It’s often said that Kids Today can’t concentrate, that they don’t love words the way their parents did. Well, they flocked in the droves to see The Social Network, an old fashioned, plot driven, very talky film that seems aimed at people capable of mastering fine detail, people with an almost legal mindset. Regardless of the true state of the ADHD generation – isn’t it obvious that anyone who sits and plays a computer game for hours on end demonstrably has no problem with concentrating? – The Social Network tells the story of one of its generation’s figureheads, for good or ill: Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder. In particular it spins on the relationship between Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, the money brothers who spent years pursuing Zuckerberg through the courts because, they claimed, he either stole their idea or failed to compensate them adequately for their input on the original FaceMash project. In the way that Facebook hooks people up, The Social Network mashes together a lot of fine talent – and the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. We have Aaron Sorkin’s fast, involving dialogue – the opening scene between Zuckerberg and a date (Rooney Mara) tells us everything we need to know about the subject’s personality, his attitude to women, his intelligence, his arrogance, his obsession (she says obsessed, he says motivated; Sorkin lets us decide). David Fincher is the perfect directorial choice too, a guy obsessed with process and function (you only have to see Seven to know that), whose muted pallette of oranges and browns, low lighting, and decision to pump Trent Reznor’s music up high – suggesting intense brain activity, the frenzy of creativity, the buzz a bright idea delivers – allows the viewer to scope the areas where words cannot go. And around one hour or so in, it might suddenly hit you that Jesse Eisenberg isn’t actually Mark Zuckerberg, such is the perfection of his playing of this character – charming, yes, but just this side of overweening – even though Eisenberg is clearly too old to be playing a 19 year old.
In terms of plot the film breaks down into how it was done – how hacking into the personal files Harvard kept on its students (a late-night computer prank fuelled by sexual rancour and a feeling of social exclusion) gave birth almost magically to a once-in-a-generation megacorp. And then how that idea was subsequently monetised (enter Justin Timberlake as Napster guy Sean Parker, Mephistopheles dressed as a cruising shark). Running like a sore under this rise-and-rise plot strand are the Winklevosses, the socially connected (in all the right but old ways) brothers about to be shafted by a new paradigm. The Winklevoss stuff injects an old-fashioned courtroom drama ambience, and – set in brightly lit lawyers offices and Harvard professors’ studies, all suited and booted – provides relief from the bars and bedrooms and really lets Sorkin crack wise. Fast moving and littered with just enough references to MySQL and Apache, The Social Network entirely succeeds in making us feel like we’re inside with the new kids on the block, not outside with… er… us.
© Steve Morrissey 2014