Skillful examination of 21st Century social mores

By Drew Hunt

In the current Internet age, words like “spam” and “meme” have taken on a whole new context. The word “troll,” which normally brings to mind images of mythical beings in funny hats, now also describes a kind of cretinous individual who purposefully slanders others online. Trolls have the reputation of being spiteful and condescending for their own whimsy.

David Fincher’s newest film, “The Social Network,” chronicles the rise of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. His meteoric ascension is a classic story of overnight success, but it’s also a yarn spooled with betrayal and opaqueness. As played by Jesse Eisenberg, Zuckerberg is a cripplingly narcissistic plebian. He’s snarky, acerbic and too clever for his own good. He’s also vengefully insecure, and in the film he systematically ruins every relationship he’s ever had, all in the name of a seemingly desperate desire for acceptance.

Effectively, this film is the gripping story of the world’s first troll.

In spite of himself, Fincher has made a fine film with “The Social Network.” He’s had a prominent career, but his films tend to lack an authorial voice. They squander in formalism, and are often flashy simply for the sake of being flashy. “Fight Club,” his biggest rouse to date, is essentially one giant gimmick masked as a film.

However, this film, though broad in its scope, is thoughtfully crafted. It deftly covers a vast array of ideas, and Fincher traverses a tricky narrative with general ease. Some scenes devolve into sloppy caricature on par with a made-for-TV movie, but Fincher excels in keeping the audience compelled while providing a genteel dose of social commentary—as opposed to hammering it home, as he’s prone to do.

Despite a brashly constructed opening sequence, Fincher—for perhaps the first time in his career—keeps his camera still, effectively letting the action play in-frame.

Does this signify Fincher’s “growing up” of sorts? An abandonment of the lofty formalism he’s hung his hat on for years?

Probably not. But it’s a refreshing departure.

The story of the creation of Facebook is a dodgy one. After being spurned by an ex-girlfriend, he hopped on his computer and effectively hacked the entire Harvard University database to extract the images of each of its female students (all while blogging in his LiveJournal about how fiendishly clever he is) to provide fodder for an ill-spirited website where people vote on which girl they find the most attractive.

The site is a hit. Zuckerberg is a campus hero and the seeds of Facebook were planted.

And therein lays his trollism. His lashing out is simply a result of an abject desire to belong. To put it bluntly, Zuckerberg just wants to be loved. He wants friends. And how does he solve this? By creating a website where one can have hundreds of “friends” and where one can feel as if those “friends” are infinitely interested in his every move, no matter how banal or inconsequential.

Such dismal insecurities usually drive one to seek counseling. Zuckerberg’s therapy involved creating a website that has become one of society’s most inexorable zeitgeists while also severing any friend-like tie he ever had.

Four billion dollars later, it’s hard to say whether Zuckerberg was right or wrong. He’s probably neither. But despite his story, Zuckerberg made a name for himself by subverting the ubiquitous high school cafeteria we never seemed to escape and turning it into something that infiltrates our everyday lives. There’s a genius in that—albeit a fiendish one.