It came as a real surprise to fans of David Fincher when he announced what was initially titled ‘the Facebook movie’. The films of David Fincher have responded to the zeitgeist in more ways than most of American cinema. Whilst Fight Club was a Hollywood induced Marxist response to the emasculation of men and rabid consumer culture and Panic Room reacted to the post 9-11 anxieties of homeland terrorism, The Social Network taps into a culture of social networking, victimisation and male egoism that has become pointedly associated with the Internet. Positioned in the body of Fincher’s work so far, The Social Network may appear as somewhat of an authorial anomaly but on closer inspection, many of the familiar thematic traits that unite his films are evident in what is a compelling narrative. It has to be said that this feels like a film Fincher has made for the studios, almost as returning a favour for the creative freedom given to him to make films such as Zodiac and Benjamin Button. In that sense, it seems less personal and engaged than his last few films and recalls more of the clinical precision of Panic Room, a slight film made purely as a genre piece and star vehicle for Jodie Foster’s women in peril persona.
I have always positioned Fincher alongside Michael Mann as they both seem to continue a tradition of utilising technology especially cinematography as a means of aiding the storytelling process. Whilst Mann has respectively attracted greater critical attention, Fincher’s background in music videos and his close collaboration with Brad Pitt on a number of films has meant he has labelled as a mainstream visual stylist, very much in the vein of Ridley Scott. With only one published account of Fincher’s work to date, a book that merely skims the surface, Seven continues be the one film upon which most critics have continued to judge the aesthetic and ideological credibility of one of American cinema’s most technically adept film makers. Whilst The Social Network is very much the story of Mark Zuckerberg, one of the founders of Facebook, Fincher’s choice of material does reflect a preoccupation with exploring male relationships and friendship that he first started to deconstruct in films such as Seven, Fight Club and Zodiac. Aaron Sorkin’s script has been getting a lot of attention for its fierce command of language but I wasn’t to sure if such literary sensibilities seemed comfortable in the rich and detailed landscapes of the film, a director who has a trained eye for mise en scene extrapolation.
Fincher shot the film using the Red One digital camera - the same approach taken by his friend and director Steven Soderbergh on the film Che.
In terms of genre, film noir has often been associated with Fincher and with The Social Network, the convention of the doomed noir protagonist finds a twisted affinity in the insecure yet egocentric loner of Zuckerberg. In addition, themes of paranoia and partial guilt emerge and consume the young entrepreneurs, yet again recalling familiar psychological characterisation common to the language of noir. Digital cinematography has arguably benefited directors wanting to shoot at night and in The Social Network, many of the sequences shot at night have a startling clarity and luminous feel to them that directly echo what is possible with the increasingly popular Red One camera. One aspect of the film that slightly irked me was the casting of Max Minghella as Divya Narendra (one of the people to sue Zuckerberg for intellectual property theft) - I am sure they could have found an Indian actor to play this role (Abhay Deol, anyone?). This is not one of Fincher's best films but it does tell a riveting story and yet again points to Fincher's masterful technical expertise. Of course, the problem with making zeitgeist films is that they inevitably have the danger of dating very quickly and becoming viewed as another case of Hollywood opportunism.