What may surprise many viewers who see “The Social Network,” which opens nationally this weekend, is how little the movie explicitly explores Facebook in terms of the website’s lifestyle-changing social impact. Rather, this is strictly a business story, even more than “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” is a business story.
Adapting the film from “The Accidental Billionaires,” Ben Mezrich’s salacious, semi-fictionalized account of
Facebook’s founding, director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin tamp down the source material’s libidinous appeal and amp up the insider tech jargon that led to Facebook’s creation and the subsequent legal interrogations that cofounder Mark Zuckerberg faced from multiple parties.
The result is a movie as cold, disaffected and virtually emotionless as a computer processor. Thanks to a structure that jumps back and forth from Zuckerberg’s (a perfect Jessie Eisenberg) development of the site in his Harvard dorm room to the legal battles he would face years later from both the twin-brother jocks who claim Zuckerberg stole their idea and the site’s cofounder and bankroller Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), the usual mechanisms of suspense and surprise are eliminated. The film is less concerned with what happened than how it happened, turning the website’s creation into a talky, dry procedural that perfectly fits the film’s overriding, ironic theme of coldness and alienation surrounding the world’s most popular social network.
To complement this mood, Fincher shoots this saga in muted colors, a palette of dark blues and blacks that never allows for much brightness, literally or figuratively, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s ominous score creates a sense of unease over even the most seemingly benign moments. Fincher and Sorkin include several scenes of elite college life – almost always dens of sin and degradation – that add misanthropic atmosphere, if not plot utility, to a sweeping narrative in which hardly anyone comes off likable. This is the kind of film in which every element is finely tuned to moody perfection with the occasional exception of Sorkin’s screenplay, which is perhaps too whip-smart for its own good. The wisecracks the former “West Wing” creator grants his characters feel too contrived and work counter to the film’s prevailingly dark sentiment.
But “The Social Network” may be the best film yet about the technological malaise of the 21st century, where everyone is connected, everything is public and seemingly forgotten items written in a blog years earlier can define one’s future. But the basic tenets of this acrid business story – power, greed, betrayal, revenge and the lust for power – are simply the timeless elements of good old-fashioned American capitalism.