Yesterday evening, before we went to the cinema, we were discussing David Fincher’s other films. Which did we like best? Which least? I came up with my personal Top Three films directed by Fincher (in no particular order): Seven, Fight Club and Zodiac, with Alien 3 receiving special mention. (It’s flawed but the bits that I like I pretty much love.) Seven is probably the moodiest of his films, Fight Club the most enjoyable and Zodiac is perhaps the most perfectly crafted Fincher film.
Since yesterday evening, I’ve added The Social Network to the Top Three (which therefore contains four titles now, risking a possible world-destroying mathematical paradox), albeit on probation. Will I still like it that much in a week’s time? In a year? Once I’ve seen it as often as the other films? (Zodiac I’ve only seen three times so far, but Seven was my film for bad moods for a while when I was often in a bad mood.) We’ll see, but for now I would say this: it’s Fincher at the top of his game (Ebert rightly calls the movie “splendidly well made”), working with a script that complements his considerable skills. This makes for an interesting comparison: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was decried by some because that film’s script pulled it in the direction of a mawkish sibling to Forrest Gump (scripted by the same writer, Eric Roth, not to be confused with Eli Roth). I thought that Fincher’s cerebral approach made for a fascinating film that was pulled in two different directions, namely sentimentality on the one hand (script) and a weird sort of Verfremdung on the other (direction), resulting in a tension that didn’t always work in the film’s favour.
Aaron Sorkin’s script for The Social Network, though, is sharp and witty, with little trace of mawkishness. It’s not cold or unemotional in any way, but it doesn’t do the Spielbergian brand of emotion that requires heartwarming performances and a John Williams soundtrack so obvious it makes you feel a little queasy because the sentiment is laid on so thick. The film thrives on repartee and verbal barbs that is delivered at breakneck speed – I’ve rarely seen a movie that is so dialogue-driven and feels this fast (though not rushed).
I’ve seen TV series like this, though, especially one little known one about the president of some far away country. I think it’s called… let me see… The West Wing? Which, coincidentally, was also written by one Aaron Sorkin. Having watched the first four seasons of The West Wing (the ones during Sorkin’s time at the helm of the series), I find The Social Network‘s fictionalised Mark Zuckerberg a dark twin of Josh Lyman, deputy chief of staff to President Bartlet. Lyman is more likeable because he’s got a strong sense of ideals and ethics, but he shares so many qualities with Zuckerberg: the sense of intellectual superiority that goes hand in hand with deep-seated insecurity, the way that every conversation is seen as a battle, the intense need to win, to be right, even if it means being a dick to others – the atrophied social skills and emotional immaturity that is fun to watch with Josh because he works in an environment and with people that ground him every now and then.
While the origin story for Fincher and Sorkin’s version of the Facebook founder is perhaps too simple – Zuckerberg basically gets started on the road to Facebook because of the Girl That Got Away, throwing his social dysfunction right back in his face – it makes for an interesting foil with Josh Lyman. Without his Girl Friday, Donna Moss, would he become increasingly insufferable as Zuckerberg does, ending up a sad, pathetic geek with a brilliant mind?