The Social Network
Directed by David Fincher
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg
Rooney Mara as Erica Albright
Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker
Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin
Who would’ve thought a biopic about the creator of Facebook could be so much fun to watch? Fincher’s newest film features adept writing, nuanced performances, and breakneck pacing.
Anyone who’s ever read the fine print on Facebook’s privacy settings will recognize the site’s creator, Mark Zuckerberg, in this weekend’s opener The Social Network. The sneaky way he deftly dodges answering incriminating questions will be familiar to anyone who has felt violated by a sudden and unexpected change in privacy settings or sensed something sinister in the fallacious use of the phrase “Facebook lets you control.” The American public loves to watch its idols tumble from their pedestals, and biopics have long focused on fame, fortune, glory, and crime. The Social Network is about all those things, but Zuckerberg is more infamous than famous — definitely heavy on the fortune and light on the glory. While at Harvard, he and a select few friends and hangers-on created Facebook, which is arguably the most popular website on the internet today. The Social Network posits that Facebook wasn’t founded by a greedy little smart kid; it was created by a nerd with a ten-ton chip on his shoulder. What makes any of this interesting and why should you see it? The Social Network isn’t just a bunch of nerds overdosing on caffeine, writing code in dark Harvard dorm rooms. It’s a whole new kind of American success story.
The Social Network opens on Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) sitting across from his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) at The Thirsty Scholar in Boston, exchanging fast-paced dialogue that explains his character in the first five minutes. He brings up his 1600 SAT score, his obsession with Harvard’s final clubs, betrays his jealousy of the “world-class athletes” who row crew, and condescendingly tells Erica that she doesn’t have to study because she goes to BU. As Erica leaves, she predicts his success as “some kind of computer person,” then delivers the line that sets up the entire movie: “You’ll think everyone hates you because you’re a nerd, but it’ll be because you’re an asshole.” The Social Network would have us believe Zuckerberg created Facebook out of resentment toward women, toward athletes, toward elitist Harvard bluebloods. Fortunately, writer Aaron Sorkin balances on a delicate tightrope—one misstep and The Social Network’s version of Zuckerberg could’ve been a misunderstood, sympathetic genius, or a complete jackass. As written by Sorkin and played by Eisenberg, Zuckerberg is an ineffectual smart kid you’d love to hate if only you didn’t pity him just the tiniest bit.
The Social Network is framed around a series of legal hearings in which Zuckerberg defends his actions against friends and colleagues. Between terse, irate exchanges in boardrooms where a court stenographer types incessantly, flashbacks take us deep within the exclusive, ivy-swathed walls of early 2000s Harvard University, where Zuckerberg and his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) gave birth to Facebook. After his breakup with Erica, Zuckerberg takes to LiveJournal to insult her, then creates a website where Harvard men can rate the attractiveness of Harvard women. Yes, that’s the kind of man who created Facebook. After his site draws 22,000 views in two hours, he has the attention of Harvard’s administration and all of campus. Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (twins played by Ken doll lookalike Armie Hammer), who row crew and belong to the most elite Harvard clubs, and their business partner Divya Nurendra (Max Minghella), approach Zuckerberg to create a Harvard matchmaking site. Zuckerberg gives them (and Harvard) the metaphorical finger while he strings them along, all the while creating Facebook with Saverin.
Those of us who grew up right alongside the internet will recognize the LiveJournal login screen, get nostalgic at the mention of dinosaurs Friendster and MySpace, and be infinitely aware of the Napster illegal downloading lawsuits. So it’s unsurprising when Napster creator and world-class wild card Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) seeks out Zuckerberg, seizing the opportunity to jump aboard a lifeboat as Napster sank beneath him. Those of us who paid attention will also remember when Facebook was thefacebook.com (apparently Parker advised Zuckerberg to take off the “the”), and when it was unavailable to anyone outside the Ivies. Zuckerberg, whose resentment toward the clubs into which he’d never gain admission ran deeper than anyone could’ve known, wanted to create his own exclusive club, one he could preside over like a king. He succeeded, but at what price?
Jesse Eisenberg, whose filmography is nothing short of impressive, plays Zuckerberg as an egocentric, resentful genius who’s repulsive but somehow sympathetic. Little-known Brit actor Andrew Garfield, in a nuanced and smart performance, falls into step as the infinitely kind Saverin. Justin Timberlake, whose acting career outside of SNL has been hit-or-miss, plays Sean Parker as a paranoid smooth operator who only wants to have fun at everyone else’s expense. By all indications, The Social Network should have been a boring, made-for-TV biopic, but in the hands of Fincher and editors Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, the film moves at a breakneck pace. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth utilizes dynamic camerawork and tilt-shift photography to make the movie visually captivating. Trent Reznor’s throbbing score imbues the film with energy, though the music is sometimes distracting. Writer Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) may see an Oscar nod this year for his adroitly paced, witty dialogue. Hearing these characters speak is sometimes like listening to another language entirely, but you can’t stop paying attention. A biographical feature about computer nerds has no right to be so exciting, but in the adept hands of Fincher, Sorkin, Eisenberg, and Garfield, it’s one of the year’s smartest films.