After 10 Years, The Social Network Feels More Relevant Than Ever
‘Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair’, Ozymandias’s parable is now a fantasy. After 10 years, The Social Network has proven to be an indelibly sharp, electrifying harbinger of our own doomsday.
‘Do you think I deserve your full attention?’, a question posed to an antsy, embittered Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and an audience plagued by double-screening and fickle lapses of concentration.
Upon announcement, laughs and scoffs surrounded David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s Facebook tragedy. A decade in its wake, its status as a harrowing, enchanting portrait of how the digitilisation – and in turn, the bastardisation – of human life came to be has only become more potent. ‘I don’t care if it hurts, I wanna have control.’
Social media is one of the most ubiquitous quantities on Earth. The blue banner – not even the beginning, coming after the likes of Friendster, Myspace and Bebo – was the catalyst for our dopamine machines of today, home to 2.7 billion users. From likes to retweets, comments to shares, our existence is dictated by our online profiles, the engagement we amass, the aura we emit – be it aloof or active.
Our usage of such platforms has soared beyond consciousness. Sites once praised for innovation are more than household names, as integral to daily life as brushing your teeth, washing and eating – probably with a phone in one hand. Be honest, what’s the first thing you do after you open your eyes in the morning?
Even in 2010, we couldn’t see the full horizon of addiction. Nevertheless, Sorkin and Fincher were dealt serious scepticism until the first trailer for The Social Network dropped, featuring a haunting rendition of Radiohead’s Creep (one that’d kickstart an exhausting trend of slowed, sorrowful mixes of popular tracks). From the opening scene alone, its mastery and legacy was certified.
Through darkness and The White Stripes’ Ball and Biscuit, Zuckerberg and Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) emerge. Together, they sit in a dimly lit bar humming with chatter, yet untapped by the glow of handhelds, ‘just vibing’.
Immediately, Sorkin’s dialogue crackles with lightning as the young, inscrutable tech wiz rattles off motormouth statistics about China, the SATs, acapella groups and final clubs. Erica, rightly, struggles to keep the pace, provoking capricious, ‘delusional’ retorts and hurt feelings. He even asks her if she’s speaking ‘in code’, to which he’s met with bemusement, dubbed a ‘StairMaster’.
Credit where it’s due to the screenwriter, who’d go on to win an Oscar. However, beneath its wit and zingy one-liners, could our regressed sensitivity to the art of conversation influence how much we’re taken by the script? Today, we communicate mostly in text form. In The Social Network, dialogue is the prevailing high, laced with vicious put-downs now tied to replies and sub-tweeting. It feels like a symphony.
Erica’s last words are the real throat-clearer: ‘You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.’
The calm resolve in Mara’s acting, as Eisenberg’s heart falls to the sunken place, is chilling. Nowadays, such a conversation would likely be recorded by some spectator and posted online with an emoji-laced caption. Here, it’s left in its intimate, unbearable, seething glory.
It’s a scathingly-written quote, one that speaks to the film’s showcase of misogyny as a whole – as if that’ll never be timely – as well as the rise of incel culture, i.e. men who believe women are to blame for their lack of sexual intimacy. Soon after, he even writes ‘Erica Albright is a b*tch’, jabbing her bra size.
Hatemongering against women – and everything, really – has become the norm. Erica’s teary, betrayed face remains a familiar sight.
Later, she reappears, felicitously saying to Zuckerberg, ‘It didn’t stop you writing it, like every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever that it’d be a crime for it not to be shared. The internet’s not written in pencil Mark, it’s written in ink.’
She adds, ‘You write your snide bullshit from a dark room because that’s what the angry do nowadays.’ No commentary required.
The break-up acts as a launchpad for the film’s ice-cold pilgrimage into legend. Zuckerberg leaves and jogs home under the cover of Boston’s autumnal dusk, a passing spectre in Fincher alumni Jeff Cronenweth’s dark, brooding cinematography.
Meanwhile, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s Academy Award-winning score – possibly the best of the past 20 years – begins with its haunting, staccato-heavy melody. Through retaliation, the music signals revolution.
We first witness the ostensible fall of Zuckerberg via FaceMash, which saw the future CEO download the photos of female undergrads from various campuses and pit them against each other, all sparked from brutal blogging about his now-ex. ‘This is pathetic,’ one woman derides; however, the site drew monumental traffic. When they start sending it out, he even says, ‘The question is, who are they going to send it to?’
Two things to note: the proliferation of ‘viral content’ – for peace, laughs or cruelty – has grown exponentially. Also, while crude, FaceMash was an early indicator of how quick-fingered our heartlessness, oblivious or not, could stoop.
The film’s strip poker party scenes even feel like a period piece, a snapshot of the land before Instagram, Tinder or any other sources of lust. ‘I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul, I want you to notice when I’m not around. You’re so f*cking special. I wish I was special,’ rings far louder now.
Of course, the rise inevitably follows with Facebook, an exercise in ‘taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online’, with Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) as presidents of their own lucrative final club, one that doesn’t exclude creeps or weirdos. An earnest vessel on paper, yet the ramifications of its creations couldn’t be predicted – you can’t forecast a fluke, no matter how brilliant.
Ten years later, there’s near-boundless angles to discuss The Social Network. One could look at Sorkin’s simple, hilariously prescient observations – for example, Eduardo saying, ‘I’m being accused of animal cruelty; it’s better to be accused of necrophilia.’
Another would be Sean Parker’s villainous ‘Victoria’s Secret’ capitalist drive and the conflict of loyalty it presents, particularly in America. A third would be the absolute power of Zuckerberg and Facebook, and the responsibility of those holding the cards. Rashida Jones’s law associate even says, ‘Bosnia… they don’t have roads but they have Facebook.’
From its seemingly Machiavellian inception, the network has endured the Cambridge Analytica scandal across Trump and Brexit, as well as ‘offline violence’ incited in Myanmar’s 2018 genocide.
Yet, its reach soars mostly unchecked, with free reign to cultivate any plastic brain at any given time. As posited in Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, we step into man-made armageddon when we no longer have unequivocal information. Creation myths may need a devil, and Zuckerberg is a genuine suspect, but there’s little innocence in our dependent, malleable nature.
Most startlingly, it’s a mere flicker of how our way of life would change. Upgrading your Facebook relationship status is now considered a stage of any new romance, and deleting your profile is almost applauded as rebellious, no matter how ineffectual.
It’s the ultimate irony; social media has made us less social, even lonely. Yet, it’s become the foundation upon which we see each other, for better or worse. I suspect the latter.
Generation-defining doesn’t cover it. The Social Network is, and will remain, the most important movie of the century.
The Social Network is available to stream on Netflix now.
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