The Social Network; or Defining a Decade

Let's start by addressing the inevitable semantic pedantry: no, this decade didn't start in 2011, it started in 2010. 0-indexing is a thing, and if the 90s are a decade (god help us), so are the 10s. Good? Good.

Regardless of when one starts[1], a decade seems to be the right length of time to have its own image in the public conciousness. Neither long enough to be forced to encompass a large mish-mash of trends, nor short enough to not allow a sense of continuity to naturally occur, each discrete block of 10 years is forever marked by its fashion, its music, its societal changes, its politics, and of course, its films. The right film, made at the right time, can be the perfect microcosm of such a period of time, even without directly referencing any of the above. For the 2010s, I think there's a very strong case to be made for that film being The Social Network.

From a cinematic point of view, The Social Network represents one of the greatest collection of talents, each at the top of their game. Having found a naturally Sorkinian character in Mark Zuckerberg, Aaron Sorkin delivers his best screenplay, ambitious in its structure without overshooting, deftly delivering exposition and character development completely naturally, and by god the technical jargon is actually accurate; Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross create their most memorable film score, moving from sinisterly pulsating anger to pure resignation; the lead cast of Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, and Armie Hammer give performances that their future careers will forever be compared against, rounded out by excellent turns from Rooney Mara, Rashida Jones, and Max Minghella.

And at the centre of it all is David Fincher, finding the absolute perfect aesthetic for this story. There is not a single element in The Social Network that feels out of place or doesn't ultimately serve the themes of the film. The cinematography, the editing, the colour grading, even the sound design - seriously, watch the opening scene or the scene with Zuckerberg and Parker in a club; note how the background noise and music is overwhelming, but yet how the dialogue is always clear and understandable, without losing the edge of the characters struggling to make themselves heard - it's remarkable. Hell, it even has one of the best trailers. For all its moving parts, The Social Network feels unnaturally whole, as if changing any one of them would simply have been impossible. To imagine it any other way would have never worked.

Then there's what The Social Network says about this decade, even as it was just beginning. The film addresses both directly (in its depiction of Facebook and the cast of characters involved with it) and indirectly (in its themes and broader context) aspects of society in this decade in a way that has proved remarkably prescient. There's the struggle within Facebook between being what people want and being something that will make money; the website's self-serving genesis; the early influence of Peter Thiel. The Social Network is one of the first films to really examine how nothing on the internet goes away, and how it brings out a side of people that would never surface in person. Or, in Erica Albright's words:

As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared. The internet's not written in pencil, Mark, it's written in ink. [...] You write your snide bullshit from a dark room because that's what the angry do nowadays. I was nice to you, don't torture me for it.

But more than that, The Social Network is part of its own vicious feedback loop. It has become, and will only grow so, a lens through which we already view this decade. Seven years later and Mark Zuckerberg has still not entirely shaken Eisenberg's depiction of him in the general public's eyes; the press will still casually refer to the Winklevoss twins as the Winklevii; "you know what's cool? A billion dollars" is still thrown out across the internet as start-ups fight to survive until their next funding round. The film inevitably takes some liberties in condensing the story down to 120 minutes, but yet is near enough the canonical version of events in the public conciousness.

"Every creation myth needs a devil" - so says Aaron Sorkin through Rashida Jones' character to Zuckerberg at the end of the film, referring to the lawsuits and depositions surrounding him. In making The Social Network, Sorkin and Fincher have superseded that creation myth with their own, one that has coloured the world around it. It is perhaps the All The President's Men for our generation, made before the story was even over, before we even know how Facebook will, inevitably, fall. Because wherever Facebook reaches, it will have always started with Sorkin's Zuckerberg, "drunk, and angry, and stupid... and blogging."

  1. Still 2010. ↩︎