The social network service Facebook first went online in February 2004 and originally, was limited in its accessibility to just Harvard students. As its availabilty opened up, more and more people began to sign on. I joined the service in 2007 when I was invited by my friend Pat. At the time, I couldn’t really understand its purpose or scope and blogged about it accordingly in a dismissive single paragraph entry.
Today, the numbers speak for themselves. Facebook has over 600 million users. It is estimated to reach a billion users by 2012. It has made its creator Mark Zuckerberg the world’s youngest billionaire at the age of 24. Many people use the network daily and cannot imagine their life without it. In becoming an online avenue for people to project their real life identities, it has almost singlehandedly changed a global Internet culture that had been previously been almost exclusively championed and recognized for its ability to keep its users annonymous.
When we consider the sheer scale and enormity of Facebook and its influence, thank God David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin did this film justice. It’s a minor miracle that they did such an incredible job in adapting the story of this cultural phenomenon and the people behind it. It sounds like an unfilmable proposition on paper: a tale about computer programming, litigation and the socially awkward college students behind it. However, Aaron Sorkin’s sharp-tongued and evocative script combined with David Fincher’s flair for presenting a potentially complicated and confusing story in a clear and engaging fashion help bring The Social Network to life.
I believe The Social Network will be remembered long after many other high quality films of its time because its not just a great film on its own merits but it successfully encapsulates this generation in a way no other film has.
The comparisons to Citizen Kane when the film first started playing at festivals were apt. Citizen Kane was a fictionalized account of a media magnate named Charles Foster Kane. The film, directed by Orson Welles and released in the 1940s, was loosely based on the real life media tycoon William Randolph Hearst. The film explores how this man goes from being an idealistic small time newspaper publisher to a power hungry media magnate who builds his own empire of newspapers, tv stations and film studios. The film is rightly recognized for its many cinematic qualities and innovations but it is also a timely film and a landmark of an era in which rich powerful old men like Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer who would build their own business conglomerates in the decades to come.
Fast forward to the 21st century and there are now new faces making their mark on the world and they are younger, culturally worlds apart, and building their own empires using the Internet as their medium. The Social Network is a film that has come out at just the right time to capture this new generation of upstarts. Mark Zuckerberg is not the be all and end all for 21st Century Internet tycoons much like William Randolph Hearst wasn’t the last tycoon of traditional media. But Zuckerberg is one of influential and intriguing people in the world today and that makes him the perfect subject for a film.
It’s interesting to note which aspects of The Social Network are accurate and which are fiction. Zuckerberg addresses some of this in his interview with TIME Magazine. Zuckerberg had never had an apple martini in his life before watching the film. And despite Jesse Eisenberg’s famous portrayal of Zuckerberg as a socially awkard but brilliant genius who had issues connecting with women, the real life Zuckerberg had a long term girlfriend throughout college.
What was accurate? The film is correct in stating that Zuckerberg was offered a multi-million dollar deal as a teenager for writing a music recommendation software programme which he walked away from. And curiously, Zuckerberg notes that all the clothes that Eisenberg wears during the film, he owns at home. The wardrobe department were apparently 100% accurate.
The film version of Zuckerberg, however far from reality he may be, is still an interesting character whose motives give us pause for thought when we consider how we use Facebook ourselves. He has less than honourable intentions when he creates the website and many of the rather dubious features of the site, such as a friend-ranking application and a relationship status field, both of which were originally created to objectify and rank women, are now commonplace and widely accepted in their usage. Zuckerberg openly recognizes people’s vanity and how much they value their perception and visibility in society and he exploits this to the fullest, both in the film and in the real world. He recognizes that people don’t want ads. They don’t need to have the highest quality photo sharing program, just the easiest. He is freakishly well atuned to people’s wants and needs, often before they realise it themselves.
At its core though, Zuckerberg’s biggest success was in identifying an opportunity for people to connect to one another in a online virtual village where their own personal details, and those of their friends are made available for all to see. It’s little wonder that psychologists are now pondering the removal of narcissism as a personality disorder since its traits are now too widely applicable to the multitude of people who regularly use Facebook.
There is so much to like about this film. It’s dialogue is witty, lightning fast in its delivery and feels authentic. We would expect nothing less from the writer of The West Wing. The soundtrack by Trent Reznor is moody and evocative. The cinematography is focused when it needs to be and playfully artful when it can be, such as in the memorable rowing competition scene. The cast of characters, from Eisenberg’s potrayal as Mark Zuckerberg to Justin Timberlake’s surprising turn as Napster creator Sean Parker feel convincing and compelling. This is a robust and weighty film which rewards multiple viewings and is consistently strong in all aspects of its production.
Unbelievably, in making a film about an internet website, David Fincher has made his best film and probably one of the most highly regarded films that will come out about this generation.