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David Fincher’s The Social Network: A Film for the Digital Age or a Facebook Flop?

September 22, 2010

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.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. David Hering permalink
    September 22, 2010 1:55 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. I’m pretty distraught about what’s happened to Fincher. With Zodiac he genuinely made one of the greatest American films of the last decade. He was totally in control of form, performances, technology and narrative. It is a spectacular film.

    Benjamin Button, without exaggeration, is one of the worst films I have ever seen. It’s like a worse Forrest Gump (allow that to roll around your head for a minute). There is literally no development of the central idea beyond how to render it in digital effects, the sentiment is meaningless, the characters empty, and the Hurrican Katrina framing narrative looks like a bad piece of television drama.

    When I heard that his next two films were a drama about Facebook and a remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I may actually have howled aloud in anguish.

    • Powell, Steven permalink
      September 22, 2010 2:55 pm

      I think Benjamin Button is a good contender for the worst film ever made because Fincher clearly thought he was making a masterpiece. He peaked with Zodiac, and now all the acclaim has gone to his head. It’s Heaven’s Gate syndrome, or maybe Ryan’s Daughter. Perhaps Fincher can follow up The Social Network with a film about the founding of MySpace or Twitter or I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!


  2. September 22, 2010 2:29 pm

    You don’t even need a full word to describe the why of it. Just one symbol will do – $.
    Or if one prefers fomulas- 500 million x $10.75 – expenses= A lot of dollars. Then if the social movement goes south there is always the sequel: AboutFace Facebook.

    As far as Fincher and TGWTDT, I loved director Niels Arden Oplev’s two films so much that I have a hard time trying to imagine an instant remake. Especially with the fact that they are in production here in the U.S. before Oplev’s third film is even released. (But, I’m sure I will probably be one of the first in line. At least if he screws it up, I’ll still have the comfort of knowing I got my Senior discount.)

    • Powell, Steven permalink
      September 22, 2010 3:50 pm


      I loved the two Swedish films and can’t wait for the third. Perhaps the second fil suffered a little from compressing such a big story. Rooney Sara has an almost impossible task of matching Noomi Rapace’s superb performance as Lisbeth Salander. I’ll definitely go see Fincher’s remake, but I don’t expect it to be anywhere near as good. I don’t even know if they’re planning to shift the setting to America, and if so, how will it work.

  3. David Hering permalink
    September 22, 2010 7:10 pm

    Yeah, Benjamin Button seemed like his ‘oscars’ pic to me – an attempt to say something very grand about existence and time. The problem was that no-one seemed to have thought about what that was. It came down to something like ‘you never know what’s coming’. Thanks for that! It also lasted an absolute epoch for no apparent reason at all other than to try to attract a sense of scale, which escaped it pretty ruthlessly.

    I actually quite like large parts of Heaven’s Gate – the first half in particular. It unravels pretty quickly after that. Steven Bach’s book ‘Final Cut’ is a pretty incredible record of that production.

    • Powell, Steven permalink
      September 22, 2010 9:16 pm

      I haven’t read ‘Final Cut’, but I recently watched the documentary on YouTube. Yeah, an extraordinary account of a production that was doomed to disaster mainly due to Cinimo’s ego. I’ve only seen maybe five scenes of the film plus the footage that was in the documentary, and I think you’re right, it seems like there was a very good film mixed up in their somewhere. Perhaps it even could have been a classic if Cinimo hadn’t spent so long filming that he was then forced to quickly edit thousands of hours of film in a very short time and on little sleep. Interesting idea to make a film about the Johnson County War, but to implicate the White House seemed implausible.

  4. Kendall permalink
    September 24, 2010 12:00 pm

    I think The Accidental Billionaire is a horrible title. Sounds too much like some mediocre screwball comedy from the ’40s. Not to diss on screwball comedies from the ’40s, but I just think it’s a cheesy title. It tries to be witty, but fails. But that’s just my own opinion. The Social Network is streamlined and perhaps they changed it to mirror the tone of the movie. Perhaps they changed it so it’d sound more serious/dramatic/elegant and be taken seriously in the awards circuit. I don’t know. Not saying it’s a perfect title.

    But I love Aaron Sorkin. I do. So I’ll see the movie…even though my first reaction was definitely “Are you kidding me? A Facebook movie?”

    • Powell, Steven permalink
      September 24, 2010 1:46 pm

      Perhaps The Accidental Billionaire is a bit of a mouthful, but it still seems more interesting than The Social Network. I’m just confused as to what to expect from this film. The trailer suggest that Zuckerberg is the hero, but at Facebook HQ they are very nervous as to how this film will portray him. Alongside Steve Jobs at Apple, Zuckerberg is a fairly hated figure. Maybe we’ll start to view iTycoons with the same contempt that we view, rightly or wrongly, Wall street and City of London bankers.

  5. September 24, 2010 1:03 pm

    I think people have a vexed relationship with Facebook. They don’t like it, or particularly care about it, but it’s where their friends are, and who wants to be first to leave a party? It’s less a social network than a peer pressure network.

    As for the film, I think the story of a young man who does something extraordinary is promising, but because typing at a keyboard is not as vivid on film as, say, baseball, or rock climbing, I suspect the drama will be overdone. I’ll go and see it though.

    PS. I have a ‘deactivated’ Facebook account which I have never used, but has a good real name url.

  6. Adam Kelly permalink
    October 9, 2010 2:58 pm

    I’m going to the preview of this tomorrow evening. I have to say I’m quite excited. The US reviews have been outstanding. Can they all be wrong?

    • Powell, Steven permalink
      October 9, 2010 8:18 pm

      Probably not. I guess it will be really good and I’ll go see it. But the thought of Justin Timberlake and Facebook, together in the same movie, might still be enough to make me skip this one.


  7. Adam Kelly permalink
    October 10, 2010 7:56 pm

    Stupendous stuff. I’m out of the cinema about 30 minutes, and my adrenalin is still way high. Fincher is back on form, and the script and structure of the film are nigh-on perfect, so well done Aaron Sorkin. Even Timberlake is perfect for his role. And best of all, I now feel my decision never to join Facebook has been fully validated 🙂

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