‘The Social Network’ Remains an Unforgettable Statement on Where Society Is

So, why was this particular David Fincher film called “The Social Network” instead of just “Facebook” or “The Facebook Movie?” When going into the movie theater back in 2010, I figured this film would be all about how Facebook came into existence and of how its audience grew so quickly, but it was not just about that. Looking more closely at “The Social Network,” I think the title is meant to be intentionally ironic as it describes the key individuals who got it off the ground, particularly Max Zuckerberg, as they were more antisocial than they cared to realize. Max was clearly more comfortable being up close and personal with a computer screen than in interacting with real people. The Facebook phenomenon may have brought people closer together than ever before, but ten years later after this film’s release, we are reminded of how it also succeeded in keeping us further apart. And in the year 2020, this is more apparent than ever before.

The beginning of “The Social Network” quickly illustrates Max Zuckerberg’s (Jesse Eisenberg) antisocial behavior as we watch him talk with his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), and it quickly devolves into an increasingly awkward conversation to say the least. Max can’t look her in the eye, and he ends up insulting her without even realizing it. It looks as though his mind is moving at 100 miles a minute to where he never really slows down enough to take in the reactions coming his way. This is our first look at the young man who has long since become the youngest billionaire in America thanks to his bringing about the world’s most prolific social networking website, and he is proving to be anything but social. Erica makes her frustration with his one-track mind and insensitive nature perfectly. Max fears that unless he gets into one of Harvard’s exclusive clubs, he will never be taken seriously and will just be some techno nerd in everyone’s eyes. Erica, fed up with his attitude, tells him people will keep their distance from him because he is a jerk, not because he is exceptionally bright.

Well, love has a very strange effect on us all, and instead of trying to reconcile with Erica right then and there, Max instead heads straight back to his dorm room and creates a page along with his roommates called “Face Mash.” With this page, he allows students to pick which female students at Harvard are the prettiest by comparing them to one another. Of course, this is right after Max cruelly disses his now ex-girlfriend Erica in a number of ways which includes describing her bra size. “Face Mash” ends up bringing in so many viewers in one night to where Harvard’s computer network crashes completely, and Max becomes one of the most vilified individuals on campus, by girls mostly, as well as one of Harvard’s most ingenious students. In record time, he exploited the network’s vulnerability in a way Harvard never saw coming, and the university is quick to cover their own ass as a result.

This all leads to an invitation by identical twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) along with their business partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) to program a new website they want to put together called “Harvard Connection.” The way they see it, it will be a great way for the students at Harvard to connect with one another. Later, Max meets up with his best, and only, friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and proposes putting together a website he calls “The Facebook,” an online social networking tool which would be exclusive to Harvard University students. Eduardo agrees to help finance the site, and thus begins a phenomenon which just about everyone has a profile on except for those who have long since had their fill of anything with the name Zuckerberg attached to it. But from there on out, battle lines are drawn and lawsuits are underway as the Winklevoss twins and Narendra claim Mark stole their idea, Eduardo ends up suing Max for cutting him out of the whole thing even though he was a co-founder, and friends and acquaintances soon become the most bitter of enemies.

“The Social Network” jumps back and forth between different perspectives of what actually happened. We watch events progress as Max gets “The Facebook” up and running, and of the reaction his supposed business partners have when their friends set up profiles on it. You never know exactly where the film is going as it goes from one event to a litigation between an annoyed Zuckerberg and the infuriated Winklevoss twins and the deeply bitter Divya Narendra. It goes even further to another lawsuit Eduardo files against Max which illustrates how this endeavor forever terminated their friendship. Even if you know everything there is to know about the creation of Facebook, this film succeeds in intensifying the hurt feelings of everyone involved ever so vividly. We know this house of cards will soon collapse on all the main people involved, but you just don’t know how hard the hits will affect you and everyone else.

Now Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin working together might not sound like a match made in heaven, and it’s easier to expect them trying to strangle one another in the process of making “The Social Network.” But together, they make cinematic magic as Fincher’s razor-sharp direction more than complements Sorkin’s brilliant dialogue and story construction. This represents some of their best work, and there is nary a false note to be found here. The visual elements never upstage the script and vice versa. It’s a perfect marriage of sights and sounds in a story of friendship, power and betrayal.

Ever since Sorkin’s unforgettable work on “A Few Good Men” and “The American President,” he has mostly worked in television where he was best known for “The West Wing,” my big brother’s favorite TV show. But his screenplay for “The Social Network,” which was adapted from Ben Mezrich’s non-fiction book “The Accidental Billionaires,” is full of some of the most creative dialogue I have heard in any film I have ever seen. One standout scene comes when the Winklevoss twins meet up with Harvard President Larry Summers (Douglas Urbanski) to discuss their desire to sue Max. Watching Summers dryly dismissing their accusations and politely tearing them a new one as if they had no reason to bother him in the first place is so indelibly clever to where the exchange merits a whole play unto itself.

But much of the credit for “The Social Network’s” success belongs to the actors, all of whom were perfectly cast. At the top of the list is Eisenberg who, as Max Zuckerberg, is never afraid to make his character less than likable, and I admired how he and the filmmakers were never looking to whitewash him for the sake of good press. Eisenberg makes you see how fast Max’s mind is moving and of how his single-mindedness keeps him from realizing who he is as a person. You do find yourself admiring Max in spite of himself, and Eisenberg really succeeds in creating a believable sense of empathy for him. It’s this empathy which makes us all want to follow along with this alienated genius all the way to the very end. It’s a tough role, but Eisenberg nails it perfectly while delivering Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue without missing a beat.

Rooney Mara only appears in a couple of scenes as Erica Albright, but her presence on the screen is quite powerful as she wounds Max for all he is worth. This proved to be a stronger showcase for Mara’s talents as opposed to her appearance in the remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and it made me all the more excited to see her performance as Lisbeth Salander in Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” The fact her performance as Lisbeth was so brilliant was hinted at in her work here.

Then you have Andrew Garfield who, at the time, was more well-known for the role he was cast in as Peter Parker and his alter-ego in “The Amazing Spider-Man.” In many ways, Garfield gives this film’s best performance as the most well-meaning guy of the bunch who becomes the biggest victim of all. As we watch him lose control over something he helped create, Garfield makes us feel Eduardo’s vulnerability and pain of being so thoughtlessly cut out of this internet juggernaut all the more vivid and wrenching to witness. We relate to Eduardo’s situation as we have all been duped once or twice. This could have been a performance which might have come across as hopelessly melodramatic and manipulative, but Andrews makes his character so achingly real to where there is no forgetting him once the film has ended.

With Justin Timberlake, “The Social Network” proved there could be no denial of his acting talents with his revelatory performance as Sean Parker, founder of Napster. Fincher made Timberlake screen test for this role a dozen times, and it looks like all those times he hosted “Saturday Night Live” are giving him dividends he truly deserves. Yes, he gave terrific performances in “Alpha Dog” and “Black Snake Moan” beforehand, but his performance here feels all the more astonishing as he seduces not just Max Zuckerberg, but the audience as well. Timberlake slyly turns Sean into the guy who gets inside your skin to effortlessly take advantage of you as he can clearly see what your soul cries out for. Sean makes you believe that the world can be yours and that anything and everything is possible for you and only you. Timberlake is exquisite in Sean seem all the more appealing to be around while making you completely forget he is a back stabbing snake looking to get Eduardo Saverin out of the way.

A lot of praise is also in store for Armie Hammer who portrays the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler. It helps that Fincher chose an actor most people were not familiar with at the time because, for a while, I honestly thought it was two different actors playing these roles. Seeing an actor playing twins is nothing new, but it hasn’t been done this well since Nicolas Cage played two sides of Charlie Kaufman in “Adaptation.” Hammer nails all the specific nuances of each brother down perfectly to where you can easily tell them apart, and credit also needs to be given to Josh Pence who was a stand in for Hammer. You never catch yourself witnessing special effects whenever Hammer is onscreen, and this makes his work all the more impressive.

Seriously, even the smallest of roles in “The Social Network” are acted with the upmost skill, and no character could ever be mistaken as an easy throwaway. Actors like Max Minghella, Joseph Mazzello, Brenda Song, and Douglas Urbanski all make great use of their time onscreen, and each leaves their mark on our minds.

Trent Reznor composed the score for “The Social Network” along with Atticus Ross, and their music captures how the world around the characters becomes more and more mediatized as the world keeps turning and technology keeps advancing. The electronic sound Reznor is best known for serves to also illustrate the divisions which emerge among everyone here and of how their emotions end up being drained through anger and hurt feelings which may never be fully repaired. Fincher was convinced Fincher and Ross would not receive an Oscar nomination for their work, but they did and eventually won the Oscar for Best Original Score in a way the filmmaker did not see coming. This would lead to a remarkably creative working relationship between these three as they have composed to other Fincher films including the deliciously twisted “Gone Girl.”

“The Social Network” is not meant to be the definitive story of who is truly responsible for the creation of Facebook. Indeed, no one will ever fully know what went on other than the main people involved, and while hefty settlements were made out of court, there does not seem to be a consensus as to what truly happened. Clearly, neither Fincher or Sorkin were interested in getting down to the truth as much as they were in observing the effect this behemoth of a website had on everyone and of how Facebook came to make an inescapable mark in the realm of social media.

Frankly, I don’t give a damn if the movie is completely accurate as there is always a good dose of dramatization in movies dealing with non-fiction stories. What does matter to me is this all makes for a highly dramatic experience which holds our attention from the start to the very end. There are no gun fights or car chases to be found in “The Social Network,” but the emotionally damage inflicted feels every bit as visceral and brutal as any action picture.

The film’s last scene with Max Zuckerberg sitting alone in an office in front of his laptop computer pretty much defines what we have all become in the past decade; a slave to technology and the world wide web. It makes you wonder if we will ever be able to live without such technology as it has long become an inescapable part of our lives. Can we even remember what the world was like before the internet? These days, we are more comfortable being up front and close with our computers than we are with other people, and this was the case before the current global pandemic. Still, there is still a part of us yearning for human contact which we all need, and the fact we are more removed from it than usual is a sad statement on humanity.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Gone Girl’ is a Deliciously Twisted Masterpiece

Gone Girl movie poster

David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” is a deliciously twisted masterpiece, a shocking and at times darkly comic look at marriage. I had an insanely good time watching it and I can’t wait to see it again, and that’s even if it’s just to watch the audience react so strongly to it. There’s no way you can come out of this movie and say you weren’t the least bit enthralled by the nasty journey Fincher takes us on. Just when you think “Gone Girl” couldn’t get any more twisted, it does. Based on Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel (she also wrote the screenplay), he succeeds in getting away with a number of things in this movie just as he has with his past work.

“Gone Girl” opens on Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a frustrated writer who drops in one morning at the bar he owns (which is literally called “The Bar”) where he talks with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon) about the state of his marriage to Amy (Rosamund Pike). It happens to be their fifth wedding anniversary, and Nick celebrates it with a couple of glasses of bourbon which should give you an idea of how messed up things are between them. But then Nick comes home to find Amy gone and smashed furniture and glass scattered all over the floor, a sure sign something bad happened while he was gone. Suspecting Amy has been kidnapped, Nick calls the police and from there the search is on to find her before she disappears forever.

Now “Gone Girl” is a movie with an insane number of twists which makes it hard to talk about because it’s not worth spoiling any of them. But what I really loved is how it works on a number of different levels. Many movies can be boiled down to one sentence, but not this one. “Gone Girl” is a critique of a marriage that started off passionately but which has since been devoured by bitterness and resentment, and it makes you wonder why we tend to hurt the ones we love most. It takes a number of jabs at social media and people consumed with exploiting the trials and tribulations of others for the sake of ratings while the truth threatens to get lost in all the hoopla. It also serves as an indictment of a society quick to believe what they are told instead of recognizing a person is innocent until proven guilty. But at the heart of the movie is this question; how well do we know the person we choose to spend the rest of our lives with?

We see people reaching out to Nick Dunne in sympathy, but they just as quickly turn on him when evidence suggests he may have murdered his wife. From there, it becomes a constant game of media manipulation as the characters work furiously to get the upper hand on those who have deceived them and to sway public opinion in their favor. We live in a world of sound bites where information comes to us quickly and not always in an accurate manner. By the time we get to the truth, it may already be too late to view it objectively.

Over the years, many have described Ben Affleck as being this horrible actor who never had any business working in movies, but I’ve never agreed with this assessment. Yes, he has given some bad performances in “Pearl Harbor” and “Gigli,” but then again “Gigli” didn’t do anyone any favors. In “Gone Girl,” Affleck succeeds in giving one of his best and most naturalistic performances to date as he gives us a character who is not altogether likable, but who is still a complex individual caught up in a situation beyond his control. Nick is a complicated character who we are quick to make assumptions about, but what we think of him ends up saying more about us. I love how Affleck makes Nick a deeply mercurial character whose motives you can’t help but be suspicious of, and a scene where he sways the public back to his side during an on-camera interview with shows him at his conniving best.

I remember Pike from her early appearance as a Bond woman in “Die Another Day,” and she has gone on to give unforgettable performances in “An Education,” “Barney’s Version” and “The World’s End.” But when it comes to describing her work in “Gone Girl,” a flurry of adjectives cross my mind to where I have to be careful of what I say. What I can say is she is endlessly mesmerizing in a role which has her exploring every single facet of her character to where she surprises us in such an unnerving fashion. It’s a truly fearless performance you won’t soon forget after you leave the theater, and Pike doesn’t hold anything back.

“Gone Girl” also has a great supporting cast, and each actor sinks their teeth into their roles with relish. Kim Dickens is a delight as the cynical and yet slightly mischievous Detective Rhonda Boney, and she is blessed with a lot of great dialogue throughout. Patrick Fugit, almost completely unrecognizable from his “Almost Famous” days, is a snarky delight as Rhonda’s partner Detective Jim Gilpin. Neil Patrick Harris gives a charming and yet enigmatic performance as Desi Collings, Amy’s ex-boyfriend who looks like he can be trusted, but there’s a certain creepiness about him to where you wonder what’s really going on in his head.

Even Tyler Perry shows up in a very non-Medea-like role as Tanner Bolt, a somewhat devious attorney far more interested in winning the most impossible to win cases in court and playing the media like a piano to his clients’ benefit. Knowing how Perry caters mostly to the church going audience, I’ll be interested to see what they make of his time in Fincher’s dark world. I got a kick out of watching Perry here as he keeps his cool even as Nick’s case spins out of control.

You also have Missi Pyle on board as Ellen Abbott, a character clearly designed to remind you of Nancy Grace and of how annoyingly abrasive television hosts like her can be. Acting so entitled to her point of view even if the truth is not in her favor, Pyle makes her into a shameless individual who doesn’t apologize for anything even when she’s proved wrong.

But one supporting performance I really got a huge kick out of in “Gone Girl” was Carrie Coon’s as Margo. Coon is sarcasm incarnate right from the first moment she appears onscreen, and her scenes with Affleck are filled with love and devotion as well as a lot of anger at his foolish mistakes. I’m not too familiar with Coon’s work as she has appeared mostly in television and made a name for herself in various productions of the famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, but I hope to see more of her in the future. She makes Margo a strong and fiercely independent character in a movie filled with so many morally clueless ones who get away with far too much.

The movie also marks Fincher’s third collaboration with composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and the two succeed in putting together another unforgettably creepy film score. What’s fascinating about their music here is it starts off sounding nice and inviting, but soon it becomes overcome by discordant sounds which imply there is something seriously disturbing going on in this quiet suburban neighborhood. Just when you think you can pull yourself away from the nasty voyage Fincher is taking you on, Reznor and Ross’ atmospheric score sucks you right back in and refuses to let you go.

Fincher’s “Gone Girl” is definitely a movie for these crazy times we live in now, and it is likely to make many out there think twice about getting married. Heck, even eloping sounds like a bad idea after watching this. But amid this tale of deeply flawed individuals and industry types more interested in their own celebrity than anything else, it makes one wonder whether we can ever really know someone completely. We’d like to think we know everything about our significant other, but can we really? This movie seems to imply we can’t, and Fincher makes you see this is one of the most frightening truths of all.

Fincher is a guy who never plays it safe, and “Gone Girl” is the latest example of that fact. Seriously, this is the most subversive and darkly funny take on marriage since Danny DeVito’s “War of the Roses.” I have not yet read Gillian Flynn’s book, but I really want to now. A woman sitting next to me at the screening confirmed the book is a great read and that she was very satisfied with Fincher’s adaptation of it. I’m fairly certain she is not the only one who feels this way.

* * * * out of * * * *