Hard to see how The Social Network is not the most important American film since Wall Street nor the most ideologically stirring since Platoon. American greed, American competitiveness, American hubris, American vengefulness are exposed as never before, and the thin-sliced layers of Harvard frat-house snobbery observed with Cheeverish keenness, as never before. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is a miracle of concision, sharp as Mamet and rapid as Cagney, rewriting as it goes film rules a century old. No, it is not a visual medium, dialogue is the driver, and, yes, it can be repetitive.
Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg is the Graduate of our time. Nerdy, intense, afraid of girls, snarky about everything, secretly pious, losing the few friends he has, obsessively acquisitive, he steals (or does he?) an idea for a meeting-girls website from the athletic upper-class Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer plus a fair bit of sweat-stained computer cloning) who belong to a club that won’t let him in – the Porcellian, where Teddy Roosevelt preened and blathered – and turns it into The Facebook which, with his wet-eyed mate Eduardo’s help (Eduardo puts up money), gets twenty-one thousand hits in a night.
This attracts the attention of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), a west-coast coked-up computer-tycoon/hustler already bankrupt and famous. And then…triumph, and a sort of tragedy follows, a kind of pimply Dr Faustus, which is also the hottest true – or presumed true – story of our time. Based on Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaire, with which Zuckerberg, ‘the world’s youngest billionaire’, did not co-operate, it stirs my screenwriter’s narrative bloodlust like nothing since Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.
What a generation this is. Wired, texting, romantic, impatient (two weeks ago is ancient history), coked up, diffidently promiscuous, cowering before mad Asian girlfriends (an almost compulsory adjunct to their luxury), Gatsbys on the make, they see Harvard as a ‘millionaires’ factory’ like Macquarie Bank and what they study there a mere down-home rehearsal for making billions in cyber space. And even the billions don’t matter. Beating the crap out of rivals, fairly or cheatingly, is the thing that really turns them on.
This is a seismic film experience. I saw it three times in three nights and on the fourth, bewailing its absence, met a teacher of film studies who called it ‘today’s Citizen Kane’. Which it is, of course. The talented, stony-hearted loner with women troubles inventing a media empire and ending friendless, rich and alone.
See it or I’ll kill the lot of you. Oscars for Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Sorkin and, oh yes, David Fincher the seamless, fearless shot-holding director, a slam-dunk certainty. And it’ll run a year.