The Quarantine Stream: Ten Years Later, 'The Social Network' Has Become a Supervillain Origin Story
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: The Social Network
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: “What if we made a movie about Facebook?”
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: The Social Network is turning 10-years-old in October, and a decade later, it remains one of the best movies of the 21st century. David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin took what seemed like a laughable idea – a movie about Facebook! – and worked it into the definitive story of the social media generation.
I can’t remember exactly when I learned that a movie about Facebook was in the works, but I remember my reaction: “Wow, that’s dumb.” And pretty much everyone I knew at the time was in agreement: it sounded like a really silly idea. Primarily because all we really knew of the movie was that it was “about Facebook,” which made it sound like some sort of celebration of the social media site. Even when David Fincher was revealed as the man behind the camera, skepticism prevailed.
And then that trailer dropped. You know the one.
The trailer was dark and ominous. It was also the first trailer to use the now-cliched “creepy, slowed-down pop music cover,” and as sick of that as you might be today, trust me, back in 2010, it seemed mind-blowing. The trailer did the trick: this was not going to be a fun celebration of Facebook. It was going to be a twisted story about what went down behind the scenes.
Ten years later, The Social Network almost seems quaint. Yes, the film paints Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, played expertly by Jesse Eisenberg, as a creep. But we had no idea how bad Zuckerberg would get. We had no idea that his platform would contribute to the destruction of democracy. That it would become a haven for insane, vile conspiracy theories, and that Zuckerberg would make it company policy to let those conspiracy theories run wild with almost no oversight. Simply put, we had no idea how bad Mark Zuckerberg really was.
And that was a big part of the film’s release. At the time, many critics thought the film was “too hard” on Zuckerberg. When screenwriter Aaron Sorkin scored an Oscar for his screenplay he even made sure to more or less apologize to Zuckerberg in his acceptance speech, claiming that the Zuck had mended his wicked ways and become an upstanding philanthropist. Even Fincher, someone many of us think of as cynical, sounds apologetic towards Zuckerberg during the movie’s Blu-ray/DVD commentary track.
To be fair, Sorkin’s screenplay plays very fast and loose with the facts. He jettisons real people from Zuckerberg’s life in order to better suit the film’s story. On top of that, even though Eisenberg portrays Zuckerberg as ultimately unlikable, he also portrays him as a fast-talking, quick-witted, occasionally charismatic guy, something anyone who has watched the real Zuckerberg testify before Congress can tell you isn’t accurate at all.
Despite all this, The Social Network remains a masterpiece. Sorkin is a whiz when it comes to snappy dialogue, but he can often stumble over his own worst impulses. Thankfully, he had Fincher on hand to take control and get the movie to exactly where it needed to be. Fincher directs The Social Network almost like a horror movie at times – the opening scenes shot around the Harvard campus are dark and even a little spooky, as if a ghost or a serial killer is lurking somewhere in the shadows. And through it all, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ brilliant, foreboding score drones on.
And while Fincher may have had some sympathy for Zuckerberg, he also clearly recognizes the movie version of Zuckerberg as an insecure creep who tries to make up for his flaws by flaunting his intellect. Fincher is able to cut through the bullshit and show the creation of Facebook as something of a fluke – there was no way something like this should’ve become as big as it did. And yet…it did. Fincher and Sorkin don’t really have an explanation for that, other than the fact that we are an inherently lonely species.
Even the most misanthropic of us strive for some form of human connection, and Zuckerberg, in his perverted attempt to rate the attractiveness of his college classmates, accidentally tapped into that. He was a lonely guy, and he realized that loneliness could be exploited. That we could all find solace in having someone “like” something we randomly typed out at 2:00 A.M. That we could feel loved if someone commented on a photo we took of ourselves. In the hands of someone with a pure agenda, who knows – it might have worked out better. But in Zuckerberg’s hands, the results were insidious. And here, ten years after the film came out, and sixteen years after Facebook’s launch, we’re all still looking for that connection, except now we’re also stuck with this mutated monster that continues to make the world a worse place. There’s something tragically poetic in that – our desire for human connection ultimately helped contribute to our downfall.
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