For the five of us still not on Facebook, The Social Network catches us up on what we've missed: a technological breakthrough that allows faster schmoozing without the taint of actual human interaction. The director, David Fincher, and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin spin it as the story of already wealthy kids who stumble upon the key to undreamt-of wealth: peddling the privilege of inclusion (and exclusion) to the previously excluded.
Fittingly, the Harvard where the movie's Mark Zuckerberg, the patrician Winklevoss twins (one of them is Armie Hammer, last seen in these parts playing the ultimate social networker, Billy Graham) and Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield) play their (conflicted, conflicting) parts in the founding of Facebook is a bubble world. When cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth's camera follows Jesse Eisenberg's Zuckerberg back to his dorm in the early scenes, past quaint little picturesque bridges and learned halls, he might as well be Harry Potter sprinting through Hogwarts. The masterstroke of Facebook, the movie suggests, was to make everyone who signed up feel like a Harvard man by encasing them in their own electronic bubble.
Fincher gets across that sense of public isolation with a clever visual strategy: shifting planes of focus that might keep one person brutally clear — like Zuckerberg under cross-examination, after the "Winklevi" and Savarin come after the Facebook bubble with needles — while reducing everyone else in the foreground and background to a blur. If any visual metaphor sums up the age of electronic media, it's people cut off by glass partitions even as they stand in the same room.
Sorkin is an interesting choice as screenwriter. He writes stylized mile-a-minute dialogue of the All About Eve school, where everybody gives the speech they rehearsed on the way home afterward instead of the tongue-tied reply they stammered at the moment. As artificially peppy as it can come off — as in the opening scene where Zuckerberg infuriates his date (Rooney Mara) with oblivious motor-mouthed douchebaggery — it's well suited to evoking verbal interaction with the brakes off: it has the rhythm of impatience. Fincher gets this pace just right in the brilliant montage that shows Zuckerberg's trial-run Facemash site going viral. It's pitched at a disorienting speed that triggers the panicky thought the entire movie is going to barrel past this quickly — a sense that life's accelerator is now permanently stuck.
There's not a hero to be found in the movie, but the moments that linger (besides the look of Fincher's nighttime scenes — the world seems lit by sick candles) are surprisingly human: the saucy post-coital walk of the Stanford co-ed rousing herself from Justin Timberlake's bed (and Timberlake's perfectly too-confident banter); the helplessly needy expression on (the excellent) Eisenberg's face in the apt last shot, which makes the idea of "refresh" as ironic as the notion of "friend." (Kudos to Fincher's longtime casting director, part-time Middle Tennessean Laray Mayfield — the roles are so well-cast we can read the characters faster than Tweets.)
In five years, will this look like a movie about the inventor of the Post-It Note?