The Social Network does what it does to perfection – it makes a thriller out of a heap of code. It pays attention to the details. It treats the characters even-handedly.
But it fails at one big thing. The big topic is of course Facebook, and the site is far from a main character in this story. We catch glimpses only; the odd screenful. The blue glow on Zuckerberg’s face as he writes code.
A few months back a few private IMs of Zuckerberg’s circulated. One contained the following:
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks.
Another went as follows:
Zuck: So you know how I’m making that dating site
Zuck: I wonder how similar that is to the Facebook thing
Zuck: Because they’re probably going to be released around the same time
Zuck: Unless I fuck the dating site people over and quit on them right before I told them I’d have it done.
These show how restrained Sorkin and Fincher actually were in their depiction of the man. I mean, it’s just the kind of black humour all of us practise in private with our friends. But it’s the sort of thing that can become public all too easily nowadays, thanks to this brave new world we live in, thanks to services like Facebook.
Facebook and its ilk have changed how we communicate, what we mean by friendship, what we consider public and private, what we know about each other. They have changed our society fundamentally.
The film does not explore this at all. It does present the simple irony of a friendless man creating the world’s largest social networking site, but that’s it.
So it’s a real missed opportunity. The direction they did take this project – a docu-drama thriller, along the lines of All the President’s Men – also steers the ample public discussion of the film almost exclusively towards the issue of its veracity. Is that what the characters were like, is that the correct sequence of events, etc. There is some consideration of morals and ethics, but the techology’s impact on society gets next to no attention.
Does that make it a bad film? I’m not sure. On the one hand, I don’t believe you can criticize a film for not being something it didn’t try to be. On the other hand, if the significance of the subject matter is lost on the creators, how good a job did they do?