David Fincher could make a movie set in the springtime about butterflies emerging from their cocoons seem dark. It could feature little white kittens running around and batting at the butterflies in the golden rays of sunlight while they nip each others fuzzy, white tails. It could have a soundtrack by Will Smith and The Beatles and it would still be gritty and realistic. Fincher is an amazing filmmaker (and one who makes sometimes unexpected film choices), yet always manages to make exceptional films. Looking back at his films, starting with creepy crime drama music videos such as Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got A Gun” and Madonna’s “Bad Girl,” and moving into similar territory with Seven and The Game, it was interesting to see him tackle something darkly humorous like Fight Club next.
Over the next eight years, Fincher returned to the familiar and put out the near perfect Panic Room and epic murder mystery Zodiac. It was his quick, right turn to the haunting and, again, epic story of one backwards growing man that shocked me. It seemed a perfect role for Brad Pitt, but I was cautious of the fit for Fincher. When it came out I found myself liking it very much and for that I was pleasantly surprised. The meticulous attention to detail in the film is I think what grabbed me the most. I’d trust Fincher with virtually any script now, including one that’s a remake of a perfectly good foreign film – however much the prospect of a remake bothers me in actuality.
Dragon tattoos aside, we’re here to talk about Fincher’s most recent film work – a story built around a slice of Mark Zuckerberg’s life (Zuckerberg is the guy who created Facebook, although the film is about that very claim being refuted). It’s very droll stuff, but in Fincher’s hands the film may as well be a remake of Helter Skelter (now there’s a remake Fincher could do awesome things to). The warring and conspiring in the dank, Rosewood confines of Harvard could be could be compared to the Manson Family’s horrific dealings and the subsequent voracious litigation that takes place in cold, gray conference rooms, might as well be the subdued fluorescence of the California court room in the Manson murder trial. For a film about an internet website that, when accessed, blinds you with its bright white background of the pages, The Social Network is an extremely dark movie.
Jesse Eisenberg (who plays Zuckerberg) kicks it up a notch from Zombieland and Charlie Banks, although it seems to be relatively the same person he is playing; Eisenberg maybe really is this role, this character. I don’t mean that in an underhanded way, it’s just that every time we see him in a film, he’s the smart, self-effacing, low-confidence young adult who finds his self-determined strengths unappreciated to most of his peers. However, Fincher’s direction of Eisenberg seems to push him one step further, into a realm of human being that is easily able to compartmentalize his emotions and thereby forge his path towards one goal. I don’t know the amount of pre- and on-set work Fincher does with his actors, (given the insanely perfect look of his films, you’d guess he didn’t concentrate on their actions at all), but whatever it is, I feel he’s able to create and shape some of the strongest weak characters in cinema today. In each one of his films (yes, including Alien3) Fincher takes a character who is afraid of something and forces them to rise above; in The Social Network he doesn’t do that, and that’s what makes it so interesting as a David Fincher flick.
The Social Network is a film that depicts a specific trajectory of an individual, from Point A to Point B, and then rolls credits. It’s almost so quick and to the point, it feels accidental or unanticipated. The script is crafted like a mystery, the cinematography like a noir. Justin Timberlake’s character as the dude who invented Napster is frankly, annoying, but I guess that’s sort of the point of his character. It’s a little too simplistic in terms of crafting him as the fall guy for leading Zuckerberg to his insidious ways, and I was surprised at how cavalier the film is when it comes to setting up the plot. I guess it’s the expectation that we already know the story (or do we?), and in an effort to add to the realism of it all, it’s less about letting the audience see what the characters ulterior motives are and more about watching it all take place. This movie in other hands would have been either a bore or a disaster, but Fincher treats it just right and succeeds to retain his style through it all. The Social Network is by no means his finest work, neither Eisenberg’s most accomplished, and here’s to hoping that both of their next films, respectively, will be amazing. For now though, we will always have this, “The Facebook Movie.” A rather pathetic testament to our time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The original score to The Social Network is pretty amazing. A haunting, melodic, electronic score crafted by none other than Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Book of Eli), it’s almost a reprise of some of the Ghosts I-IV work they did a few years back. Check out an interesting panel discussion on the score and sound design of The Social Network from the DGA screening of the film below.