POSTED ON OCTOBER 6, 2010:
The Social Network excels both as a film and at making Facebook's founder squirm
Facing the Crowds. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincherís The Social Network, which tells the story of the beginnings of the popular social-networking site.
Mark Zuckerberg recently donated $100 million to the Newark, N.J., school system. He has no connection to Newark, growing up outside of New York City and currently residing in California. What Zuckerberg had on the eve of his donation is a big, looming public relations issue: the release of a high-profile movie called The Social Network that doesn't make the 26 year-old billionaire look all that great.
You may or may not have heard of Zuckerberg by name, but you certainly know how he made his billions: Facebook. There's no doubt the masses love Facebook, but how will they feel about Zuckerberg after they've caught a whiff of who is behind the curtain of the technological heroin they crave all day long? That's what has Mark Zuckerberg worried enough he's writing nine-figure checks in the guise of helping underprivileged inner city kids.
I have to admit, I just don't understand the allure to Facebook. Yes, I have a profile that I check every four months, but the ubiquitous, addictive site has never hooked me into its lair. There's too much ego-driven exhibitionism or voyeuristic snooping on display on the site that makes me keep my guard up. Do I really need to know what friends or strangers are doing at all moments of the day? No, I don't. Should I let people into all my waking thoughts no matter how trivial? No, I shouldn't. Watching The Social Network only confirms my lack of interest in Facebook.
Zuckerberg might be giving away more money as The Social Network is already in multiplexes across the globe and there's nothing he can do about it. Now if the film was a disaster, selling few tickets before sinking off to oblivion on a cheap DVD shelf, maybe Zuckerberg would have an image reprieve. Uh-oh, Mark, it looks like you are in for a rough perception year as The Social Network is a non-stop feast that is intelligent, scathing and relentlessly entertaining.
The film begins in 2003 as "Zuckerberg" (Jesse Eisenberg) gets told off in public by an attractive co-ed named Erica (Rooney Mara, the future Lisbeth Salander for you Stieg Larsson fans) and promptly goes back to his apartment to deliver some verbal attacks about her while drunk-blogging. He also comes up with a nifty little code that has one-on-one battles among Harvard's female population based on looks. It spreads like wildfire, getting 22,000 hits in a few hours and shutting down the school's system.
In trouble with school administrators but noticed by fellow students, "Zuckerberg" is approached by three well-heeled gents who belong to one of Harvard's elitist organizations to write code for an idea they have. He takes their idea into consideration, decides to modify it slightly, goes on a massive month-long programming binge, dodges all attempts at contact by the trio and out of seemingly nowhere thefacebook.com (the early version had a "the" in it) is born. Sadly, the way humans communicate may never be the same again.
The film begins to jump around to various timelines. We see all the early moments of Facebook's creation through flashbacks triggered by two different depositions that involve lawsuits against "Zuckerberg." One lawsuit is by the three people who thought they had hired him to create something very similar to their original idea; the second is by a former friend and one of the co-founders. Naturally, both plaintiffs want a lot of money.
Using the depositions as a narrative device was a marvelous idea by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Charlie Wilson's War). Through this, the story is allowed to move back and forth from present events to various elements of Facebook history with or without "Zuckerberg" at the center. We see how smooth-talking carpetbagger Sean Parker (the always whispering Justin Timberlake) gets drawn in; we see the haughty Winklevoss twins fighting to get their due with the Harvard president or rowing in London; we see the changes around "Zuckerberg" as he goes from an anonymous geek on campus to a very wealthy young man.
There's no character arc by anyone in The Social Network. There are no lessons learned by anyone. The "Zuckerberg" we meet at the beginning of the film -- angry, arrogant, better than everyone else -- is the same "Zuckerberg" we get during the scenes made to appear in the present (the lawyerly Q&A scenes). Eisenberg (Zombieland, Adventureland) is an actor I haven't thought much of but he nails this role with all the seething, neurotic loathing (for himself and for others) the tightly coiled "Zuckerberg" exhibits. Eisenberg is an actor who seems to play the same type over and over, but for this character, it fits his style and personality perfectly. "Zuckerberg" is a smart individual but he never changes, he never learns anything. In the end he's still the same "asshole" that Erica dumps early in the film.
The Social Network is the kind of film that director David Fincher should be making. His better films appear to be about outsiders or people on the fringes of American society and culture. Think Fight Club, Zodiac and Se7en versus tepid, dull letdowns such as Panic Room or melodramatic tripe like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. When Fincher is allowed to drown the screen in detail, as he has done in his best work, it plays into his strengths as a director. The Social Network is this kind of film from Fincher, as it never stops moving or takes a pause. When it's over, you might be exhausted, but at least it will be a satisfied weariness.
The Social Network is a very good film that will rightfully make a lot of critics top ten lists at the end of the year. Mark that down. Full of memorable characters, a pulsing electronic score from Trent Reznor, it's a satire on the vacuous complications when you have youth and fast millions (urgh, make that billions). It's a horror story on the nature of invisible wealth and power that exists in the 21st century. The real Mark Zuckerberg might be getting that checkbook out to quell the PR damage this film is going to unleash on his large ego. Maybe the city of Tulsa can get to his handlers and tell him how bad our streets are? We could spend a quick 100 million on that, right?
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