"Zodiac was the story of one obsession, and The Social Network is the story of several," Ignatiy Vishnevetsky wrote here in The Daily Notebook yesterday. Over the next few weeks, we'll be tracking obsessions of just about every imaginable sort in roundups and original reviews, interviews and more as the New York Film Festival opens on Friday with David Fincher's latest and runs through October 10.
Not Coming to a Theater Near You and Slant have set up their NYFF special sections. The Voice's J Hoberman and Time Out New York have hand-picked their highlights from the first week; Steve Erickson has an overview of the whole festival in Gay City News. None of the 28 films in the main slate, though, have been whipping up the hoopla that the festival's opener has and, for those who are curious about such things, there's a reason for that. "Sony is screening the hell out of The Social Network because it risks being too smart for the room," argues industry watcher Anne Thompson. "They feel the need to get buzz going, but at this juncture, their marketing risks overhype and backlash."
The buzz is indeed going strong, but I, for one, don't sense any backlash building as yet. Could happen, but the run-up to the wide release on October 1 is so relentless it might roll right over any resistence: Scott Brown's "Inside Story" for the October issue of Wired, where you can download a free five-track sampler from Trent Reznor's soundtrack. Mark Harris's cover story for this week's New York, which he's followed up with an interview with Fincher for Vulture. David Carr, beating both to the punch and going long in the New York Times. Trying to beat the movie to the punch has been Zuckerberg himself, who's been the subject of longish, humanizing profiles by Elizabeth Day in the Observer and Jose Antonio Vargas in the New Yorker. And so on and on.
"Is the world moving so fast that we're actually memorializing, in movie form, the year 2003?" asks Eric Hynes in a piece for the Voice that is not technically a review, though it comes awfully damn close. "Recounting the rocky rise to world domination of Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network is so of-the-moment that the White Stripes counts as a period signifier.... With actual journalism in transition — some would say in peril — dramatic films like The Social Network are in a sense filling a void left by the demolition of investigative news, taking a journalistic approach to fictionalized entertainment, constructing stories that lay out evidence, reveal sources, and respect chronology. It's moviemaking as a magazine cover story." There are precedents, and he argues that Alan J Pakula's All the President's Men is "gold standard for factually constructed, present tense filmmaking." As for The Social Network, it "succeeds, per journalism's most basic directive, in showing not telling."
Michael J Anderson essentially argues two points, the first being that Zodiac is a better film. The second and less expected stroke here, though, is another comparison. The Social Network "provides an explanation for Zuckerberg's behavior, the question of his asshole-ness, rooted entirely in the traumas of his early Harvard years. As Orson Welles's Charles Foster Kane finally pines for his lost youth in Citizen Kane (1941), for a time before his great wealth and monumental ambitions, so does Zuckerberg thirst for his lost love, from a similar juncture situated before his rise." What's more, "by highlighting the epistemological uncertainty endemic in treating an unsolved case, The Social Network more or less refreshes Kane, adopting that film's shuffled chronology in its recounting of Facebook's contested history. For his latest, Fincher structures his narrative through a pair of parallel depositions, comparable to Citizen Kane's archive and interview prompts, which in the former, as in the latter, seek in some sense to clarify the film's opening: why or is Zuckerberg an 'ass-hole'? What is 'Rosebud'?... Where The Social Network could have truly shown some film historical ambition in challenging Welles's slightly pat solution to the Kane/Hearst paradox, it offers instead the same all-encompassing answer."
On to the first round of thumbs-up-or-down reviews, and we begin with Todd McCarthy: "David Fincher can make five more masterpieces, Aaron Sorkin can win an Oscar, Tony and 20 more Emmys; Timberlake, Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer and Rooney Mara can all be big stars for the next half-century, but it will rarely be as sweet as this, a film where not only does everything come together in a way that the whole is even bigger than the sum of its brilliant parts, but where the result so resonantly reflects the time in which it was made."
For Variety's Justin Chang, the film "continues Fincher's fascinating transition from genre filmmaker extraordinaire to indelible chronicler of our times.... After Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, two big-canvas pictures with unusually cerebral themes for mainstream studio fare, it's great to see the director engaging the zeitgeist in a film that offers the old-school satisfactions of whip-smart dialogue, meaty characterizations and an unflagging sense of momentum."
The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt reminds us that the film "is based on Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires and Sorkin's own research yet neither writer, predictably, was able to talk to Zuckerberg to get his point of view. So it is as a fictional construct — based on ample public sources, however — that 'Mark Zuckerberg' achieves its Shakespearean dimension. He gains the whole world but loses his most meaningful asset because of a fatal flaw on view in the very first scene." Given the current headlines, I just have to include this bit here: "Under Fincher's astute direction the characters fairly pop out at you. Even in a one-scene performance, famed Harvard president Larry Summers (Douglas Urbanski) startles the viewer with his abrupt impatience and sterling wit as he dismisses the twins' heavy-handed attempt to enlist the school in their cause." Back in August, Samuel P Jacobs spoke with Urbanski for the Daily Beast.
Cinematical's Erik Davis: "As with Facebook itself, you'll have fun observing The Social Network and all its moving parts, but it's very difficult to truly connect with — or care much about — its characters. Like that distant cousin three states over, or your old high school friends, you're interested in how their lives are playing out, but you follow them on Facebook so that you never actually have to interact with them... outside of Facebook. The Social Network will define a generation for a generation that couldn't care less about its generation, but it's as entertaining as anything you'll watch all year."
Viewing. In a five-part series at Moving Image Source, Matt Zoller Seitz and Aaron Aradillas are analyzing the credit sequences for Se7en, Fight Club, Alien³, Panic Room and Zodiac.
Updates, 9/23: "In some ways, it's hard to believe that The Social Network was made by David Fincher, a guy noted neither for fleetness of pace nor a light touch." Adam Nayman in Reverse Shot: "And yet here he has made a quick-witted borderline-screwball comedy. The cruelty endemic to so much of the director's work — the art-directed sadism of Se7en; the audience-suckering artifice of The Game; the glib counterculture pretenses of Fight Club — is present, but it's attributable to the characters rather than the filmmaker, and even then, Fincher is careful not to slip into American Psycho Jr mode, allowing the kids their humanity even as they seek to submerge it.... [A]s an unsentimental coming-of-age fable that pivots on whether becoming asshole is a choice or an accident — and whether there's any difference between acting and being — it's more than a simple status update. I dare say that it feels timeless."
"Despite its insistently unsexy moving parts (software, algorithms), the movie is paced like a thriller, if one in which ideas, words and bank books blow up rather than cars," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "It's a resonant contemporary story about the new power elite and an older, familiar narrative of ambition, except instead of discovering his authentic self, Mark builds a database, turning his life — and ours — into zeroes and ones, which is what makes it also a story about the human soul."
"The breathless rate at which The Social Network operates from its very first frame has a kinship with Christopher Nolan's equally speedy technique," finds indieWIRE's Eric Kohn, "but Fincher makes his saga both mesmerizing and fun. Although he moves forward with a constant, pulsing momentum and never stops, in doing so he accurately represents the thrill of sudden inspiration."
Updates, 9/24: "I have read as many of the raves as I could find, from [Scott] Foundas's embargo breaker to this morning's Dargis NYT review, and I find no evidence of the universality they feel about the film," writes David Poland at Movie City News. "I think it's instructive that most have gone outside of the film itself, to their personal feelings about social networks as well as philosophy about humanity as reflected by a wired world, to make the connections. The film, simply, does not. It doesn't actually make the slightest effort to do so."
"Wednesday night, the New York Times broke the story that the Facebook co-founder, in his first public act of philanthropy, will donate $100 million to the Newark Public Schools — one-eighth of its annual operating budget." Jose Antonio Vargas for the New Yorker: "The timing was curious for two reasons. The news broke the same day Forbes announced its latest ranking of the wealthiest Americans; Zuckerberg, with an estimated worth of $6.1 billion, ranked 35th, ahead of Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs." The other reason, of course, is tonight's premiere of The Social Network. "Zuckerberg may be adept at many things, but public relations is not one of them.... A close Zuckerberg confidante told me that Facebook executives made 'a miscalculation' in not trying to stop the project before it started filming. In my interviews with Zuckerberg for the New Yorker, he was visibly uncomfortable (eyes looking down, shifting in his seat) whenever I mentioned the movie — and understandably so. How would you feel if you were 26 and a movie, made by filmmakers whom you've never met or spoken to, portrayed you as an insecure, insensitive, socially maladroit wunderkind?"
"In this tale of asthmatic overachievers and entitled princelings trying to litigate each other to the death over a site based on showing off how many people you know is a microcosm of class, of ethics, and of the warped, weird thing that's become of the American Dream," writes Alison Willmore at IFC.com. "The film rings like a boxing bell, but it's also uncommonly entertaining."
"The Social Network emerges as a fantastically surefooted and immensely watchable anatomy of a 'holy-shit, once-in-a-generation moment,' as it's aptly described at one point," writes the Guardian's Andrew Pulver.
"The movie's Mark, incarnated by Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale, Zombieland) with a single-mindedness so cool as to be lunar, isn't inhuman, exactly; more post-human, a series of calculating algorithms. He is his own computer code — complex, and to most of those who would know him, unfathomable." Time's Richard Corliss: "The film is like a video game at warp speed, but for the ear-brain instead of the eye-hand. It's determined to say it all and say it wittily at blinding speed; Sorkin's script was expected to play at 2½ hours, but with the actors speaking at an amphetamine pace, and Fincher directing them like a NASCAR official who lost his red flag, the picture came in at two hours flat. And like Zuckerberg, Sorkin and Fincher simply ignore any in their audience who can't keep up. But the rewards for paying attention are mammoth and exhilarating."
For Peter Gutierrez, writing at Twitch, "the film represents a triumph of producing more than anything else, as Scott Rudin and company have brought together talents that one wouldn't necessarily expect to mesh... but they do, often spectacularly so."
"When the film boils down to scenes of Fincher's meticulous sense of visual storytelling and Reznor's music, things really take off," blogs Simon Abrams for the New York Press. "But Sorkin's dialogue, which is the backbone of The Social Network, is just so self-congratulatory, so smarmy in the way it blatantly fudges events in Mezrich's chronology to better suit an insipid cause-and-effect narrative."
Updates, 9/25: "Leave it to David Fincher to make the story of a young man's symbiosis with his laptop into adrenaline rushing, mind-racing, often thrilling, occasionally laugh-out-loud entertainment," writes Amy Taubin for Artforum. "The central interaction in The Social Network is between Mark and his laptop, and Fincher and Sorkin circumvent this problem with a parallel- and cross-cutting strategy executed with momentum and clarity by editors Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter. Almost every sequence of nerds glued to screens is matched to the kind of partying that I somehow can't believe actually goes down at Harvard (busloads of skanky harvard.edu groupies desperate to touch flesh with the semisecret Final Clubs's male elite), but which seems more plausible when Mark moves Facebook to Palo Alto under the influence of Internet huckster and Napster inventor Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, in a sleazy showboating performance that gooses the movie whenever and wherever it needs it). This pairing of racing minds with grinding bodies is complicated in the second and third acts when the testimony of the various parties in the lawsuits is crosscut with the scenes that show the events they are describing from various points of view." Oh, and Jesse Eisenberg's performance "confirms him as the Dustin Hoffman of his generation."
Glenn Kenny likes this movie: "it's like being in a supercharged Lamborghini on a clear road with an expert driver who just opens the thing up, and the shift to the high gear is the smoothest rush ever. Nice."
"Fleetness doesn't mean glibness," notes Nick Schager in Slant. "Fincher segments and layers his material at a pace befitting the meteoric ascendancy of Facebook itself, and without the grandstanding that's sometimes marked his work. The auteur can direct the holy hell out of a movie, yet in this case he refuses to indulge in vertiginous tracking shots and look-at-me CG tomfoolery, placing the focus less on overt aesthetic showmanship than on an atmosphere of impending doom born from Zuckerberg's warring urges to erect and destroy — though cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth's sleek, shadowy-brown high-def cinematography is to swoon over, as is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's sexy, malevolent score." At the film's "core is Eisenberg's bravura performance, which straddles a fine line between conveying the repugnance of his protagonist and making him pitiable, the actor capturing the intellectually domineering haughtiness of Zuckerberg as well as, in quick glances away from people and back to laptop screens, his comprehension of — and mild guilt over — his own reprehensible conduct."
John Lopez for Vanity Fair: "From what I remember, the 'real' Zuckerberg wasn't the relentlessly entertaining Robodick that Jesse Eisenberg handcrafts in his performance — he was a lot dorkier and smiled a lot more. He had a sloppy, awkward grin that belied a mind impatient with brain-dead bureaucracy, be it corporate, academic, or otherwise. The biggest point of commonality between Mark Zuckerberg and 'Mark Zuckerberg' that I'd bet hides the kernel of truth is precisely this impatience and justified skepticism of authority. Like every other Harvard undergrad, Zuckerberg knew he could do it better, and didn't want some older opportunist coasting on a golden parachute telling him what was best for his company. In light of the current American-century-ending debacle we find ourselves in, you can't really blame him. What's most enjoyable about the film is the vicarious thrill of watching 'Zuckerberg' repeatedly tell all the out-of-it adults to 'fuck off' in hyper-articulate paroxysms of Latinate endings. Someone get this kid in front of a Senate committee hearing!"
Updates, 9/26: "The film turns out to have less in common with other campus caper flicks than with Freedom, Jonathan Franzen's masterful new novel about an imploding family," proposes Jeremy McCarter in Newsweek. "Nobody comes right out and says that Zuckerberg and his associates (I almost said friends) don't know how to live, as someone says of the Berglunds early in Franzen's book, but the trouble appears to be the same. And the reason why both the book and the film resonate — why they stick with you afterward — is that plenty of the rest of us have that trouble too. By suggesting that a modern kind of loneliness led an obnoxious hacker (business card: 'I'm CEO, Bitch!') to start Facebook, the film helps pinpoint our own loneliness — the feelings of aimlessness and isolation that make us do things like sign up for Facebook."
Amy Kaufman profiles Eisenberg for the Los Angeles Times.
The NYFF posts video from an onstage conversation with Fincher.
Updates, 9/27: David Denby: "The movie is not a conventionally priggish tale of youthful innocence corrupted by riches; nor is it merely a sarcastic arrow shot into the heart of a poor little rich boy. Both themes are there, but the dramatic development of the material pushes beyond simplicities, and the portrait of Zuckerberg is many-sided and ambiguous; no two viewers will see him in quite the same way.... Sorkin and Fincher have set him up as a symbolic man of the age, a supremely functional prince of dysfunction." And the New Yorker offers a guide to its earlier coverage of Fincher and Sorkin.
Mark Salisbury profiles Andrew Garfield for the LAT and Lloyd Grove interviews Sorkin for the Daily Beast.
Tom Hall: "It is not a movie about the meaning of the online generation, but a film about the Freelance Generation, where nothing is promised from the top down anymore — no security, no future, nothing — and where your work is seen as the entitlement of those who paid you to show up. The Social Network is not about class resentment as much as it is about a specific resentment over the presumed hierarchy of value in the labor chain, where the money people reap reward without investing much of anything into the vision and creation of the project. Why do we privilege the investment of capital over the physical realization of ideas? By creating a complicated, unsympathetic version of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg..., David Fincher... has created a new anti-hero, a man who, despite constantly being described as an 'asshole,' lives out the fantasy of millions of young Americans who, forced into draconian non-compete agreements and underpaid for their ideas, see the internet as a place where inspiration and ability can triumph over the old values of the trickle down labor economy."
"Fincher has gone from an exciting genre filmmaker to the closest thing we have to the director Otto Preminger (Laura, Anatomy of a Murder), who made detective stories and legal dramas in which the greatest mysteries were why people behaved as they did rather than who they were." Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door: "Fincher's thematic shift coincided with a technical one. Just as Preminger's work gained complexity and reverberation once he began shooting in CinemaScope (compare the way female desire literally floats through the wide screen of Bonjour Tristesse to the leading lady's more forward-driving amorousness across the smaller frame of Fallen Angel), Fincher discovered a new way of seeing the world once he switched from film to digital video. His past three works are period films distinctly and unmistakably shot in the present, creating a rich and very sad awareness of the story having ended before the film even starts."
In the Telegraph, Milo Yiannopoulos argues that "the real stars of The Social Network are the composers of its soundtrack, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross."
"The Social Network isn't about grand transformation; it's about stubborn, old-fashioned emotional stasis." Stephanie Zacharek in Movieline: "Technology changes by the day; in the Fincher/Sorkin version of the Facebook story, Zuckerberg doesn't change at all.... Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as a willful naif, a guy with zero social skills who sees no reason to develop any.... I can't remember the last time I loved such a defiantly unlikable performance."
The New Yorker's Richard Brody notes that Sorkin has claimed in interviews that not only does he not really get the Internet, he doesn't mind not getting it. "What Sorkin is missing — and what viewers aren't likely to miss — is that his own professional life depends on other, prior revolutions that changed the culture as radically as did Facebook, and that were similarly decried by those whose ways were unsettled by them. The old media in which Sorkin has made his name were, not that long ago, the new media against which other insiders inveighed. And the most notable precedent is Hollywood itself, which, Neal Gabler memorably wrote, was built by Jewish entrepreneurs as An Empire of Their Own. If Hollywood's primordial producers didn't exactly have the avoidance of college mixers on their mind, they did achieve something equally paradoxical and even more audacious: in order to assimilate into an America that hardly wanted them, they transformed America by transforming America's images of itself."
Update, 9/28: Blogging for TCM, R Emmet Sweeney finds The Social Network, "like all of Fincher's work, is beautiful in strange ways.... By the end, when Zuckerberg's every move seems both justifiable and monstrous, I could only think of Marlene Dietrich's closing summation in Touch of Evil: 'He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?'"
Updates, 9/29: "Wall-to-wall talk and stitched up tight, The Social Network is perhaps the actual Wall Street 2 by way of good, funny, compulsively Huluable TV," proposes Nicolas Rapold in the L. "Though advance-praised in eerily similar terms as a gloss on the zeitgeist, nothing is so of-the-moment about this Fincher-Sorkin production as the storytelling: fast, catchy, more criss-crossing than comments-section crossfire, and, perhaps most of all, steered by an obsession with power that feigns shock and camouflages drive as awkward single-mindedness but remains dick-swingingly open."
"The Social Network's first act is its best — a hellishly precise youth movie rattling along on a clamor of computer jargon." J Hoberman in the Voice: "Applying a Zodiac-level love of detail and subtly expressionist lighting to another sort of petri dish, Fincher produces a rich, gaseous atmosphere. His Harvard is at once cold and cozy, electric with possibility and oppressively organized according to arcane internal castes — although I have to wonder at what temperature an actual alum like Andrew Bujalski would have served this material."
"Facebook has quietly left Hollywood in the dust," declares Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "Not even James Cameron can claim 500 million friends for Avatar, and that's people returning on a daily basis. We're the movie now, and it's a dumb comedy about what sandwich we just ate." So The Social Network "represents not just a revenge of the onscreen nerd, but of those behind the camera, too. It's a grandly entertaining reminder of everything we used to go to the movies for (and still can't get online): sparkling dialogue, thorny situations, soulful performances, and an unusually open-ended and relevant engagement with a major social issue of the day: how we (dis)connect."
"'The Facebook Movie,' as it has been dubbed by most folks, obviously aspires to be a millennial Kane, dropping allusions to Welles' classic left and right and roping in The Great Gatsby and Faust for good measure," notes Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "It's the ostensibly simple story of a bunch of friends who screwed each other over while building an unexpectedly popular website, yet this thing is shooting for the high-falutin' moon, reference-wise. It also plays like gangbusters."
"The Social Network is structured around the conference-room depositions for two separate lawsuits," notes Lynn Rapoport in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, but: "'Depositions' sounds potentially ear-bleedingly dull. They're not, thanks to Fincher's deft storytelling and screenwriter Sorkin's habit of generously investing characters with breakneck verbal pacing and dazzling hyper-fluency in the realm of argument and insult."
Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens and Julia Turner discuss The Social Network on this week's Slate Culture Gabfest.
Updates, 9/30: "For all its real enough ideas — about young people making jobs instead of taking them, about the end of the old privacy and the beginning of a new obscurity — The Social Network falls short of full articulation," argues Jonathan Kiefer in the Faster Times. "You sense a stymied older generation passive-aggressively handing off the baton of cultural canniness to a savvy younger one — by piping up as a gloating litanist of callow missteps. The narrative spine of this film, after all, is a series of depositions. Sorkin and Fincher neither rue nor celebrate the Facebookers' achievement, but simply graft it onto the shopworn archetypal framework of an ambition-driven morality tale. This is not a brave new world but a craven one, explained away as reassuringly as possible with a same old story."
"The marriage of Fincher and Sorkin seems odd at first blush," writes Neil Morris. "However, the director's dark, deliberate style proves the calming yin to the writer's rhythmic, propulsive yang." Also in the Independent Weekly, Morris talks with Sorkin and Gerry Canavan reflects on the impact of Facebook in general.
Ray Pride for Newcity Film: "The ending chills as the music swells: it's the virtual equivalent of Nick Carraway looking toward the end of the pier at the end of The Great Gatsby, borne back ceaselessly into the network."
Martin Tsai writes on David Fincher's Wall: "Sorry, still not feeling The Social Network. It keeps teasing at bigger themes when it's really drivel. It's as if you're progressing backward and this is Fight Club in reverse."
"History as we know it is still unfurling, and The Social Network is that rare film that has something — not yet definitive, but certainly provocative — to say about it," writes Kimberley Jones in the Austin Chronicle, where Marjorie Baumgarten talks with Sorkin and gets a few words, too, with Eisenberg and Armie Hammer.
James van Maanen: "Someday, I suspect — long after we're gone and if repertory cinema still exists — Film Forum will offer a double bill of The Social Network and Catfish, at which viewers will marvel that such old-fashioned technology ever existed — and then wonder how human beings could actually believe in, and give such power to, a concept as paltry as this one. 'Friends' indeed."
"Fincher and Sorkin went the retro route," argues Peter Keough, "drawing on that hallowed, eight-decade-old film genre: the screwball comedy.... Zuckerberg is a latter-day Frank Capra hero, a Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper character with all of their spirit and none of their charm. Like them, he takes on the fat cats, a lone warrior against an entrenched system. His weapon, however, isn't decency but genius, and in the deadpan bravura of Eisenberg's performance, that searing intellect glows with charisma." Also in the Boston Phoenix, Eugenia Williamson profiles Eisenberg — plus an excerpt from The Accidental Billionaires.
"Sorkin tells a story so dense in computer programming language, corporate business-speak, and legalese that it by all rights should be impenetrable," writes Paul Constant in the Stranger. "But the actors rush through the talk of Perl and leverage and depositions at the same inhuman speed as that opening scene, making it less of a language and more of a tone poem; sometimes you can't explain precisely how a character is fucked, but he is most certainly fucked. This is because the language of being fucked is universal."
"Deepening what would be a crackling tale of inspiration and betrayal in anyone's hands... The Social Network becomes something more," argues Ben Kenigsberg in Time Out Chicago, "a portrait of an era in which ambition and success are so mercurial it's not possible to worry about the friends who can't keep up. Telling its story in flashbacks from two depositions, the movie is, on one level, a legal thriller, as well as a mystery in which the question of creative ownership proves as elusive as the Zodiac killer."
"The Social Network, framed by not one but two legal depositions, posits that the Digital Age has become Revenge of the Nerds, writ large," writes Shaun Brady in the Philadelphia City Paper.
"Altogether, it glides, it slides, and it never really grips," finds Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader.
Josef Braun: "If the internet sometimes feels like the crowning achievement of American rear-view myopia — a disdain for any history that isn't myth; the quest for forms of communication that annihilate reflection via equally instantaneous responses to events banal and of the utmost gravity — then it's that much more exhilarating to discover this very American movie that interrogates recent history — the creation of what is arguably the most colossal internet phenomenon of our century's first decade — in a manner that's at once deeply reflective and gloriously impatient, and through a story that forsakes virtual communities for actual ones."
Updates, 10/1: "As a film, visually and rhythmically, and as a story, dramatically, the work earns its place in the history of the field," writes Lawrence Lessig in the New Republic. "But as a story about Facebook, it is deeply, deeply flawed. As I watched the film, and considered what it missed, it struck me that there was more than a hint of self-congratulatory contempt in the motives behind how this story was told. Imagine a jester from King George III's court, charged in 1790 with writing a comedy about the new American Republic. That comedy would show the new Republic through the eyes of the old. It would dress up the story with familiar figures — an aristocracy, or a wannabe aristocracy, with grand estates, but none remotely as grand as in England. The message would be, 'Fear not, there's no reason to go. The new world is silly at best, deeply degenerate, at worst.' Not every account of a new world suffers like this. Alexis de Tocqueville showed the old world there was more here than there. But Sorkin is no Tocqueville. Indeed, he simply hasn’t a clue to the real secret sauce in the story he is trying to tell. And the ramifications of this misunderstanding go well beyond the multiplex."
"Listening to the debate — is it the best movie of the year, or merely very good? A narrowly focused biopic or a sweeping portrait of a generation? — I'm struck by how ready people are for films that are big and smart and ambitious and compassionate, how tired we are of being condescended and marketed to." Dana Stevens: "I know I sometimes feel like cc:'ing a memo to all the Hollywood studio heads: Please stop throwing flaming robot cars at me, then asking for an Oscar. Just give some money to some smart people with something to say, and let them make a movie. So is The Social Network the best movie of the year, or merely a very good one? Who knows — it's barely October yet. But what a joy to sit in a theater and be engaged, surprised, challenged, amused." Also in Slate, Nathan Heller on what the film gets wrong about Harvard and Luke O'Brien on what it gets wrong about Zuckerberg and Facebook.
"David Fincher's film has the rare quality of being not only as smart as its brilliant hero, but in the same way," writes Roger Ebert. "It is cocksure, impatient, cold, exciting and instinctively perceptive."
"The Social Network is almost wickedly entertaining, and it does something most movies don‘t these days," writes Mike Wilmington at Movie City News. "It celebrates smartness, gives us protagonists who are phenoms and prodigies of brain power rather than of sexiness, guts or toughness. (That's part of why so many critics like it so much.)"
In the Chicago Reader, JR Jones weighs the cost of privacy.
Keith Phipps at the AV Club: "Zuckerberg was driven by some pretty universal motives: isolation, jealousy, ambition, curiosity, and a desire to go where others hadn't, if only virtually. It's a credit to Jesse Eisenberg's remarkable lead performance that he can make all those needs evident beneath an almost-Vulcan exterior and sense of focus."
"Unexpectedly, Eisenberg comes of age as an actor here; it's doubtful anyone will mistake him for Michael Cera again." The Boston Globe's Ty Burr: "This Zuckerberg is a Charles Foster Kane with Asperger's, a notion Sorkin's script embraces in ways both subtle (Garfield's Saverin could be a stand-in for Jed Leland) and glib (the final image, as easy as it is devastating)."
Updates, 10/2: "Quite a bit of the detail in The Social Network and Wall Street is drawn from reality, from the names in Mr Fincher's movie to the thinly veiled events in Mr Stone's. But both protagonists are, finally, allegorical figures, and the films work most powerfully as morality tales. As such, they dispense both comfort and cautionary wisdom, and enact a symbolic revenge against the powerful and the very rich, who, F Scott Fitzgerald said, 'are not like you and me.' They are sadder, lonelier, experiencing the very success that makes them the objects of our envy as a kind of exile. What they really want is to be like everyone else. So who is excluding whom?"
The Boston Globe's Mark Feeney argues that The Social Network is "the latest example of a very old and successful Hollywood defense mechanism: absorbing competing media, subverting them, or both. Make no mistake. Social media like Facebook are a bigger threat to the movie box office than anything since the arrival of television six decades ago."
At Bright Lights After Dark, Matthew Sorrento sees a long tradition of the comic duo on the sidelines in the Winklevoss twins.
Updates, 10/3: Bill Ryan, first on Sorkin: "His rapid-fire, 'Hey lookit me, I'm Ben Hecht!' brand of wiseass banter that makes us laugh as we cry has not only always seemed to me to be too clever by half, but also led me to an understanding of what 'too clever by half' actually means, which is this: the cleverness is presumed by the writer to be inherent in the words being spoken, but fails to manifest as such in the ears of the listener. Something like that anyway." Ultimately, though, "the movie's merely excellent. It is not, I don't think, transcendent, which is about the level at which a lot the praise so far is being pitched. And initially, after seeing the film, I thought I might have to do something about that. You know, to stand up for injustice and everything, and begin a campaign to chip away at the Tower of the Overpraisers (as I'd begun to think of them, and it, the instant the end credits started to roll). But then I thought, well, maybe it's enough that The Social Network is really, really good. Maybe that's not a good enough reason for a pacifist such as myself to launch an assault. Then I thought that sometimes this whole deal where people compare and argue over their individual reactions to a given film can sometimes, if you're not careful, get a little bit silly."
Jim Emerson: "The Social Network looks at the codes we live by, old and new — academic codes of conduct, legal codes, codes of honor between friends, entrenched hierarchical social codes of the Eastern aristocracy, and of course the kinds of binary codes that developers can command — to examine social life as theater, which now includes an online dimension of showmanship. The movie is constructed out of party scenes, legal hearings and depositions, meetings, e-mails, newspaper and magazine articles, bar and restaurant conversations, and is constantly examining the consequences of these transactions, questioning what kind of behavior (and attire) are necessary or appropriate to one or the other, and what messages are really being sent and received in each of these milieux."
Updates, 10/4: Dave Kehr: "As ecstatic as the reviews have been, the film is actually better than the 'social document' it has largely been described as: Like all of Fincher's mature films, its underlying themes are loneliness and impermanence; it is executed with a spectacular sense of tempo that modulates from percussively Hawksian dialogue duels to achingly silent long takes... This one is going into the history books."
"The Social Network is a horror movie." Matt Zoller Seitz lays out the argument in Salon.
At GreenCine Daily, Vadim Rizov considers why just about everyone has an opinion on this movie — and wants it out there and heard.
Update, 10/7: Listening. Cargo talks with Sorkin.
Updates, 10/12: "Whatever anybody says, I liked all the characters," blogs David Cairns. "[T]here was something appealing about everybody, maybe because they were all so flawed and didn't know it. Like Clouzot, I tend to find monstrously flawed characters more appealing than plain nice ones. And there aren't many filmmakers around today who do nice well."
David Jenkins talks with Fincher for Time Out London.