I want to be unequivocal on this first point: Go see The Social Network. It’s a very good film that, in itself, tells a fascinating story. You need to see it. Aaron Sorkin is a brilliant storyteller. David Fincher creates beautiful images.
But the film is also extremely frustrating, mainly because there are so many different sets of fair expectations any moviegoer could set for this movie, and the filmmakers just can’t meet all of them — nor do they try.
In other words, this story is frustrating because it’s both (A) complicated, and (B) [based on a] true [story].
It’s a strength and weakness of this film: there are so many films that need to be made about Facebook and its co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. This film is one of them, and for the most part, it recognizes its place as the origin story. But even at the resolution of the film, there are too many loose ends to tie off as easily as it does, and too many questions that linger.
What about concerns over Facebook’s privacy settings, which the company still can’t seem to get right? Or about how, increasingly, we live our lives in public (see: this blog)? Is this an origin story that tells of the coming of a revolution, or the opening of Pandora’s box?
And perhaps most frustratingly for me, what is the truth value of the portrayals of key figures like Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and for one-time company president Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake)? No question, Eisenberg’s got game, he throws down in this performance, and Timberlake continues to prove how multi-talented he is.
But is Zuckerberg, in actuality, as singularly-driven as Eisenberg and Sorkin portray him to be? I don’t know if I buy that, and it’s a key question for how we apply this movie to the greater lingering social questions about Facebook. Even more frustrating, does the central thesis advanced by Sorkin (and by author Ben Mezrich, on whose book the film’s based) — that Facebook really represents Zuckerberg’s attempt to gain social acceptance — hold any water? At the end of the day, it’s a theory that any middle-schooler could concoct, and its truth value has been shown to be muddy.
It’s frustrating because this film wants to be accepted on its own terms, something that’s possible in a movie theater. But that’s not quite possible in the cold light of day, and for someone like me, who still doesn’t believe we know enough about Mark Zuckerberg to write his definitive biography. I hope that other filmmakers, documentarians, journalists, and bloggers take this film as a challenge to go after the issues of the online lives we now lead.
Aside from some gratuitous filmy moments (there’s an overly-dramatic crew scene that could use some dialing down), and a musical score that can take you out of the moment at times, this is a film worth loving — but it’s also a film worth questioning.
For all its strengths, I only wish the film had come up with a few more answers.