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The Social Network

The Social Network

by Kavish Chetty / 05.11.2010

Cinema is a vampire: it gulps us up with its power to glamour. By murky hypnosis it leads us into its parallel reality. This is my immodest explanation as to why The Social Network has managed to transmute, what is essentially a phalanx of paleface crater-cheeked geeks programming all night, into something charming, magnetic and even thrilling. Achingly, I guarantee you’ll limp out of the theatre with a part of your self-worth feeling under-accomplished and mediocre.

Some variation on the following phrase has a strong circulatory run throughout most high-schools: “Be nice to the nerds, because one day you’ll end up working for them.” At essence, it’s a silly maxim designed to disrupt playground power-dynamics, but it’s not without merit. Mark Zuckerberg is by the account of this movie one such nerd, and now one such boss (we all work for him; everyone of us Facebook narcissists). He’s a jittery, tense, oblique boy who twitches and spasms into overdrive when in the grip of his ideas. But for all his oily anti-social behaviour, he’s managed to programme his way into one of the twenty-first century’s most addictive phenomena, and netted an, oh, chaste 6.9 billion dollars along the way.

The allure of Facebook has already been exhausted in our media. In quick strokes, that it animates the pseudo-celebrity territory inside us all; that it invites us to validate the cinema of our own private lives by scrawling it all over public fora (the ‘wall’). Zuckerberg’s exploitation of this narcissist decade is exquisitely chronicled by Fincher (Fight Club, Seven). It tracks the development of ‘the Facebook’, from an exclusive Harvard gimmick, to an expansive, transcontinental network. The tale of Facebook isn’t banal (or the camera-eye certainly lends it an urgent vitality) – Zuckerberg sold out his best friend and co-founder, came under legal reprisal from the Harvard scholars who originally commissioned the project, and developed a near-obsession with the Napster-hipster founder who swayed onboard the project and suggested, ‘drop the definite article’, turning ‘the Facebook’ into simply, attractively, ‘Facebook’.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg and he’s thoroughly unlikeable. He’s kind of a Michael Cera +, if you like. He only knows how to play one character, and it’s geekish, awkward, punch-worthy. He stars alongside Justin Timberlake (Shawn Fanning) and Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin). The most surprising thing about this film is the direction: it’s handled like a genre-thriller (with a haunting-hypnotic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, reminiscent of Ghosts I-IV), with a non-chronological narrative that slowly connects the dots on a plot of backstabs, avarice, revenge, competition, obsession. The feat, the accomplishment, is that at heart, it’s still the story of programmers and social-delinquents clicking at keyboards into the small hours. But the sense that they belong to something powerful and modern; something galvanic and iconic, is so thickly palpable. Especially impressive is the scene of an English rowing gala – the colours, depth, movement and beauty of which matches any still photograph.

The Social Network is vital: entertaining, relevant and exciting. It manages to drift away from reality at exactly the right interstices, creating a fully engaging biopic.

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