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The Social Network

‘Nah, I’m not bothering with a film about Facebook.’ Oft have I been met with said response upon mention of The Social Network, David Fincher’s initially potentially confusing choice as his latest project – as though a perceivably frivolous tool of gossipy social glue would be unfilmable or pointless. And, when the film and attached director were announced, you could be forgiven for being at the very least bafflingly curious as to why the Zodiac director might opt for a film concerning itself with the friend-poking internet application of debatable import.

The Social Network starts with our equally debatable central protagonist, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg with all the charm bled out of him and replaced with the deadened focus of a stuffed animal) talking his way into a break-up with his girlfriend in a glucose-hued frat bar. We can quickly ascertain this much: he dresses like a dorm bum, observes little in the way of social etiquette conversation-wise and is his own worst enemy in terms of honest appraisals. He swiftly burns threadbare bridges with soon-to-be-ex (Rooney Mara, hard to fault in any of her three scenes) by talking himself up and her down. Indeed, his two disastrous encounters with Mara propel him through the film: his aghast rejection and the pointedly priapic response instigating and feeding his rancorously accelerated rise.

His intitial snub prompts a late-night blog-rant and quickly leads to ‘Facemash’ – a campus-only (with crucial algorithmic aid from college buddy Eduardo Severin – the excellent Andrew Garfield – like an emaciated Eli Roth channelling Werewolf In London-era Griffin Dunne) ‘comparison’ page juxtaposing various female student pics – including that of Mara – with not only each other but also various farmyard animals. Yes, we’re in the presence of beer-pepped students. Zuckerberg and Severin quickly and gleefully crash the Harvard site.

This errant escapade (‘22000 hits’) attracts the attention of the Winklevoss twins, who throughout are slightly-behind-moneyed-relative-duncery figures and the antsy butt of much of the films superior chortling, who have the embryonic fancy, but not the means, of implementing a Harvard social networking site. They enlist Zuckerberg to help them only for him to quietly discard everything about them but the kernel of their idea. He impassively expands on that, bankrolled by Severin, and ‘The Facebook’ flourishes – and the second of the disastrous ex-confrontations plays out, energising his wronged competitiveness – amidst ‘cool’ if relatively minor exclusivity. (Sexual rejection and lascivious self-consciousness are prominently attributed as Facebook fuel, along with a keen sense of sexual competitiveness and a cynical but inarguable eye on what the kids want – yep, mainly sex.)  

It’s at roughly this point that a Sean Parker (of Napster fame – aptly embodied by a sleazily opportunistic Justin Timberlake) inspired quantum leap occurs; his contacts and their resources enable genuine global advances (the UK appearance of ‘Facebook’ being humourously covered in a Winklevoss twin humiliation scene at a gloriously depicted Henley Regata) to the chagrin of a by-now marginalised Severin, who is eventually and crushingly sacrificed indirectly as his shares become diluted to insignificance without warning. Zuckerberg will, of course, step on anyone, so beholden is he to his unquenchable drive. But there’s a strangely pointed sense of him being far from merciless in this. His indifference stretches far and wide, and goes beyond his physical appearance and sense of social decorum to actually thinking about the consequences of his actions. We are led to take the view that the necessarily advancing nature of the entrepreneurial mind is far more important than intimate relationships, and you wonder how far you might be able to (perhaps unfairly, but you know how autobiographical films and indeed any form of art often tends to be) assume any concessions on the part of the director.

The biggest problems the film has are both conjoined: an over-terse closing third that wraps things up far too swiftly for the strands to mesh as brilliantly as they do in the first two-thirds, and a too-abrupt souring of Zuckerberg’s relationship with Sean Parker, which is rapidly (and unsatisfactorily) explained via house-party drug misdemeanours; instead there’s a cluttered sense of running-time adherence or a glaringly cramped pacing that manages to slightly enervate the film and dwindle the tension. It’s a credit to The Social Network that it could easily bear another half-hour of realistic, character-driven unravelling.

Fincher, after the total debacle of Benjamin Button, is back on form. The film is, as mentioned elsewhere, perhaps his least flashy effort to date, but is predictably brilliant visually. Simple tricks such as Sharpy-sketched equations etched on window panes and low-depth focus are expertly employed and there’s the usual sense of elegant, wasted malaise leaking from every frame. Crucially, perhaps, this is also Fincher’s funniest film. Not that he’s lightening up – the cineaste semiotic games are as rife as ever and would take at least three viewings to begin to map.

The film closes neatly: we have Zuckerberg advised to pay off (‘In the scheme of things it’s a parking ticket’) the players he has hitherto been determined to ostracise from his story, and everyone’s a winner. Although no-one is afforded any triumphalism – multi-million dollar payoffs or burgeoning billions aside – the last shot is of Zuckerberg refreshing his awaited friend request for, yes, the spurning girlfriend that fuelled this improbably vast ascension.

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