Even though it operates as a courtroom drama, an essential part of The Social Network occurs at the birthplace of ‘the’ Facebook, Harvard University. It is safe to assume that a college of such stature serves as a massive hub for the brightest minds across the globe to network and connect socially.
We are introduced to our hero (read: an anti-hero) in what can only be considered as one of the best opening scenes of all time. Garnished with Aaron Sorkin’s music-like dialogues and David Fincher’s meticulous shot composition, the opening scene does all that a good one should do - tell you enough about the character’s traits and their motivations for the forthcoming actions. “How do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got 1600 on their SATs,” asks a young Mark to his date in the first few seconds of the film, and this one line establishes what he wants from his life in college - creating his identity. Placing a socially distant fellow in a space filled with social butterflies is probably the universe’s way of poetic justice.
In this fictional retelling of the film, we are told that Zuckerberg, a cynical 20-something kid, wants to badly enter into his college’s Ivy League clubs, which were only populated by the sharpest of minds. When a jarring conversation with his date breaks his fragile ego, this guy will stop at nothing to channel his anger by laying the groundwork for what is known to be the world’s biggest social media giant today.
In Kirk Honeycutt’s review of the same in The Hollywood Reporter, he wrote - “[Fincher’s] portrait of campus life among America’s elite is pitch-perfect, every bit as much as the drug-and-party excesses of Silicon Valley and the war rooms of corporate attorneys.”
A college is definitely a platform for students to add value to their name. Throughout the film’s first half, we are panned through multiple young talents trying to leverage the resources to do the same from their dingy dorm rooms. That being said, the film doesn’t display college as a place where curly-haired IT “nerds” randomly strike keys on their Compaq laptops, but also exposes us to the fun, and the more happening side of it. Mark’s idea clicks with both sides, because colleges are actually filled with hormonally-charged youth - and the fact that it crashes Harvard’s server within just a couple of hours of being live just proves that point.
The Social Network borrows the Rashomon narrative structure, with a major difference being that everyone is telling what they believe to be the truth. After The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button received a lukewarm reception in 2008, Fincher successfully diverts from his trademark genre of neo-noirs and crime dramas to pulling off this controversial story of a young adult caught up in the Icarus paradox. His versatility goes on to prove that he is not just successful as a genre director, but also as a genre-agnostic one. With eight Oscar nods (read: snubs), this film couldn’t have been near perfect if it were not for Sorkin’s nail-biting screenplay, Angus Wall’s crisp editing, Atticus Ross - Trent Reznor’s hypnotic score and Jeff Cronenweth’s mesmerising cinematography. This movie builds on what films like Pirates Of The Silicon Valley (1999) only showed us a hint of.
We can blame Mark for his actions, but all of us have been driven by the urge to make our mark in a place where it is extremely easy to get stormed by the crowd. Tying back to his line from the opening sequence, sadly Mark can only be ‘distinguished’ as a tragic hero. He got what he wanted (i.e., creating his identity), however, he couldn’t achieve what he needed (i.e., having friends). Facebook might be used by over 2.8 billion active people today using to connect and build relations, but we ultimately leave Mark struggling to create meaningful connections with real people.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.