Like other recent titles such as There Will Be Blood, Munich, Perfume: The Story of A Murderer and Downfall, The Social Network is a bold drama about the moral complexity of obsessional, single-minded ambition. Risks and benefits of that habit sometimes called the American Dream are explored with the exquisite, naturalistic formalism director David Fincher is known for and which gives each scene a credible realism and believability, thanks also to the moody, shadow-laced cinematography of Jeff Cronenweth (One Hour Photo) and the terse, baroque, atmospheric score partially written by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s cyclical structure lends an epic, inevitable tone to the way events play out in this highly entertaining, based-on-a-true-story court room drama about ruthless entrepreneurialism in the “me” generation. David Fincher’s The Social Network, currently being distributed in wide release and featuring a slew of promising up-and-coming actors, is one of the most relevant films of the 2000s because of how effectively and convincingly it takes a contemporary issue and injects it with timeless themes.
The Beatles’ celebratory “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” plays over the last scene of The Social Network and serves as a stinging, ironic contradiction to the story’s outcome, for we finally see our main character lonely and isolated, and not by choice. Clearly not experiencing positive thoughts as the carefree soundtrack fills the background, Mark Zuckerberg, after another day of moderated deposition in one of the various lawsuits filed against him for a piece of the Facebook pie, ponders the same problem he encounters at the beginning of his story, when he is at Harvard University. It is unrequited love which first traumatizes Mark as a college freshman and then again when he has founded and popularized Facebook and become a bona-fide business man.
Sorkin’s bittersweet ending instructs us that matters of the heart can make you lonely, even and perhaps especially, when you’re at the top. The writer has bypassed a simplistic tale about greed, in which said vice is used as a reductive theme meant to explain the motivations of industry, for want of a humanistic story about how pain fuels ambition and progress. The Beatles rock on and a seemingly robotic, Napoleonic young computer nerd is perpetually plagued by loneliness, that feeling which his successful social networking invention so expertly exploits. Maybe the lesson is, “You are what you invent.”
The film frames the Facebook empire as the result of a brilliant mind getting his fragile heart broken. In the film’s closing moments, Mark sits at his computer, a modern man in search of a soul, determinedly waiting to discover if his ex-girlfriend will accept a ‘friend request’ he has just sent her by way of the networking empire he originally built as a reaction to her breaking up with him. As Mark watches his computer screen, superimposed titles let us know that the isolated, precocious anti-hero, who we see ultimately fall out with even his best friend because of a winner-takes-all mentality, went on to become the youngest billionaire in history. Mark’s unrequited love, which Sorkin uses to open up a conversation about loneliness and its paradoxical connection to success – the way it both motivates and alienates – epitomizes the timelessness of this creation myth, a film at once journalistic and Shakespearean.
The movie’s plot charts the conceptualization, execution, and aftermath of the history of Facebook in subtle shifts of mood, alternating between a linear narrative that includes glitz, glamour, and back-stabbing, and the confrontational lawsuit depositions which resulted from the success of the business venture originally known as “Thefacebook.” Tom Wolfe, the writer who fathered the concept of “The New Journalism,” a style of reporting characterized by a detailed, narrative and investigative technique, would surely approve of Sorkin and Fincher’s morality play, a parallel universe with which it is easy to identify. Based on a semi-factual account of the history of Facebook by Ben Mezrich called “The Accidental Billionaires,” the story paints a balanced picture of Zuckerberg that is at once full of facts and doubt.