Sorkin and Fincher’s millennial blues.
DIRECTED BY DAVID FINCHER
The standard line on The Social Network, David Fincher’s droll and uncharacteristically tender look at the birth of social media, is that it’s the defining film of a generation—not just a sliver of mid-2000s life among twentysomethings with fast PowerBooks and cheap beer, but the definitive slice. That’s a decent claim, certainly supported by the way Aaron Sorkin’s whip-smart screenplay pitches its hero, Facebook inventor Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), as someone who both embodies the zeitgeist and brings it forth. It isn’t the whole story, though.
What’s arguably more interesting is the film’s actual position on zeitgeists. Take its central conflict, between Zuckerberg and partner and co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who in the film’s version formed the start-up from their dorm and nursed it more or less in unison until Palo Alto came calling for Zuckerberg. Eduardo is an affable, smart guy, as likely as any to become a Harvard success story and Forbes cover boy. (Forget the real-world upshot, a Forbes article entitled “The Folly of Eduardo Saverin” about his unseemly tax evasion.) But he’s the wrong face for Facebook, more at home in the outmoded financing structures of the old-boys network that the more socially reticent but forward-thinking Zuckerberg shirks. If there’s an argument here, it isn’t that we’ve become a bunch of technophile turtles, our heads retracted into our shells, but that it takes a little gaudy courage to forge our way nowadays, connections or not.
Sorkin clearly figures Zuckerberg for a present-day Gatsby, and he and Fincher wring surprisingly deep pathos from that connection. Haunting Zuckerberg throughout the film is the charge that he’s an asshole, first from his ex-girlfriend (Rooney Mara), later from an imperious set of Ivy League twins (beautifully played by Armie Hammer and body double Josh Pence, with a CG assist), and finally from a young legal aid played by Rashida Jones. In his other work, Sorkin betrays a basic incompetence about technology, but here he gets something fundamentally right: the idea that the internet isn’t written in pencil but in ink, and that youthful indiscretions have a far longer shelf life now than they ever have. If Gatsby were around today, the Oscar-winning script suggests, he’d be done in by his Google cache.