Film: The Social Network Director: David Fincher, written by Aaron Sorkin Staring: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer
Depending on the budget of a film and its expected box office intake, the rules at an early screening vary. For the much anticipated film, The Social Network, audience members, including myself, were searched with metal detectors and asked to leave our phones and cameras at the door. The irony of being stripped of any device that could be used to record and steal a movie that is based on a stolen idea for a social media outlet that sells information people believe is personal was not lost one me. Alanis Morissette could write a verse about this.
The film begins with an extended scene between Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (played in an Oscar-worthy performance by Zombieland and Adventureland’s Jesse Eisenberg) and a fictional girlfriend, Erica. Though this scene never really occurred while Zuckerberg was a student at Harvard University, it accomplished the goal of setting the stage for attempting to understand Zuckerberg, an understanding that is a pivotal hurdle in gaining a full appreciation of how and why the story of Facebook’s creation came to be. Zuckerberg exhibits a genius mind that works on fast forward at all times and social skills, or lack thereof, that hint at a slight case of Asperger’s Syndrome.
The Social Network begins at the end. That is, the story of how Facebook came to fruition is told through the proceedings of two independent lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg; one by his former best friend and Facebook CFO Eduardo Saverin (the only non-fictional character that was involved in the film’s making) and fellow Harvard classmates Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra.
In 2004 Zuckeberg was brought in by the Winklevoss’s and Narendra to build a site for the three senior classmates that would connect Harvard students to one another. Zuckerberg took their idea of exclusivity and ran with it, using a formula and $18,000 from Saverin that solidified their joint partnership in the social media outlet and the creation of one of the biggest companies in history. After his initial meeting with the Winklevoss twins and Narenda the film shows Zuckerberg avoiding the Harvard students and completing The Facebook, as it was known at the time. The site spread through the campus like wildfire, igniting legal action from the Winklevoss’s and Narenda and encouraging Zuckerberg and Saverin to begin opening the site up to other Ivy League schools, first in the US and soon after in the UK.
By the time The Facebook had spread to seven schools it was big enough to catch the attention of Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Parker befriends Zuckerberg and inserts himself as a second business partner, eventually succeeding in his goal to push Saverin out of Facebook (it was Parker’s idea to drop the ‘The’). Though Zuckerberg was never concerned with the money he would eventually make off of Facebook (he still holds the title at the world’s youngest billionaire), Parker’s business connections and charm convinced Zuckerberg that Facebook could be worth billions if Zuckerberg followed Parker’s instructions. Money didn’t interest Zuckerberg, but the success and power that comes with money did.
While Timberlake’s Parker appeared to be a ruthless con man that showed no remorse for pushing Saverin out of the company he helped build (not overly surprising coming from the teenager that seemed to have no qualms with essentially putting an end to an entire industry), Zuckerberg’s humanity is able to shine through the cracks in his humour in court and moments of melancholy over the disintegration of his relationship with his former best (and only) friend.
In creating a site that allowed people to choose from a set of pre-determined options to explain who they are as a person we see how Zuckerberg viewed relationships as superficial and simple, until he lost the one that was most important to him. I don’t think even a character as self-righteous as the Zuckerberg we see on screen would be as cruel to say what he did to Saverin was justified, but through Aaron Sorkin’s script we are able to see how the pressure of never living up to the popularity and charm of his best friend, combined with pressure from the flashy Sean Parker and a stunted emotional make-up could lead Zuckerberg to his decisions. It doesn’t make it right, but it does make it real.
In the world of Facebook where the word ‘friend’ can mean little more than an acquaintance, The Social Network stands in a stark contrast to the empire it is based upon, where the importance and strength of friendship is laid out in black and white through Zuckerberg and Saverin’s story. The film opens with Zuckerberg’s fictional girlfriend calling him an asshole and the viewer spends the next two hours coming to a conclusion that is delivered impeccably by one of Zuckerberg’s lawyers, played by Rashida Jones, when Jones states “You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying to be.”
The real Mark Zuckerberg has made no qualms about his disapproval of director David Fincher’s and writer Aaron Sorkin’s reenactment of his life. But he should rest assured that his creation of one of the most important inventions in the 21st Century has in no way been tainted or belittled by the film. If anything, the site that keeps so many of us entertained for hours on end and connected to people around us is even more impressive. And though many of us will never really know the story of what began in a Harvard dorm room in 2004, we can finally begin to understand the person behind the blue and white silhouette.
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