The entire “Social Network” team is celebrating its triumph this winter as circles of film critics and awards shows make it rain statuettes over the film. It’s the rare critical success that not only scores high points in every part of its production — directing, writing, acting, music, cinematography and editing — but scores the highest points.
Receiving the utmost praise from among the cast and crew is writer Aaron Sorkin, well known for his TV success with “The West Wing.” Sorkin has a Golden Globe in his pocket and an almost-guaranteed Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar waiting for him in about a month.
But the film has been seen as more than just a critical success. It’s more than a film — it’s an artistic achievement in the social realm. What makes “The Social Network” important?
The 49-year-old Sorkin, along with 48-year-old director David Fincher, has made a film more current and fresh than perhaps any mainstream competitors, and they have, at the same time, created a discourse both for and concerning people half their age. “The Social Network” isn’t merely a good film, but it’s one that makes social waves far beyond its release and will continue beyond this awards season.
“The Social Network” interacts with the contemporary world unlike any other film; as unique as Facebook itself, so too is the film that depicts its founding.
Almost every major film release has a Facebook page these days — even the neglected films dumped into the January-April film release doldrums — and each one seeks to use online buzz to its advantage. “The Social Network” had the unique opportunity to both capitalize on Facebook’s success and make ironic the site’s graphic presence in its logo and posters while promoting the film among online film fan circles. A first glance may see “The Social Network” as rather opposed to the mega-site. As such, it was awkward and uncomfortable — and actually somewhat eerie — to return home after seeing “The Social Network” and visit the film’s Facebook page.
Sorkin, when he visited the University in September to talk up the film, noted the intrigue people felt with the new surrealistic double-experience that “The Social Network” was for Facebook. He realized that many people who attended pre-screenings — a large number of whom were college students — would take to Facebook to tell their friends about the film and discuss its merits. Perhaps the trend’s scope is an exaggeration from somebody like Sorkin, who is well separated from the true “Facebook generation,” but it represents in principle a self-conscious reaction that many Facebook users had to the film.
Many figured that the “true” story of Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to billionaire-dom would hurt Facebook’s brand and tarnish its founder’s reputation. It seemed somewhat inevitable given some of the film’s media coverage, but with a measured performance by Jesse Eisenberg and subtle attention to detail, the film placed Zuckerberg sympathetically between genius and loser. His arc in the film represents the burgeoning prevalence of Facebook over the past seven years, whether for good or for bad. The Zuckerberg of “The Social Network” shows how the digital social interaction is born from failure in the tangible and physical world.
In the film’s climactic scene, the Facebook crew celebrates its millionth member as Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, “The Other Boleyn Girl”) comes to the office to discover he’s essentially been kicked out of the company. Zuckerberg, “plugged in” to the site’s operation as if separated from the world around him, is peacefully oblivious to Saverin’s rage, lost in his digital experience. Saverin grabs Zuckerberg’s computer and smashes it to the floor, breaking through the digital wall Zuckerberg has set up for himself. No matter how Zuckerberg tries to talk his way out of this one, the unexpected look of pain as he loses his only friend is remarkably telling, a poignant lesson on the worst effects of seeing friendship as nothing but a digital connection.
But perhaps that morality tale — the danger of the de-personalization of friendship — is something our generation already has. Current college-aged people — those who grew up largely before AIM and other forms of instant messaging, and those who remember when cell phones were still rare — are actually the ones who best understand the downsides that “The Social Network” wants to infer about Internet interaction. It’s the people even younger, those who know nothing before online communication, and the people older than the phenomenon who mistake the nature of that communication.
Perhaps that’s why many describe “The Social Network” as a niche film, and something unlikely to appeal outside of mature or adult audiences. The film is remarkably relevant to our generation, but it is, at the same time, somewhat imitative of something we personally know far better.
I think “The Social Network” is fascinating. And with Facebook going full-steam ahead and possibly becoming a publicly traded company in the coming years, the film will likely be called upon repeatedly in reference to the company’s successes and failures. But I’m not really going to be thinking too much about it when I check my Facebook profile. If you use the social network, you probably know why you do. A film doesn’t really do anything to change that.