I am reminded of a lyric as I begin writing my review for David Fincher/Aaron Sorkin/Mark Zuckerberg’s The Social Network. This specific lyric comes courtesy of a lazy track from Eminem which is currently playing on the radio. In classic Em form, the rapper tries to assert his bad-assery and his troubled emotional core in the same sentence. “This is what happens,” he says, “when a tornado meets a volcano.”
The A.V. Club review of the film mentions that all of the characters talk about Facebook “as if everyone’s talking about unstoppable events set in motion long ago.” Like Eminem’s characterization of himself as a force of nature, the characters in this film are indeed positioned as, let’s just say it – gods. Zuckerberg’s creation became centrally important in the lives of millions of people, but their existence is mentioned only in passing. The trailer shows a list of profile pictures from random people, but the movie doesn’t have this sort of heart. Instead, it’s about the unblinking Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) and his one-track focus on building his Adam. Napster founder Sean Parker (Timberlake) enters the picture later on, and he is once again treated as an ethereal being. He walks through the world without seeing anything in it and laughs about changing the entire music industry. Parker’s ego makes him believe that he can control Zuckerberg, but all that Napster did was change the way people access music. Facebook is changing the entirety of human interaction.
I went into work the day after watching this movie and heard the word “Facebook” used at least seven times. It’s no big reveal to say that the site has become ubiquitous, that it has reached up and over its computerized confines and consumed all of our lives. Hell, I’m writing this review – on Facebook! Does that not blow your mind, man? It’s that kind of frightening knowledge – the call is coming from inside the house! – that makes it easy to sympathize with Matt Zoller Seitz’s Salon.com review where the bold proclamation is made that The Social Network is a horror movie. “It doesn’t shed a drop of blood, yet it manages to conjure some of the dread we feel when faced with a scenario — any scenario, petty or grave, fictional or real — that we are powerless to stop.”
Almost the entirety of the film is told in flashbacks from board-rooms where legal tussles are taking place. Everything that is talked about has already happened – there is no changing it. This is extremely important with regard to the points being made so far. The movie could have been set in 2003 and worked chronologically through time until it got us to the present day. It does not do that. Instead, it places the main point of action in the present day and looks back to what has already happened. Unstoppable events. It’s easy, this way, to see Zuckerberg’s choices as pre-meditation – his friend Eduardo Saverin (Garfield) has a moment of shock when he realizes that a nasty newspaper article might have been placed by Zuckerberg himself to discredit Saverin. Could this college geek have been that methodical in building himself up while knocking everybody else down? Or is it merely the benefit of hindsight that leads Saverin to this conclusion?
In this Frankenstein, the monster is not made of mixed-and-matched rotting flesh from various corpses. The mad scientist does not cackle with exuberant lunacy, victims are not rent limb from limb, and the villagers do not descend upon the monster with torches. It’s much more subtle than that. Is the monster Facebook? Is it Zuckerberg himself? Is it the social community which excluded M.Z. and fueled his drive toward internet domination? At the last moment, the film takes a dramatic turn and seemingly tries to force a sentimental edge, to make us feel sorry for Zuckerberg. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure that that was the point. It seems more likely that the idea is to reinforce the idea that even though he was illustrated as being a mastermind by his contemporaries, Zuckerberg is as much mired in the cold machinations of “the social network” as the rest of them. Was Zuckerberg malicious in his motivation, or did he just expend all of his efforts on trying to be ‘cool’ and yet still failing?
If Zuckerberg is the tornado, who or what is the volcano? Will the real slim shady please stand up?*
*I’m sorry but that was an unstoppable joke, set in motion long ago.