11/25/2015: The Social Network

Once a week for the past six years – a streak that could not be interrupted even by Superstorm Sandy – the New York Movie Klub has gathered its 20 or so members to share a film with each other. Cinephile City’s Mark Young is a member of the Klub, and every Monday he will share the previous week’s movie here.

In an survey for Empire Online earlier this year (the piece has been taken down off their website, but Twitter evidence can be found here), David Fincher said that the most takes he ever did for a scene was 107. One hundred and seven! Few amateurs — hell, few professionals — would see the need for that many attempts. It’s not until you watch the director’s best films, Zodiac or this week’s Movie Klub entry, The Social Network, that you understand. Neither is a film where much physical action takes place, but both are completely riveting, because they are perfect in every detail.

The Social Network has to be perfect in every scene, because there’s simply not much room for error. The story of the founding of Facebook has conflict, and rising action, and betrayal, but very little of it is resolved in any kind of physical way. The movie’s most important decision is made in 25-degree weather outside of a lame college party; the ultimate ramifications of the decision are felt decades later in a legal deposition where, perforce, the principals have to let their lawyers do most of the talking. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, adapting Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires, delivers a lively and intricate screenplay, but it’s director still faces the problem that the film’s Macguffin lives on a server, and its windfall exists mostly in theory.

The Social Network

In the narrative of the movie, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) create the social media giant out of a Harvard prank, possibly influenced by the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer via the wonders of special effects, with an assist from body double Josh Pence). As was much discussed at the time of the film’s release, that narrative is not entirely true. Among other issues, the character played by Rooney Mara does not exist, and Zuckerberg’s physical and social awkwardness is much enhanced for the purpose of the film. In real life, Zuckerberg was a jock of sorts himself, a talent fencer who was the captain of his prep school team, and he already knew the woman to whom he is today married when he created Facebook.

Yet the embellishments are as important to the creation of a perfect film as Fincher’s penchant for huge numbers of takes. The creation of Facesmash may not have been influenced by Mark Zuckerberg being dumped by a specific Boston University student, but it was an attempt to rank women by their looks. The entire Facesmash-creation sequence, possibly the best in the film, reflects this: the cuts between the coding and a fraternity party, itself just another objectifying meat market for the campus women; the grinding score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, underlining the entire affair with the electronic-music equivalent of sex. For non-hacker audiences, the text of the scene will be nigh incomprehensible, but the effortless filmmaking renders the message clear as day.

socialnetwork-timberlakeAnd that message has only become sharper in the time since the movie was filmed. Once Shawn Parker (Justin Timberlake) gets involved in Facebook, women become objects in the most overt sense: objects of reward at the lavish parties, or objects blocking the road to success for the lead characters. The casting of Timberlake is genius in that respect, because who is better to symbolize the leads’ transformation from boys who fear women to men who use women than a boy band idol turned rock star? Parker is meant to encourage all of the worst aspects of the Zuckerberg who created Facesmash, and does so perfectly.

Watching the film now, more than a decade out from the creation of Facebook, it’s uncanny how the film understood that the website was birthed by every conflict that the Internet would create in our society. It’s a good thing that there is no Erica Albright, because if there had been, she might have been subjected to the same relentless trolling that Gamergate has ruined the lives of many women with. The casual disregard for the privacy and safety of data that led to the creation of Facesmash is still a concern for media industries of all types (it’s no coincidence that Parker, who created peer-to-peer media sharing with Napster, was involved with Facebook’s success). The Winklevoss lawsuit over Facebook’s creation revolves around intellectual property theft, which becomes an issue anew each time a Twitter comedian is accused of stealing jokes from his peers.

Much like this year’s Steve Jobs (also written by Sorkin, and originally scheduled to be directed by Fincher before Danny Boyle took over), The Social Network ends before its subject has become a world-altering phenomenon. This is because, well before Facebook was being used by everyone and their mothers, the issues which defined its creation were already crystallized. Any personal betrayals had been committed, any lawsuits had been resolved, the boys-club-ness of the Internet so firmly entrenched that traction against it is still tough to achieve today. It’s a testament to the mastery of Sorkin and Fincher that they didn’t just make a good expression of these issues, but the perfect expression of them, one which used the story of Facebook to anticipate controversies still a decade in the future. The film does the same thing which Facebook did: took our age-old communications and crises and created the perfect lens through which we can view them in the Internet era.

Mark Young is the editor of Cinephile City. Follow him on Twitter: @mm_young

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