D avid Fincher’s business saga The Social Network is a Make Your Own Zeitgeist picture. Its protagonist, Facebook creator and world’s youngest billionaire Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), is either an emotionally dysfunctional monster incapable of maintaining a friendship—making his invention of a tool to facilitate friendship too-too ironic, and that tool itself deeply suspect—or the guy you really, really wish you were, no matter how twisted and reviled he may be.
I find both options reductive and, from what I’ve read of Zuckerberg’s life, dubious, but the movie’s lustrous, deep-focus frames and headlong pace are difficult to resist. It’s an entertainingly cynical small movie. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue tumbles out so fast it’s as if the characters want their brains to keep pace with their processors; they talk like they keyboard, like Fincher directs, with no time for niceties. The first scene is a tour de force of disconnection. Zuckerberg sits across from his girlfriend, Erica (future hornet’s-nest kicker Rooney Mara), and holds forth at triple-speed on the injustice of being ignored by Harvard’s elite clubs—which bus in college girls using the come-on “Party with the next Fed chairman”—with such bilious urgency that Erica, who likens dating him to dating a StairMaster, flees. That’s the heart of Sorkin and Fincher’s Facebook Creation Myth: It was all to get back at the girl who dumped him and the Wasps who wouldn’t let him join their clubs.
Fincher has likened The Social Network’s emotional trajectory to Citizen Kane’s, in that its protagonist becomes simultaneously more successful and more friendless. But Fincher’s direction is so cool and depersonalizing that the story has no emotional heft. Zuckerberg’s Wasp adversaries are cartoon boobs. More than once, the camera scrutinizes young women from behind, appraising them as the movie’s horny young voyeurs do. The Trent Reznor–Atticus Ross score is in some Eno-airport no-man’s-land of its own. Every¬thing is disconnected from the get-go—there’s no humanity to lose.
Eisenberg has been, until now, a hugely likable actor with an instinct for thinking and fumbling in character. As Zuckerberg, he’s been whipped into monotony. Fincher directs like a drill sergeant—Mamet with an overwound metronome. The only actor here allowed to give a fully rounded performance is Justin Timberlake as Napster co-founder Sean Parker, whose sleazy hustle turns out to be just what the burgeoning Facebook needs. Fincher does get the details, though: the ubiquitous energy drinks that seem to fuel the movie’s hyped-up, jittery pacing; the programmers in headphones, deep in their antisocial trances, writing code to connect us all; the oak-and-crimson Harvard vibe, illuminating the ties between arrogant undergraduate high jinks and arrogant alumni high jinks. (Harvard president and Inside Job villain Larry Summers is played, with peerless superciliousness, by Douglas Urbanski.)
What The Social Network isn’t about is, well, the social network—i.e., Facebook, and what it means for the culture. The real Zuckerberg may have a dismaying unconcern for privacy, but from the start he had a vision that Facebook would help create communities in an ever-insular world. The movie’s final image—Zuckerberg “friending” the woman who dumped him and endlessly refreshing the page to see if she accepts—is presented as pathetic irony. But you could also read it as a sign of hope. In the Facebook world, which is now ours, a new communication infrastructure exists, with no avenues definitively closed.
T he poetic Swedish vampire picture (with arterial spray) Let the Right One In has been hauntingly well transplanted to the high desert of Los Alamos, New Mexico, and renamed Let Me In. The tale of a scrawny 12-year-old outcast (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who drifts into an indelible relationship with a girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) in a cloak who doesn’t come out in the day, it’s bathed in a pale orange winter light that gives the barren landscape an unearthly glow. Michael Giacchino’s score is full of shivers and plinks, ghostly chorales and shuddering strings: It’s the most suggestive music for a horror film in years. Director Matt Reeves misses only one aspect of the original. The Swedish girl is androgynous, adding resonance to the theme of forbidden love, whereas Moretz is positively sultry: heavy-¬lidded, hollow-eyed, with fashion-model cheekbones. She’s quite a vision of death, though. Ingmar Bergman would have followed her anywhere.
T he sounds began early at the New York Film Festival screening of Inside Job: Titters of incredulity, hoots of derision, then a sort of audible trembling. Was the audience watching a sci-fi disaster in which pompous fools ignore the approaching onslaught? No—and yes. Inside Job tells the story of the economic collapse of 2008, and it’s the horror movie of the decade. As he proved in his Iraq-centered No End in Sight, policy wonk turned documentarian Charles Ferguson has no peer when it comes to tracking the course of a preventable catastrophe. No Michael Moore–ish grandstander, he strives for a tone of objectivity; the drama is in whether he’ll be able to hold his emotions in check. It’s impressive how long he goes before the signs of disgust and indignation creep in.
Opening in Iceland (waterfalls, volcanoes, people yelling they’ve been duped), the film traces the crusade to deregulate, leading banks to reward risk, however insane. Many of those who warned of dire consequences show up (understandably) to say “No one listened,” while the major scoundrels behind the bad loans didn’t deign (or dare) to be interviewed. That means no Richard Fuld of Lehman ¬Brothers or Joseph Cassano of AIG. Also, no Randians like Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, and, of course, Alan Greenspan. Wrong Way Corrigans who do appear, accustomed to the company of their own kind, prove shockingly inept at accounting for their actions. Former Federal Reserve governor Frederic Mishkin claims he left at the height of the crisis to “finish a textbook” (swell timing), and his 2006 testament to Iceland’s financial stability mysteriously appears on his CV as a report on its “instability.” (“A typo,” he says.) But it’s Columbia Business School dean and Bush-tax-cut architect Glenn Hubbard who steals the picture. Pressed on apparent conflicts of interest, he drops his Dr. Jekyll manner and sneers, “You have a few more minutes … Give it your best shot.”
You say Inside Job is a bit like a classroom documentary? It’s a class you need to take. You won’t be bored—you’ll be seething too much. The bad guys devastated millions of lives, made staggering fortunes that remain intact, and got away clean. And are still writing the laws. Be very afraid.
• Is The Social Network Really Scathing?
• Sorkin on ‘Mentally Disordered’ Blog Commenters
• What’s Jesse Eisenberg’s Value in Hollywood?
The Social Network
Columbia Pictures. PG-13.
Let Me In
Overture Films. R.
Sony Pictures Classics. PG-13.