The Social Network' -- a story of crime and punishment

Published 25.10.2010 10:14

How much of a contrast can there be between a film's title and its content? If there is actually one thing that's genuinely “social” about the vicious characters that inhabit the chaotic universe of “The Social Network,” it is either arbitrary or Machiavellian.

Well, what did we really expect from a film about the founding of Facebook -- sadly the most significant, influential and addictive invention of our day which could possibly be the mother of all pseudo-recreational areas of friendship since the inception of Internet messaging? Directed by David Fincher with a mind-blowing attention to detail and an optimized deployment of tight-knit editing, fortified by Aaron Sorkin's script with its intimidating, articulate dialogue and banter, "The Social Network" in its structure is just like Facebook software -- the bombardment of information never stops, with a group of people simultaneously doing different things while layers and layers of comments and interpretations of occurrences (like posts) continuously snowball. Of course, the film's idea and substance is much more powerful and meaningful than the trivial and meaningless minutiae that people share on Facebook. Then again, I should probably admit that my Facebook is currently open on the next tab of my computer screen. So really who can blame founder Mark Zuckerberg for being a billionaire after virtually materializing the most dire of human needs -- to be externally validated and recognized while lawfully stalking others. From square one, the film shows Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) to be one of the most despicable human beings to roam this earth (the veracity of this notion is questionable though it doesn't seem so far off). It is 2003, a Boston bar, he is a Harvard computer engineering major engaging in a condescending and fastidious word duel with his date Erica (Rooney Mara) who is a Brown University co-ed. The girl can't take his misogynistic remarks, let alone his social ineptitude. She breaks up with him: "I want you to know that it is not because you are a nerd that girls won't like you throughout your life, it is because you are an [expletive]." So what does he do? Like many immature brats, he goes back to his dorm room, starts blogging online about how Erica is such a bitch and then decides to take his revenge upon the entire female race by hacking into the online photo catalogues of all the Harvard dorms and creating a website called "facemash" in which the user can compare the "hotness" level of female students. The website is an overnight success with the male students, which crashes the Harvard network. Our boy is immensely satisfied with himself; he finally acquires notoriety as his caste-system driven university classmates become aware of him. This is Harvard, the most prestigious university in the world, and apparently the most important thing that matters to any co-ed is either to be a member of a private student club or become a celebrity one way or another. No wonder Zuckerberg doesn't have any friends, except for Brazilian Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who becomes the co-founder of Facebook. He is the most amiable character in the film and the only one who can stomach Mark's crudeness. After the facemash incident, Mark is approached by the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer). These boys are the ultimate product of the Harvard factory -- athletic, academic, wealthy, entitled and arrogant. They want to utilize the genius of Zuckerberg to create an exclusive Harvard dating website and become even wealthier. And it is right then that Zuckerberg gets the idea for Facebook. He and Eduardo (who becomes the financial side of the partnership) put up the website -- first exclusive to Harvard and then to other universities. Fincher shows the past and the multiple presents juxtaposed between Harvard's hallowed grounds and the long, glass-covered tables of law firms, because as you all know, Facebook became embroiled in numerous legal battles where everybody was suing Zuckerberg for either copyright theft or swindling -- Saverin and the Winklevosses being on top of the list. The pretentious and hostile atmosphere between these young people during the Harvard era continues as they confront one another on the legal battlefield, with only one difference -- their immaturity and self-importance is now being sanctified by big-wig lawyers who themselves probably received sweet percentages from the settlement fees. The generational gap during these scenes is incredibly concise and frightening -- what the kids really care about is being hip and recognized while you can see the flickering emerald green of money in the eyes of the lawyers. At one point Zuckerberg makes a very truthful remark: "The Winklevi [as he calls them] are not suing me for the money, they're suing because for the first time in their lives something didn't go the way it was supposed to." In this battle of egos where being the coolest is the holy grail, there will be no room for friendship or any kind of human kindness or decency. The way that Zuckerberg and his eventual business partner Sean Parker of Napster (performed with spot-on slimy charm by Justin Timberlake) exclude Eduardo Saverin is merciless. Really it's no different from what Facebook is really about -- it's either one sort of public humiliation or the pursuit of exhibiting how cool you supposedly are. There, after all, is a strict moral tone to this story. It is not a surprise that Erica will quite ironically appear at the end, pointing to how Zuckerberg amidst all his success is just a lonely and friendless young man and still a loser in the eyes of the girl. Fincher and Sorkin were the right choice for this film, as they illustrate with their cut-throat and intelligent cinematic tools the ferociousness of a younger generation that has willingly become victimized by a shallow, superficial global culture dedicated to self-exposure and exhibitionism while not revealing anything essential. How did so much transparency come to eliminate sincerity? "The Social Network" is without a doubt one of the best films of the year.
CIHAN

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