The Social Network
CERT 12A; 120 MINUTES
On the face of it, a movie about the founding of a website sounds pretty dull. Who in their right mind would want to pay £14.50 (yes, that’s how much it costs to see a film in Leicester Square these days) to see a biopic of a few dysfunctional nerds coding their way to the big bucks?
The answer, I think, is twofold. First, the birth of this particular website is steeped in controversy and bitter recriminations. Its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has been accused many times over of theft, misappropriation and dirty dealings by those he once called close friends.
Just a lot of jealousy, you might say. And you might be right. But so numerous, well-documented and passionately argued are the cases against Zuckerberg that it’s hard to entirely discount every criticism – especially when at least one of those cases was settled out of court. The long history of litigation surrounding Facebook, much of it preoccupied with the personal qualities of Zuckerberg himself, makes the early days of the website easily one of the most intriguing business stories of the last few decades. His story alone would be worthy of a trip to the cinema.
But then there’s the nature of Facebook itself: a self-contained universe into which our darkest thoughts and most awkward indiscretions are poured, and from which they promise to surface at any time as Facebook repeatedly rolls back privacy settings, exposing more and more of what we wish we’d never written or been overheard to say, or what we thought we’d only shared with friends.
Facebook is not just another website. It has become an extension of ourselves and of our social circles. It is no longer enough simply to say: “I want no part of it.” Or: “Serves you right for putting private stuff on the internet.” Should you succeed in figuring out the privacy controls, and stay on top of the seemingly never-ending modifications made to them, there’s no guarantee that your friends, who may be speaking about you or posting pictures of you, will be similarly vigilant. The difference between Facebook and the real world in this last respect is that content uploaded to Facebook exists there permanently and, increasingly, publicly.
So, you see, the stage has been set for a magnificent human drama, so invested are we all in the founders of Facebook and their moral rectitude. After all, these people are in charge of massive quantities of our personal information – almost as much as the government, in a way – so it matters what kind of people they are. It only took writer Aaron Sorkin, whose brilliant psychological insight was responsible for television series The West Wing, and cult director David Fincher to bring the bitching, squabbles and complicated legal wrangling to life. And, boy, is it gripping. Against all odds, even Justin Timberlake turns in a fine performance as a drug-taking, womanising version of controversial Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sean Parker, proving that he’s not just a pretty face after all. Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg is nothing short of miraculous.
It is worth stating that the portrayals of Zuckerberg and Parker are fictional interpretations. The Social Network makes no claim to strict historical accuracy – which is just as well, because the lawsuits its release might have triggered would have been multitudinous and eyewateringly expensive. Quite exciting, too, I should think.
On the one hand, that is beside the point. The film is dramatic first, and fictional second. But still, audiences are being riveted by the drama and coming away intoxicated by the power and riches that a divorce from morality promises to provide.
On the other hand, this film serves as a chilling reminder that the character of the people who now have control over so much of our private information matters – whether we have given that power to them ourselves or not. Blogs like Gawker, which slavishly follow Zuckerberg’s privacy slip-ups and indiscreet remarks, highlight the need for constant vigilance.
Something troubles me: not just about how great this film is, but also about how popular it’s rapidly becoming. Yes, the writing is brilliant, the direction inspired and the music mesmeric. Yet I can’t help wondering if we haven’t gone deeply, deeply awry as a society when fictional characters this greedy, conceited and repugnant are held up for admiration.
The film presents a horribly depressing picture of human nature, compounded by the conclusion that nice guys don’t just finish last: they’re not even in the race. It would be silly to say that making it was irresponsible – after all, it’s just entertainment, and we all love a good villain – but I wish people wouldn’t enjoy it as much as they evidently do. I suppose that makes me a curmudgeon.
Milo Yiannopoulos is a technology writer for Telegraph.co.uk