Out of all the movies released in the past couple of years, hell maybe even the past decade, I’ve seen The Social Network more than any other. I’m addicted to the film’s sound, the rapid-fire Sorkin-speak that bludgeons you in the first scene and dares you to keep up until the last. Fincher’s visuals too are remarkable. His careful, precise compositions and the moody cloak of his dark lighting may not have been the obvious choice for this story but in hindsight, looking at it through his obsessive eye is a masterstroke. It’s a terrific study of the Mark Zuckerberg character, not the person, the character, one of the most fascinating and complex anti-heroes to ever grace our screens. Today is the 10th anniversary of facebook and it’s not only a great excuse for me to revisit The Social Network yet again, but gives me a timely opportunity to shine a light on one of my favourite moments.
I wanted to look at the film’s final scene because, unlike many of it’s other showy high points (the opening scene, the initial hacking sequence to name but a few) this moment is deceptively simple but so heavy with poignancy.
The film starts off with Mark Zuckerberg being told he’s an asshole and ends with him being told that he isn’t, even though he’s trying to be. Sorkin’s suggests that without Zuckerberg being an asshole, there would be no facebook. If his girlfriend didn’t dump him, he wouldn’t have made facemash out of spite, he wouldn’t have met the Winklevi, wouldn’t have had (or stole) the idea and therefore would have never created facebook. So, here he is, sat in a high tower looking over his digital empire having conquered his enemies and alienated his friends. He is the world’s youngest billionaire and completely alone. It’s really the first time in the movie that we see Zuckerberg isolated from everyone else and it’s a strange moment of privacy to be suddenly privvy to. The quietness too is uncharacteristic of a film so in love with the rhythm of clattering dialogue and machine-gun back-and-forth’s. Finally the film is at peace, but it’s protagonist isn’t.
What does Mark Zuckerberg do when he’s alone? He thinks about the one that got away. Throughout the film he seems un-phased by money and success but strives for recognition. When he sees Erica for the first time since their break-up he doesn’t approach her to apologise, he approaches her to see if she has heard about facebook in the hope that his new success will have calmed the waters between them. And now, with his battles won, he finds her on his own creation and sends her a friend request. Is this suggesting that Zuckerberg did all of this to win her back? Would he sacrifice all of his success if it meant making it right with Erica Albright? Not quite. I don’t think Sorkin and Fincher are simply trying to decode Zuckerberg as a hopeless romantic but they are showing us that underneath that asshole-encrypted surface he is only human. We never know if Mark and Erica interact again but it’s that gesture, an out-stretched hand of online friendship that closes the film’s central character arc. Whereas before he wanted to hear it from Erica herself because he felt like he has it coming to him, now Mark Zuckerberg is finally saying sorry. The film leaves him sat, hitting away at that refresh button over and over, waiting to see if it will be accepted. It’s a fitting punishment.
I always get excited whenever I hear a Beatles song in a movie or TV show. They’re a notoriously difficult and expensive band to license from so it always feels like an event whenever one makes it through. It’s a gloriously sly moment when the song kicks in during these closing seconds of The Social Network. It’s a perfect choice. So perfect in fact that whenever I hear the song now I can’t separate it from this scene. Despite being written 43 years before the film’s release, Baby, You’re a Rich Man feels like it was written for Mark Zuckerberg to hear in this moment. It mocks him. When that final title fades up over Mark’s blank face the message is loud and clear: money aint everything.
Just like most people my age, I’m a slave to facebook. I look at it countless times a day. There’s no denying it’s power and control over us. We could get lost in discussions about it’s effect on social lives and how it’s desire to connect people is actually isolating them more than ever, but it will just get us nowhere. Plus this is a blog about movies, that shit isn’t even relevent. So I’ll close off with my final word, I wholeheartedly believe that the best thing we’ve got out of that fucking website is this great movie. Ten years of facebook? Here’s to three years of The Social Network.