The Social Network
Mark Z. unfriends the world in funny, fascinating biopic
The Social Network (2010)
Directed by David Fincher
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin TImberlake
On paper, the story of how college nerd Mark Zuckerberg successfully programmed and marketed a more popular version of social networking websites such as MySpace doesn’t sound all that exciting. As envisioned by director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin, however, the story has surprising vibrancy, entertainment value and timeliness. It’s like Citizen Kane for the Internet age. And that’s not just the hyperbole talking.
Working off Ben Mezrich’s dirt-seeking bestseller The Accidental Billionaires, Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) and Sorkin (A Few Good Men, “The West Wing”) whip up some of the best work of their careers. Funny thing is, neither of them seem like the perfect man for the job. Fincher is typically found helming ultra-stylish, coal-black crime thrillers. Sorkin, on the other hand, is a political-minded fiftysomething known more for his rapid-fire walk-and-talks than for his hipster cred.
The filmmakers start things off right, though, by locating the core drama in Zuckerberg’s story. It’s the same story that drives Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Scarface and countless other tales of ambition, power and greed. Only this time, power doesn’t come from media moguls and Mafia types (not exclusively anyway).
In the post-Bill Gates era, Mark Zuckerberg was destined to be a power player. A computer genius from an early age, he designed a music-downloading app in high school. Microsoft offered him a million dollars and a job on the spot. But he didn’t want money. He didn’t want to be a sellout. He wanted to be one of the cool kids. So he turned them down flat and went, instead, to Harvard. There— frequently drunk, embittered and stuck in a crummy dorm room—he created what would become Facebook, the largest social networking site on the planet.
When we meet Mr. Zuckerberg on screen, he’s being sued by just about everyone he knows. Everybody wants to claim ownership of Facebook and grab a slice of that multibillion-dollar pie. As played by the beyond-perfect Jesse Eisenberg (Roger Dodger, The Squid and the Whale, Zombieland), Zuckerberg is a new kind of screen icon. He’s a nerd, but he’s not the stammering social reject we’ve seen in movies up till now. This is the information age. Nerds have power. Young Mr. Zuckerberg isn’t afraid to wield his intelligence like a sharp-edged weapon.
Cocky and confident in the knowledge that he’s smarter than everyone else, Zuckerberg offhandedly creates an attention-grabbing website (the sexy undergrad rating service Facemash) that nearly gets him kicked out of Harvard. But he’s not interested in money or fame. He wants to buck the establishment, show off his brainpower and prove he’s basically the King of Awesome. (Plus, like all true nerds, he secretly wants to one-up all those popular, good-looking jocks around campus.) Zuckerberg’s first big opportunity comes in the form of The Facebook (as it was originally known), a computerized version of Ivy League college directories that takes off like wildfire and puts him in the crosshairs of every venture capitalist in North America.
The Social Network does an excellent job of highlighting what was so groundbreaking about Facebook and why it so quickly eclipsed sites like Friendster and MySpace. Zuckerberg was a sponge and absorbed everything people around him were doing and saying. Because of that, he was able to synthesize a social networking site that protected users’ privacy, but also allowed them to create their own exclusive circle of friends. He built the perfect online community—one that was elitist yet totally accessible.
Of course, since Zuckerberg pulled his ideas from everywhere, there were plenty of people around who were happy to claim credit for “inventing” Facebook. Did they? No. Would Zuckerberg have created Facebook exactly as it is without whatever bug they put in his ear? Possibly not. And while a debate about the merits of intellectual property rights seems deadly dull, The Social Network is anything but.
The story, told mostly in flashback during endless legal depositions, is funny, fascinating and absorbingly dramatic. Fincher and Sorkin zoom right in on the irony of Zuckerberg’s tale—that of a man who pissed off a lot of people and built up a ton of enemies while trying to create a website dedicated to making friends. Of course, it must be acknowledged that almost all parties involved say the film is full of general inaccuracies and outright lies. But The Social Network isn’t a documentary and doesn’t pretend to be. It’s a cautionary tale—one that’s remarkably evenhanded in its treatment of the various parties involved. All scenes, since they’re being told in flashback, are open to interpretation. And all lawsuit-worthy moments are kept conveniently off-screen.
The cast is incredibly fitting. Andrew Garfield (Red Riding, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) provides a fine foil as Zuckerberg’s business-minded best-friend-turned-litigant Eduardo Saverin. Armie Hammer (great grandson of Armand Hammer) has double the fun playing frat-boy twins the Winklevoss brothers, who may or may not have given Zuckerberg the seed of the idea that became Facebook. Best of all (aside from Eisenberg, of course) is Justin Timberlake, who impresses mightily as fast-living, highly paranoid Napster founder Sean Parker—the ultimate devil on Zuckerberg’s shoulder.
The Social Network has got box office hit and Oscar winner written all over it. Fincher tones down his typical music-video style to create some subtle but mesmerizing images. Sorkin establishes his bona fides early, giving us conversations that are like professional tennis matches and dropping some brilliant pop cultural references. Best Original Screenplay by a landslide. And Eisenberg? Well, he just dominates the screen, creating an indelible character who is (in the clinical parlance) a total asshole—and yet still makes you want to root for him. If this film pops up on your Facebook page, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to hit “like.”
Rated PG-13; Opens Friday, 10/1/2010