The Social Network begins in an ill-lit, smoky bar where college students loudly grow rambunctious and two kids break up over a rapid-fire, velociraptor-charged argument begun by our protagonist. It doesn’t seem necessary to discuss how intense this opening scene is, how incredibly well-scripted and angled. We don’t need to know how many times Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara were shot to get it perfect (99 takes). Any lingering questions after the opening scene about whether a movie about a goddamn programmer can be pulled off should fall to the wayside as the patterns lock into place and the film shoots off as quickly and abruptly as the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney World.
We have several seconds of opening credits before the roller coaster ride takes off into quickly iterated dialogue, into high stakes and intense pressure, into glitz and glamour, in all its glorious highs and lows. In these seconds, it becomes clear, though critics commonly describe The Social Network as Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher’s baby, the film is also belongs to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The Social Network would be a very different film without the smoke and mirrors, the darkened corners, and the shadows making up the backbone of their music throughout the film.
Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is an intellectual goldmine suffering from social incapacities (there’s getting it and getting it, alright). He is definitely not a man incapable of understanding that you shouldn’t make fun of your girlfriend for going to a non-Ivy League school; he just would never think to think about something so dull as people’s feelings. He’s complicated, unlikeable, and generally just a difficult person to deal with. Case in point: pissed his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) just broke up with him, he first gets drunk and blogs mean things about her, and then he creates FaceMash, a site which pits pictures of women from his alma mater against each other so they can be ranked according to level of hotness. Sucks for the girls who took bad yearbook pictures -- they always make you smile for so damn long.
FaceMash quickly becomes so popular it shuts down the Harvard network, gets Zuckerberg in trouble, and puts him on the radars of wealthy students Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, both played by Armie Hammer. They ask Zuckerberg to create a “facebook” for them, an exclusive site that would require a Harvard IP address to gain membership. Zuckerberg promptly blows them off -- who has the time to return social calls when you have something huge up your sleeve? -- and creates thefacebook.com with the help of his roommates (Joseph Mazzello and Patrick Mapel) and monetary capital from his best friend, Eduardo (Andrew Garfield). Thefacebook soon becomes a phenomenon on the Harvard Campus and spreads to other campuses throughout the States and the world. Somewhere along the way, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) gets involved in the process, and somewhere else along the way, Zuckerberg fucks over his best friend. He sues, the Winklevosses sue, and that litigation is ultimately used by Fincher as the predominant mechanism for pacing his non-linear story.
The Social Network is all about patterns, intricate webs of intellect and desire squirming and crawling and spawning together, affirming that light and dark are necessary to the being of any great product. If it were a simpler film, there would be good guys and bad guys and it would be easy to decipher who was whom. It isn’t a simpler film. Erica is in two scenes, and we can see how much she respects intellect and the people of Harvard, and how hurt she is when she is treated like a small bug held under a magnifying glass on a sunny day. The Winklevoss boys appear only sporadically, but you can see their entire reason for being in this film is pride. “We will not sue because we are gentlemen of Harvard,” Tyler declares at one point. Zuckerberg would say they are just sorry because something didn’t work out for them the way it was supposed to, but Fincher understands certain feelings run deeper than that. Then there’s Zuckerberg himself, who, coincidentally, never seems to have any feelings. He is a person who would be capable of batting an eyelash and signing away the friendship of his best friend and business partner. Then again, we always get the feeling his mind is merely somewhere else.
In the dawn of a bright morning, two strong crew teams row in the beautiful light. Earlier, two young men built ideas for a company in a darkened club. Eduardo sues in a light room made of modern architecture. The Winklevoss brothers sue in an old room, years and years of grime darkening the shiny wood. Light and dark are juxtaposed around every turn. Yet, at its end, The Social Network leaves us in a definite grey area. It is here that Fincher lingers for just a moment, as a juror/expert lawyer (Rashida Jones) and Zuckerberg discuss the ultimate outcome of his court cases and the decisions he’ll have to face. It goes by pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a moment, you just might miss it. Which is, in many ways, the whole point.
“How did they ever make a movie about Facebook?” is a segment that displays in a little over an hour all of the integral aspects of the making of the film. The documentary short begins by explaining how The Social Network is not really a movie about Facebook at all. It then tours the steps taken to create a film as intricate as this one. Sorkin and Fincher spent hours in preliminary readings of the script, trying to figure out the story and its characters. Later, the segment goes into detail showing the ins and outs of the making of the first scene, which is as integral to The Social Network as the makes-ya-cry opening montage is in the film Up. The documentary short is fascinating and well-shot, and it features a lot of interesting interviews; but be forewarned, it is a vast undertaking to get through.
Clicking “Additional Special Features” will send you to links to all of the other extras on the disc. There is commentary from Jeff Cronenweth and David Fincher on the visuals. They discuss the various aspects of lighting sets, and the difficulties of having to shoot Harvard-esque settings with virtually no help from Harvard whatsoever. Some of the technology used to create onscreen images is outstanding to learn about, but the roughly eight-minute featurette still occasionally feels arduous.
The second commentary segment is between editor Angus Wall, editor Kirk Baxter, and sound designer Ren Klyce. This feature clearly eschews the mucking process that is editing a film. Especially with a director like Fincher, there are so many takes and so many camera angles to dissect and decide which is the best. Sometimes, the crew explains, Fincher would want the visual from one take and the dialogue from another, and it was up to the crew to make them match. This segment is crazy interesting, but it does make me want to run away from this job as quickly as possible. No wonder Kevin Smith sucks without his trusty editor.
The final interview is between Fincher and composers Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor. Then it's on to the various cuts of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and a segment called “Swarmatron” all about the makings of various aspects and pieces related to the score. People have been all over the score to The Social Network, and to have so many features dedicated to its making is a rare treat.
Everything about the disc, its features, and even the packaging is extraordinarily streamlined. It makes for a sophisticated Blu-Ray set. I haven’t seen the DVD packaging yet, but with a list price of only $34.95, the two-disc Blu-Ray set is a must-purchase.