Tap into the zeitgeist of twenty something nerds with real ambition and have introspectively sly maniacs (Hollywood actors) play it out as versions of themselves. Difficult to do well, harder still to convince a generation that you’ve distilled modern manliness from the snide pissing contests, backstabbing and fuck trucks of the Ivy Leaguers taking over the new world with the dotcom 2.0 bubble. With The Social Network, MTV-impressionist David Fincher, with the generous help of Aaron Sorkin, seemed to have reaffirmed himself as that guy, and on this form the duo could convince you that Ayn Rand was/is a literary genius.
The real but fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg goes drunk onto the internet to get back at his girl for dumping him, ruthlessly insulting her and comparing women to things they needn’t be. He then gets a cool idea from old money twins and an Asian, but leads them on for a while to sneakily create his similar but better face book, Facebook itself. Conflict ensues, and Zuckerberg finds himself the defendant in two simultaneous law suits. Specifics and historical accuracies aside, The Social Network is the story of getting in to get ahead, and the guy who couldn’t get in to the petty social club that would take him places, so he created his own, and now he can buy that petty club “and turn it into [his] ping pong room.”
Bookended by ciphers from the mouths of two women, the stuff in the middle is “the creation myth” of the biggest silly social club on the Internet, intercut with the dog fight over the titles, shares and proceeds. To paraphrase scriptwriter Sorkin, men in charge being boys. But further, men in charge being plain animals, and strong women telling us “No” to keep it PC.
More specifically, it’s about how Prick Zuckerberg (remember, the character) outright deceives (legally) to get winning. He’s portrayed as arrogant to the point of unredeemable: the revenge of the nerd that knows/thinks he’s better than the rest but can’t hide his neurotic insecurities as he beats his chest with childish pedantry and contemptible contempt. Two attempted moments at gaining our sympathy: one as melancholy Atlas with the weight of bureaucrats and snobs on his shoulders (if you haven’t seen it, it’s movie magic: the line is delivered by Eisenberg like a cyborg logician prodigy on Acid laced with disdain, and the pay off is comedy, culmination, drama, poetry); another as a boy who built a wealth of status only to realize that maybe, just maybe, he should try and become a man.
The latter is an unlikely resolution, and a barely satisfying one, however much it plays at being otherwise: it’s that Fight Club feeling that makes you want to believe in… something, but it’s necessarily vague because the entire thing is stuck in MTV mode trying to be cool, which it is. Which is to suggest, with late-modernist mirth, “Don’t take too serious.” But of course, it still is taken very seriously as its pro-monoculture vibes resonate deep within the subconscious of impressionable youth who like money, non-stop action, and (ROFL) fuck trucks.
Hence we get this hyperstylized account of the assholes calling the shots, assholes who are people, too, but we’re stuck valuating it on the rise to corrupt stardom of a proposed prick, his egotistical take on success in a world of cynical cut-throatism, and his premature enlightenment. “But wait, I thought it was a wild ride that ended in poignant cutesy?” And then we’re back full circle to being engrossed in a subtle lie, feeling kinda good about the repugnant war zone of free market capitalism. Top class filmmaking, I’d say.