The social network
Justin Timberlake in The Social Network (David Fincher, Columbia Pictures, 2010)
Stories & Ideas

Tue 01 Dec 2020

The Social Network – Isn’t cool, you know what’s cool?

Maria Lewis
Maria Lewis

Assistant Film Curator

Maria Lewis takes a deep dive into an iconic line in David Fincher's The Social Network.

“A million dollars isn’t cool,” says Sean Parker, the real-life creator of Napster, who is portrayed by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network (2010). “You know what’s cool?” The fact that we get multiple answers to this question in multiple timelines is indicative of what makes this one of the great screenplays of the last decade. In fact, it won Aaron Sorkin the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award in what many thought was an overdue victory following revered but unawarded work on A Few Best Men (1992), The American President (1995) and Charlie Wilson's War (2007) (not to mention The West Wing (1999 – 2006) on television but that had a monopoly on awards season for almost a decade). In his showy introductory meeting with Facebook founders Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Parker’s question of “a million dollars isn’t cool, you know what’s cool?” is answered by Eduardo in both instances. “You?” he quips in the past, before finishing the answer Parker gave in the present: “a billion dollars”.

It doesn’t matter that this line was a complete fallacy, extrapolated from Ben Mezrich’s non-fiction book about the origins of the social media giant and given that classic Sorkin flourish in a way that makes reality feel like hyper reality. It doesn’t matter that Parker never said this and, in fact, is strongly opposed to the idea of being a billionaire in real-life. The delivery itself doesn’t even really matter, as Timberlake’s lack of skill as a performer means he doesn’t get to deliver the punchline, Garfield does – twice. What matters is the line itself. And the pace, of course, which is relentless like most of Sorkin’s work as dialogue is fired from the lips of performers like a barrage of bullets, one after the other, after the other, on top of each other, and so on. That was new territory for director David Fincher, who is better known for his stylish and languid approach to storytelling that gradually builds to a tense crescendo.

This line merges the strengths of both creatives perfectly in an example of rare coordination. Sorkin’s 162-page screenplay for The Social Network was uniquely crafted, with he and Fincher first reading through early drafts as fast as Sorkin could hear the words being delivered in his head. Sitting nearby with a stopwatch, Fincher timed him and then translated those timings to rehearsals with the real actors. “If you think you’re going too fast, you’re not going fast enough,” was his direction as the performers were forced to repeat scenes over and over again, faster and faster, in a way that built the myth around Fincher and his notorious tendency to require dozens of takes. “A million dollars isn’t cool, you know what’s cool?” is one of the few instances where a pause is utilised. There’s just a breath, not between when Saverin retorts “you?” but when we cut to the present. The gap between dialogue and chronology underlines the significance of this moment and the magnitude of what Facebook would become. Not just a billion dollar entity, but a $527 billion one that holds a terrifying amount of power over modern freedom of speech and how it’s implemented

– Maria Lewis