Friday, October 8, 2010

The Social Network

It may be one of life’s cruel little ironies that someone as socially inept as Mark Zuckerberg would be the person to create the world’s most popular online social networking site. Then again, when you break Facebook down to its philosophical essentials, maybe it is perfect for guys like Zuckerberg, who function socially at their best when they are an arm’s length away. It’s a place where we are all related and can keep in touch with friends from all over the world, albeit only viciously. All of a sudden you can contact a friend without ever talking to them; meet the girl and find out her relationship status without so much as awkward eye contact; and who needs to go to the party when you can live it after-the-fact through photo albums, all located on one convenient page? That's the double-edged sword The Social Network attempts to shed light on: Zuckerberg has dually connected us all by keeping us all farther apart from one another. It's like Zuckerberg's own little personal social comedy. No wonder Facebook started out as a drunken prank.

It all starts in a Havard pub. Zuckerberg drones on to his ex-girlfriend about how badly he wishes to be part of one of Harvard’s prestigious clubs in order to help his social standing. He doesn’t quite realize that they aren’t dating anymore. He is rude to her and she tells him to go away; she was just being nice to him. They aren’t even friends. Zuckerberg, in what could be either hurt or rage (it’s hard to tell if the young man, isolated behind a wall of stone cold intelligence even knows how to feel), goes home, gets drunk and comes up with the idea for a website where people will be able to rate the hotness of girls on campus. In order to do this he hacks into all of the campus houses and downloads the girls’ pictures onto his site and sends it out. Soon the site is so popular that it crashes Harvard’s server at 4:00am in the morning and Zuckerberg is being investigated.

This catches the eye of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Arnie Hammer) and their friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), all who are members of the coveted Phoenix Club and have the idea that what Harvard needs is an online dating site. They imagine a site with profiles and pictures and enlist Zuckerberg to write the code. Zuckerberg agrees but quickly morphs the dating site idea into a social network site and, while delaying meetings and not responding to e mails, writes the code for Facebook, keeping the other three in the dark.

The story is framed by the present as Zuckerberg battles two lawsuits, one from the Winklevoss’ who claim he stole their idea and another with his former best friend and Facebook CFO Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Saverin is suing Zuckerberg for fazing him out of the company and screwing him out of many dollars that should rightfully be his. When Zuckerberg moves the Facebook operation to LA on the advice of Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), Saverin decides to hang back in New York and talk to ad agency's in order to start making money off the website. Saverin and Parker don’t see eye to eye (one is a business graduate and the other is known as a party animal with a reputation for drugs and young girls) and Saverin is instantly rubbed the wrong way when he arrives in LA to find that Parker is setting up meetings for Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg is drawn to Parker, despite warnings from Saverin because, presumably, Parker is everything Zuckerberg doesn't have the internal capabilities to be. Zuckerberg doesn't need a business partner, he's too conceited to realize that he has zero business acumen, but rather a role model to idolize and learn from. Soon, after Facebook goes corporate, Saverin’s shares are diluted down to nothing while Zuckerberg’s and Parker’s stay the same.

Whether the impact of any of this ever emotionally registers to Zuckerberg is part of the film’s main fascination. As played by Jesse Eisenberg, who gravitates towards the roles of intelligent outsiders, Zuckerberg is cold but not calculating. His favorite subject is himself but one gets to wondering if that’s because Zuckerberg loves himself or simply because he doesn’t know anything else. When Zuckerberg tells the Winklevoss’s attorney that he is not worth Zuckerberg’s attention, in one of the film’s best scenes, one gets the sinking suspicion that The Social Network has became much more than simply a chronicle of the creation of Facebook. It’s the story of a man who is trapped inside himself because he can’t see anything beyond his own personal circle. When he hurts or steps on people he doesn’t do so to get to the top, he doesn’t even really care about money, but because he only knows how to get what he wants. No one else factors into the equation. Eisenberg masterfully captures this sad young man, too smart for his own good, never registering any emotion lurking below the surface. Because Eisenberg is so good, even when Zuckerberg isn’t the focus of a scene, his presence is always looming somewhere; his detracted cruelty always at the heart of everything.

The film was directed by David Fincher who proves that a great movie can be made from just about anything. Like all of Fincher’s work, the film is dark, casting a shadow on the wounded and manipulated lives of these characters and focuses, not so much on Facebook, as on a man who is driven, like John Doe from Seven or Robert Graysmith in Zodiac, to manipulate society in his favor in order to achieve his own personal means. In a way, like all of Fincher’s greatest characters, Zuckerberg is an enigma. He’s the youngest billionaire in America, has gone to great lengths to create Facebook, stepping on people, stabbing backs, conning people out of money and yet he did it all because of one girl that he iwas too oblivious to see didn’t want anything to do with him. Maybe he has a heart after all.


  1. I agree with the nearly universal acclaim for this film. The strange thing is, I didn't feel "blown away" by it in the traditional sense of how I'm usually blown away by films I love. But I knew afterward that I DID love it, and I haven't gone four hours since seeing it on Tuesday without thinking about it. It's great in all the ways a film can be.

  2. Vance - I had the same experience, I watched it and was very interested in it and knew it was very good but it wasn't until a few days later, having though about it that I realize that it's maybe my favourite film so far this year. I hope it makes people go back and reconsider Zodiac as well which is just as much if not more as a masterpiece than this one.

  3. Saw this last night. Unlike Vance I was blown away from the first scene. Maybe I'm a Sorkin fanboy, I don't know, but this film was astonishing.

  4. I'm with ya man, but it did take me a little while for all that greatness to soak in.

  5. I should clarify my statement. I do describe myself as having been blown away by it, but the thing was, I couldn't pinpoint what was so great about it afterward. I just knew it WAS so great. Everything about it is great.