David Fincher’s The Social Network: A Film for the Digital Age or a Facebook Flop?
David Fincher is one of the greatest American film directors working today. His contribution to the crime/suspense genre is stunning, Alien 3 (1992), Se7en (1995), The Game (1997), Panic Room (2002), and his masterpiece Zodiac (2007). But with his latest film, The Social Network, about the founding of the social networking site Facebook, Fincher has moved from away from the crime genre.
I’m somewhat perplexed at this sudden departure. Although to be fair, his previous film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) was a bizarre, oddball project that was critically panned. The Social Network looks like it will receive a far warmer critical reception. Despite the fact that very few critics have seen the film, it is already being described as the film of the decade, a masterpiece, and of course there is the obligatory talk of Academy Awards. Much of this hype stems from the official trailer for the film which defintely falls into a love it or hate it category. I confess that I fall into the latter group. Here’s the trailer:
Am I just completely wrong in assuming this film looks like it will be terrible? When we first see Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) he states that his ambition is to get into Harvard’s most exclusive clubs. Hardly inspiring; so this is going to be a ‘from riches to even more riches tale’? Then the trailer moves into quite a lot of techno-babble about the creation of Facebook. Zuckerberg talks about the site’s remarkable stats, a topic which is surely only of interest to website owners. Throw in a few hints about college life being full of parties and sex with co-eds, and then things start to go wrong. Zuckerberg finds himself mired in arguments over copyright and invasion of privacy. Again, how much interest can this be to Joe Public? Then the trailer ends on a horribly flat emo-rock like bit of philosophy, which actually made the audience groan when I saw the trailer at the cinema recently. Another thought is that the title, The Social Network, is bad and just sounds dull. Why didn’t they stick with The Accidental Billionaire, the book this film is based on and which sounds witty, interesting and dramatic?
The reason the film seems so unappealing is not because the concept is unpromising. The Social Network is being promoted as a film which captures the essence of our Digital age, just as Fitzgerald portrayed the Jazz age, and all its excesses, in The Great Gatsby. Yet, surely Facebook is more a symbol of the mediocrities of the digital world than its virtues or excesses? The site may have five hundred million users, but many of the people I know who have Facebook accounts have come to hate the site, finding it addictive and vacuous. This is exactly how I came to regard it before I deleted my account, which they don’t make it easy for you to do (don’t be tricked into simply deactivating your account). Facebook has become a long running Reality television show for the internet, and like most Reality TV I suspect the wheels will come off soon enough. If The Social Network managed to capture some of these issues about the Digital age and Facebook, I think it would make for a more compelling movie.
Perhaps Fincher should stick to what he does best. I’m looking forward to seeing his Hollywood adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, although he would be hard-pressed to match the original Swedish adaptations.