Review: The Social Network

Written by Jordan Petersen on . Posted in Film

Most people don’t pay much attention to screenwriters. I don’t know why. There is no better indication of whether you’ll love or hate a film than who wrote it. It’s not foolproof, of course, since maybe it’s the writer’s first feature. And sometimes a good writer can write a not-so-good script. Even so, everyone ought to spend more time looking into writers, because here’s a fact: you can’t make a good movie out of a bad script. And almost as fundamental is the notion that a good script almost never gets made into a really bad film.

Why is all this important? It’s probably obvious I’m about to tell you that Aaron Sorkin is one of the finest screenwriters alive. He has a knack for bone-breakingly brilliant dialog and dizzyingly complex characters. His previous work is spare but indisputably significant. You’ve certainly heard of A Few Good Men (“You can’t handle the truth!”), and perhaps you’re at least somewhat familiar with the critical sycophancy that followed all seven seasons of The West Wing. This man can write in a way that few mortals can.

As for director David Fincher, well, let’s just say he’s more than capable of great work. He’s had his misses, but I think they’ve mostly been due to weak material. Once again, it all comes back to the writer. So when I found out that Sorkin had written the screenplay for The Social Network with Fincher set to direct, I was sold on the film’s potential for greatness.

If you haven’t seen it, see it. There have been a lot of small-brained arguments over whether this movie “gets the story straight.” Facebook came out against the film and said, basically, that it had no bearing on reality. That Facebook as an entity so strongly disavowed the film suggests, to me, a greater veracity here than a simple silence might have communicated. But that’s beside the point.

Because “the Facebook movie” is not a documentary. It’s an expertly told story. It is fiction, the same way some of the stories we tell about ourselves are exaggerated here or downplayed there to take full advantage of their narrative potency. I don’t care much about the nature of this film’s historicity. Network is true in a way only good fiction can be. It speaks to human ambitions, weaknesses, desires, longings, hopes, fears — it forces its audience to recognize that everyone is admirable in some ways and despicable in others.

Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, is a totally enigmatic figure in real life, and a realistically enigmatic character in this story (as played by Jesse Eisenberg). As strange and intellectually alienating as Sorkin paints him, I have a feeling that he’s probably even less likable in real life. But regardless, Sorkin’s Zuckerberg is a fascinating study of extremes. He has no friends. Why? Not because he’s very, very smart. And not because he ends up making absurd amounts of money. He has no friends because he’s a jerk. He misses the point, so to speak. I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say that by the end, one could reasonably argue that he’s figured it out, to some degree. But through most of the story, he somehow sets himself at odds with everyone.

But you can’t hate him. Just like you can’t hate anyone you really come to know. He’s too smart. He’s too interesting. Sure, he does and says some things to some people that are nearly unforgivable, but the very first scene of the film helps us understand why he does those things. It is the audience’s privilege to see the seeds of his soul — and then to watch them grow. To watch the other conflicted and morally unstable characters interact with him without that privilege is what fuels the film’s dramatic drive.

Some have wondered about the timeliness of a movie like this. Isn’t it a little too early to be making a movie about a website that’s only about six years old? Absolutely not. This film needed to be made now, before the unending march of social technology renders Facebook obsolete — because right now is arguably when Facebook will have held its most dominant position in the world and attained its highest relevance.

But — and this is crucial — The Social Network stands on its own. Thanks to incredibly strong performances by a fantastic cast, a profoundly good script, and roundly solid filmmaking, you don’t have to care at all about Facebook, social media, or entrepreneurial business to understand and love this film. You probably will end up caring about those things by the end, because good stories can break their audiences into new worlds. But great films reveal what we’re like on the inside, with all our glorious contradictions and complicated moral dilemmas, behind the profiles we construct in our desperate attempts to be known as the people we wish we were.

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