The Social Network

Rejection is a universal experience among people. We’ve all been ostracized from the popular cliques or chased away from the cool table at lunch. Most of us accept our fates and find social groups that accept us. But the sting of that rejection never really goes away. You never stop imagining that moment when you finally get revenge on the people who didn’t want you around. Of course most of us never get into a position to extract that revenge.

The first scene in The Social Network takes place in a bar near Harvard University in 2003. Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jessie Eisenberg is explaining to his date Erica Albright, played by Rooney Mara, how badly he wants to get into a final club, which I gather are sort of like elite fraternities at Harvard, where Mark is a sophomore. He is so self-absorbed and condescending that Erica gets fed up and dumps him. Mark goes back to his dorm room, has a few beers and trashes her on his blog. He then goes on to write a program called Facemash that takes pictures of Harvard undergraduate girls, places them side by side so people can judge them. It’s so popular that it crashes Harvard’s computer system overnight.

Needless to say Mark gets into trouble with both the university, which puts him on academic probation, and women’s groups on campus that protest Facemash’s objectification of the co-eds. The stunt also brings him to the attention of the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, both played by Armie Hammer. They are 6’5″ Olympic level rowers who have an idea to make a web-based social program for Harvard students. They recruit Mark and he agrees to write the code. But in reality, he is fired up by the idea and wants to take it beyond the small horizons that the twins envision for it. He enlists his best (and only) friend Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield as CFO of his fledgling company and strings the twins along until he tells them that he can’t do what they want and then he launches Facebook. Eventually, Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, played by Justin Timberlake, enters the situation and convinces Mark to dump Eduardo.

The script by Aaron Sorkin bounces between these events and the deposition hearings from the two lawsuits that result. The screenplay deserves first mention because Sorkin is one of the best dialog writers currently working in Hollywood. He is Tarantino good. The Social Network is a little light on plot and there’s really no climax, but everybody’s spouting such clever and wonderful lines that it doesn’t matter. He also boils down what is undoubtedly a complex reality (this is based on the true story of the founding of Facebook) into an essential and fairly easily understood plot. I have no idea what got left out but I’m sure there was plenty.

Director David Fincher gives us a dark vision of modern business. Most of the film takes place in the wee hours of the morning. The frame is filled with shadows and gloom. It really sets the mood.

And he draws excellent performances from his young cast. Jessie Eisenberg plays the lead as a squirrelly cipher who is very good at hiding his vulnerable side, and yet the actor communicates it to the audience. His line delivery is so rapid-fire that he almost gets away with the outrageously rude things he says. Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo, Mark’s long-suffering and ultimately betrayed friend. Eduardo, while not dumb, does make one critical business mistake. You feel for him as he tries to support his friend. It is a role that is mostly vulnerability, with occasional moments of strength. When you see this film, you will have to adjust your world view and admit that Justin Timberlake is actually pretty talented. It’ll be hard but I have confidence that you can do it. His Sean Parker is a flashy opportunist, who crashes the Facebook party and tries to take over. His downfall is effectively portrayed by the actor. Armie Hammer could have played the Winklevoss twins as dumb jocks, but he didn’t. They only talk about beating up Mark. They never physically threaten him. These guys are actually pretty smart and when they find out that they’ve been used they try to resolve the issue personally before calling in lawyers.

So is Mark Zuckerberg a jerk (the script uses a different word) or merely a nerd who can’t relate to other people? Of course The Social Network is a movie, merely inspired by true events, so we can only speak in the context of the film, but I think Sorkin and Fincher are saying that Mark is a nerd who knew a billion dollar idea when he saw it and took advantage. But the fact is that business is messy, especially when amateurs are involved. Lawsuits almost always ensue. Plus the script makes it pretty clear that Mark is at least partially driven by a desire to “show” Erica, the girl who dumped him and the final clubs at Harvard, who wouldn’t even consider him. That motivation combined with his own immaturity force him to make short cuts and outright mistakes. In the end he is the world’s youngest billionaire but he’s alone.

The title of this film is ironic.


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October 2010
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