"The Social Network," like any good movie trying to understand a mysterious reality, doesn't strive to tell the whole truth but rather come as close to the truth as humanly possible.
This is all fitting, as most of the movie takes place in a context where one must swear the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In the almost present day, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) finds himself being sued by two former classmates, the Winklevoss twins (Josh Pence and Armie Hammer), for apparently stealing their idea. At the same time, he is also being sued by his disgruntled former CFO (and best friend) Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).
During the cases, the film provides a series of very important flashbacks. They track Facebook's conception during Zuckerberg's sophomore year at Harvard along with the site's rise to popularity under the watch of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), and Zuckerberg's fall into further pain and loneliness.
If I had known "The Social Network" would have been this good when I saw "Inception," I would have saved my "generation defining" praise for a few months. "The Social Network" has no idea where this generation is headed, but it does understand where it is right now. All of the paranoia, angst, and frustration garnered from wondering what status your friend is going to post next and how that leaks out into the real world is shown in full form here.
"The Social Network" says a lot about this generation, a lot of things that should've been saved for a long time down the road. Yet, maybe these are the things we need to hear right now. If the internet is the future of civilization as one character puts it, than Facebook is likely the end of mankind.
What I thought was greatest about "The Social Network" is that it isn't all its message. It takes a subject that probably would've been really dull and makes it so endlessly interesting and engaging. This could be partly from the brilliantly written dialogue by Aaron Sorkin, which is mainly a series of observations about life.
Along with Sorkin, much credit belongs to director David Fincher. This is a return to form for him, now that he's done begging for an Oscar (that's what happens when you make a film like "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"). The film reminded me of some of the surrealist structure of "Fight Club" mixed with the more realistic style of "Zodiac." In every location, there is a feeling of actually being there. Fincher fills the campus of Harvard with random people walking. And in a club scene, it's so loud that it's impossible to even hear what the characters are saying. Some directors strive so hard to make their characters the center of attention that they forget that there's an actual world around them. Not Fincher though. The most interestingly shot scene of the year, a scene that involves a rowing race, is in this film.
"The Social Network" is graced with at least three of the year's best performances. After his tenure as a pop singer ended, Timberlake showed he could do comedy. Now, he shows he can do drama. He is the film's most engaging and enthusiastic character. Then, there's Garfield (star of the upcoming "Spider-Man" film) who shows so much potential for a great future career. He is the film's most emotional and possibly sympathetic character, even though it's possible to not feel sympathy for him.
Then there's Eisenberg, who took a great leap forward with his career in this performance. Recently, people were carrying the same complaints about him that they did with Michael Cera: that he plays the same awkward character in every movie. Yes, Zuckerberg is pretty awkward, but he's even deeper than that. Zuckerberg is portrayed here as someone who is too socially inept to be a sociopath. He believes his genius computer hacking abilities should excuse all his other flaws, which usually includes wearing a hoodie and sandals to important business meetings.
It is both Eisenberg's portrayal of the character and Sorkin's writing of him that turns Zuckerberg into such an interesting and amusing character. He is not made out to be some sort of god for the way he revolutionized the world through his invention. He may be a genius, but he's also a twisted and haunted genius.
A lot of people have had the audacity to compare "The Social Network" to "Citizen Kane." "The Social Network" will probably never be as good a movie as "Citizen Kane," but it might just be the answer to "Citizen Kane" that all film fanatics have been looking for for almost 70 years. It is "Kane" in spirit. "The Social Network" could be considered the modern day "Kane" because it is also about the difficulty to find the truth amongst modern forms of communication. While no one could break down the Charles Foster Kane behind the newspapers, few people can break down the Mark Zuckerberg behind the computer screen.
Like Kane (who is based on William Randolph Hearst), Zuckerberg is portrayed here as someone who surrounds himself with millions of "friends" but doesn't truly have one. That final shot (which I won't give away), is just about as powerful as the utterance of "Rosebud," but without a single word spoken.
"Citizen Kane" tested the ability of a movie to lie to its audience. "The Social Network" does just about the same. While characters in the film can't trust anything Zuckerberg says, there has also been doubt in reality that many details in the film are totally true. This helps turn "The Social Network" into the year's most entertaining practice in self-reflexivity. Much of the movie may not be true, but the greatest movies are supposed to convince us that its lies are real, even if the film doesn't know whether or not it's actually lying to us.