The Social Network
What do you do when you want to sell a real-world narrative, lest anyone seek to undermine or cast aspersions on it? Make a Hollywood movie from it. That’ll clear things up, particularly when the “correct” version can be referred to, as a contrast to how Tinseltown diverged from “the facts”. For examples of this in more recent years (this millennium), look no further than the likes of United 93/ World Trade Centre and Zero Dark Thirty. The Social Network is perhaps less egregious in that regard, since all it omits is the CIA subbing “David Zuckenberg” his changing the face of the Internet/society/life as we know it. It’s also – and this is by no means a regular feature of propaganda pieces – a really good movie.
Certainly, it’s David Fincher’s best since the ’90s. In some respects, The Social Network’s something of a companion piece to Fight Club, except that here, he’s trailing the zeitgeist rather than informing it. Fincher may fall on neither the White or Black Hat side of the fence, but you’d be forgiven for assuming he’s a dyed-in-the-wool exponent of Elite diktats, be it via his earlier career as a music-video artisan or his abiding fascination with and promotion of CIA-sponsored serial-killer fare. Which informed his prior “based on a true story”, when he only went and solved the Zodiac murders (his laser-beam eye for exactitude in everything barring fidelity to the facts could also be seen in the later Mindhunter for Netflix). Zodiac was something of a rude awakening when I revisited it recently, as I’d previously rated it as one of the director’s best. What I should have realised was that I was rating one of the director’s best scenes – and it still is, or any director’s, for that matter – but that on its own doesn’t make a classic movie.
The Social Network – executive produced by Kevin Spacey, who seemingly maintained a pally and working relationship with Fincher for more than twenty years – is something else, though, if we leave aside its murky underbelly. Aaron Sorkin has made himself a reliable movie career from the biopic, with varying degrees of fidelity/authenticity, usually copping to the charge in the name of art and/or greater emotional truths when called out for embroidery.
I found his widely acclaimed The West Wing infuriatingly idealistic and consequently unlike any kind of politics known to man or beast. He’s tackled material with maximum potential that wound up lacking teeth (Charlie Wilson’s War), and he’s succeeded in making dense material engaging (if, apparently, also bearing little resemblance to the way the sport actually works) in Moneyball. His turn to directing has brought out his worst qualities (The Trial of Chicago 7, another trove of potentially great material, is as phoney as The West Wing in sensibility; Molly’s Game starts out sterlingly; while Being the Ricardos, aside from being hampered by casting Kidman and Bardem, is aggrandising fluff that attempts to make something more dramatic from Hollywood legends than it’s able).
There’s nothing inherently, overly dramatic about The Social Network, and I’m reasonably sure it wouldn’t be nearly the movie it is without Fincher there to rein its writer in (see Steve Jobs; Boyle’s kind of the anti-Fincher in terms of restraint. Although, that would be Michael Bay, so I’m exaggerating. A touch). It undoubtedly helps that, aside from Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, on fine form), Sorkin has no sympathetic characters to indulge his predilection for salving meaningful exchanges and reciprocal understandings. When Rashida Jones’ Martlin Delpy (not real) tells Mark (Jess Eisenberg, also very good; a reminder of what a strong actor he can be) “You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be”, it’s a sop no one is buying. He is an unscrupulous asshole, and he should probably be grateful Eisenberg invests him with more personality and edge – and Sorkin with superlative putdowns – than he actual has. He’s a formidable villain here, without even trying.
Sorkin’s take is one of cross-testimonies in two different trials for rights – Eduardo vs and Winkelvosses vs – feeding an otherwise linear narrative. It’s a success in terms of surmounting one of the principle problems of the biopic, however: rote retelling. Everyone comes across as interesting here, so the Winklevosses (played by Hollywood vampire and silver spooner Armie Hammer, and compelling in both cases) are likely much wittier than they are in real life – I mean, they’re privileged jocks, aren’t they? Sean Parker is some kind of next-level entrepreneurial genius as played by Justin Timberlake (and also shamelessly unscrupulous). I wasn’t a fan of Timberlake’s performance when I first saw the picture but thought he was fine on this occasion. It did set me wondering about the whole Napster thing, though, and its position in the fabric of the steer towards an ultimately transhumanist society, where you will own nothing and be happily plugged in.
As a piece of filmmaking, this is playing to Fincher’s icy, clinical strengths. He is at his best with a robust script (Fight Club) or at least a rock-solid structure (Seven) but has more usually shown weakness through selecting material that is then exposed even more unflatteringly by the attention to detail he the pays it (everything but the idea/script itself, it seems). With the help of (Oscar-winning) Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, he ensures The Social Network exudes a low-key, insistent, driving quality, and because Sorkin is writing, the form can never overwhelm the content (essentially, we get the best of both worlds, and few of their individual deficiencies). Fincher’s tech-savvy is used generally positively (the Winklevosses) and only very rarely draws attention to itself (that fake breath in Harvard winters).
Zuckerberg attested they got his wardrobe perfect but the partying and girls not so much; the prevailing conversation, slugging it out over whether it was fair or unfair to portray these people this way, is obviously exactly the conversation contrived for the media to have, since it focuses, by implication, on there being a real version of the truth with real people involved, ones who can be identified and their activities confirmed without the need to resort to anything silly and conspiracy based.
So, what of whatever it is Hollywood is covering up? The Social Network is after all, a juicy story, of cheating and doing friends over. It’s a “believable” story, one that just happens to have seen an epochal system developed at an elite and influential college known for its Intelligence and Elite links. One might argue, if The Onion is joking about Facebook being run by the CIA, it must really be mainstream as a meme. And obviously, if you look up Zuckerberg Rockefeller on a search engine, the top results are all fact checks disabusing us of this familial notion. Which is hilarious, because anyone even entertaining the possibility is hardly going to be dissuaded by a “reputable” fact check. Who knows, though, perhaps the Greenberg thing was intentionally thrown out there, because nobody’s going to say yay to that one on cursory inspection of the likeness (even if you dismiss the Bill Hicks/ Alex Jones theory, you’ll likely admit to a certain resemblance).
There are various more curious takes out there, like a Facebook existing in the ’90s (AboutFace) that seems to have no traction, least of all from its creators in light of the actual Facebook. The ACCEL/ Q-Intel/ CIA links are fairly well recognised in terms of Facebook’s start-up capital, but one could explain away and/ or suggest that’s just the way it is, if one wishes to ameliorate. Far more interesting if the CIA was there at inception of the concept, though. Because really, the question is not that the CIA doesn’t run Facebook; it’s at what point they ran it. Naturally, Miles Mathis offers his penn’orth’s on this, but it isn’t nearly as entertaining as his JK Rowling. Miles doesn’t get especially incisive on this one, possibly because he has no genealogy to call on and fails to mention the Phoenicians even once. Then there’s linking Zuckberg and wife to the Cannibal Club, likely a website set up as an intentional distraction (although, if Project Avalon has it in their hoaxes section, it probably, by a process of inversion, warrants further consideration).
Or you can just accept David Zuckberg on face value, per The Social Network. He’s a jerk, and once you have him pegged as a jerk, it’s easy to dismiss him as simply that. Any faults of Facebook are because he’s a jerk, easily intimidated and/ or selling his soul to capitulate to government agencies’ demands (the joke, obviously, is that they make those demands to ratify what they already had). The Social Network is a really good movie, in the way All the President’s Men and JFK are really good movies. It doesn’t need to be accurate; it just needs to tell its story well. On the other hand, if you’re going to judge it by a yardstick of telling the truth, then sure, its reprehensible. But that aside, this is a quality Fincher movie, a quality Sorkin movie, and there isn’t a serial killer or a gushingly heartfelt speech in sight (although, maybe it comes close with the latter).