un-humanly glossy way. Every cut and line of dialogue is refined and locked in as tightly as possible. Actors do hundreds of takes for every scene, giving the editors plenty of footage to take apart and use. They even applied an invisible split-screen technique, where they would juxtapose two different takes of the same shot into one seamless shot in order to use the best elements of both shots.
The film’s opening scene is a perfect representation of these elements coming together, especially the dialogue. Designing dialogue is one of the most difficult tasks in filmmaking, because the best dialogue feels fluid and natural but not pointless. Most importantly, great dialogue simultaneously reacts to and creates drama. In the opening scene, Zuckerberg is on a date with his fictional girlfriend Erica, played wonderfully by Rooney Mara. They talk about finals clubs and geniuses in China until Erica becomes too frustrated with Zuckerberg’s social ineptness. She insults him and leaves. Throughout the entire scene, the dialogue subconsciously teaches us about our characters until the scene crescendos to a punctuating climax that brings the film to life. Fincher told his actors not to just react to the dialogue they hear, but to take note of the implication in each word, so that even the simplest of lines are injected with meaning.
Fincher has always had an affinity for outsiders, being one himself, and Zuckerberg is no exception. However, this is the first time that Fincher has placed his exploration of weirdos in something subtler and more grounded in reality. Unlike Tyler Durden’s terrorist attacks on credit card buildings and capitalism in Fight Club, Zuckerberg’s revolution succeeded. With Facebook, he completely changed the social dynamic. Elite clubs and Harvard are old money. Zuckerberg is the future. Every Facebook user has the power to be the president of an elite club. No longer can the wealthy and privileged dominate in the same way. The film also hints at a psychological shift created by the information age, a new breed of impersonality. Facebook is a complete paradox, granting people the aura of intimacy while still maintaining the comfort of distance. Every person we communicate with has become a packet of information. In the film, Zuckerberg almost has a binary personality. Either you have information he wants or he doesn’t care.
Despite Zuckerberg’s coldness and unapproachability, Fincher and Sorkin, along with Jesse Eisenberg’s nuanced performance, prevent his character from becoming one-dimensional. Every time he destroys a relationship, there is a quiver of regret in his lips. Ultimately, he’s still human who grieves and desires. The film’s ending plays out like that of Citizen Kane. Zuckerberg is Charles Foster Kane and the desire for human connection is his Rosebud. And yet, all that’s left is his empire and the refresh button. A+