starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer
screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
directed by David Fincher
by Walter Chaw An asshole movie about an asshole, David Fincher's The Social Network is an exacting, brutal celluloid treatise on the theory that the only reason anything ever gets made in this world is because some smart guys don't get laid enough. It's the misandrous analogue to Camille Paglia's once-inflammatory assertion in her Sexual Personae that if women were in charge of civilization, we'd still be living in grass huts. Freud at its mud-wallow base, The Social Network isn't thoughtful--it's not a conversation unto itself, not much more than pocket philosophizing easily turned into a weapon for either side. In the end, it's just a series of loose, out-of-sequence vignettes chronicling the creation of a 25-billion dollar enterprise on the back of a painful break-up and a best friend getting into an exclusive campus club that said 25-billion dollar enterprise's creator could not. But it's good. Good because Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have tapped into a vein of male anxiety in a way that feels like mainlining a particularly hot, particularly angry fix. It's Fight Club again, but with an ending that's more about the toothed pit at the middle of male loneliness and obsession--drawing that line between genius and psychosis instead of, as in Fight Club, pandering to some notion of a romantic solution capable of soothing eons of atavistic penis crises. It's Fight Club without Marla.
Smart computer programmer Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is dumped by Erika (Rooney Mara) for being, yes, an asshole, and so upon returning to his dorm room he writes a program that compares pictures of all the underclasswomen at Harvard to one another in a click-and-point contest of hotness. When his program crashes Harvard's server in an hour of frustrated men ranking the unobtainable Other in obscene numbers, Mark gains the ire of the Harvard adjudication board as well as the attention of the Winklevoss brothers (Armie Hammer), who would like Mark to construct for them a Harvard-exclusive Match.com. It's telling that Fincher intercuts Mark's drunken programming with a scene at an elite fraternity's first fall party in which a bus-full of nubile young women disembarks to the long, approving stares of an audience full of folks like you and me who like those "college party" movies you can get online for free. Why Facebook instead of porn? asks Mark Zuckerberg. Well, it's because Facebook is voyeurism of people you know. Boom! 25 billion dollars.Every woman in The Social Network save, arguably, one (Erika*), is very plainly made an object to be derided and desired, often simultaneously. An Asian girlfriend (Brenda Song) is first described as "crazy" before confirming it in one of the more self-knowingly insulting ways in recent memory; a comely Stanford co-ed emerging from the spoon of Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin "Sexyback" Timberlake, in another self-knowing bit of casting) is used as an expository device and incidental silly goose; and a Facebook intern (Caitlin Gerard) is reduced to a trembling mess and the punchline to a long joke. There's a beauty playing a Victoria's Secret underwear model credited as such in the film--the punchline to another joke about a man hoisting himself upon his own, shall we say, petard. There are credits, too, for "Beautiful Woman" and a pair of "Sorority Girls" in a film that isn't subtle enough to be satire. Better to call it an excoriation of every ugly thing that women think of men and vice versa. It's easy to deride The Social Network for its misogyny, except that The Social Network is about the pathetic bastards men are. The beauty of the film isn't its opinion of women, but rather its opinion of how the idea of women metastasizes in the minds of some men into something that needs to be scaled like a Sherpa scales Everest. When Mark is later unable to reconcile with (or even apologize to) Erika in a scene notable for its magnificent awkwardness, The Social Network speaks directly to the ironies implicit in its title.
For the men, The Social Network constructs a world of surfaces and social strata as insurmountable as Indian caste. A meeting between the Winklevoss brothers and Harvard President Larry Summers (Douglas Urbanski) carries with it that sense of airless privilege and suffocating education, sure, but also the memory that Summers would lose his post at Harvard because of a speech in which he suggested that a paucity of women in the scientific fields could be due more to a "different availability of aptitude at the high end" than to the more popular concept of nurture over nature. A scene that would seem otherwise superfluous, then, gains in The Social Network a certain unequivocal asshole purpose that jibes with Zuckerberg's almost-autistic inability to tell something other than the naked, terrified truth. The last line of the picture, in which it's opined that Zuckerberg isn't really an asshole but is trying very hard to be, becomes the thesis of the entire enterprise. It's this idea that the term should be reclaimed as something more than merely a description of bad behaviour--of male behaviour, to be precise, boiled down and summarized into that little spiral of lizard brain. It's a film all of scenes of competition and conquest--team crew matches and princes and presidents and how new technologies come into play as levellers of old civilizations, only to be replaced by replicas identical in desperation and rancour. The Social Network is the fulfillment of the promise of Fight Club's first two hours, a mean little movie about the maxim espoused in Napoleon Chagnon's classic anthropological case study Yanomamo: The Fierce People that girls need only wait to become women while boys have to claw like fuck to become men. Originally published: September 22, 2010.
*Maybe two--the other a lawyer played by the hot Rashida Jones. We're afraid for both in a nameless way, swimming as they are in this shark tank. return
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