A film review by Craig J. Koban October 12, 2010
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
2010, PG-13, 120 mins.
2010, PG-13, 120 mins.
Jesse Eisenberg: Mark Zuckerberg / Andrew Garfield: Eduardo
Saverin / Justin
Timberlake: Sean Parker / Armie Hammer: Tyler Winklevoss/Cameron
Rooney Mara: Erica Albright / Rashida
Jones: Marylin Delpy
one point in David Fincher’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK a young lawyer (Rashida
Jones) quietly confronts Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg).
“You’re not an asshole,” she calmly inflects, “You’re
just trying so hard to be one.”
has a very good point, which is made all the more apparent during the
ingeniously executed and scripted opening scene of the film, which under
screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s hands is a masterful nine-minute verbal
ballet of low key and slowly festering hostility.
We are in a dark Cambridge bar in the early 2000’s where we see
Zuckerberg on a drink date with his girlfriend, Erica (the rock solid
Rooney Mara, soon to be a household name when she appears in THE GIRL WITH
THE DRAGON TATTOO remake next year).
This is not a cordial date between the pair; it’s a pathetic show
put on by Zuckerberg where he self-indulgently vents out to his
girlfriend about how every aspect of the Harvard elitist society is
shunning him because he is not one of them.
guy does not just speak his words, he is borderline assaultive with how
rapidly he lashes them out at his innocent companion.
Erica does not hold back either, and when she has had enough of her
soon-to-be ex-boyfriend’s obnoxious and self-aggrandizing level of
entitlement, she bolts on him.
“You’re going to be successful and rich,” she peacefully
retorts, “But you’re going through life thinking that girls don’t
like you because you’re a geek.
That’s not true.
It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
In a fidgety and introverted rage, Zuckerberg is left all alone with
his half empty beer glass and a plan.
It is at that moment where he begins to formulate would
eventually become the most omnipotent and influential social networking
site in the world, one that, by 2010, would have 500 million users (one
out of every 14 people in the world) and one that would make the barely in
his 20’s Zuckerberg the youngest self-made billionaire in history.
it was not that easy and swift for him.
The film’s script - based on the 2009 book THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES:
THE FOUNDING OF FACEBOOK, A TALE OF SEX, MONEY, GENIUS, AND BETRAYAL by
Ben Mezrich - is told in a semi-RASHOMON flashback structure that shows how
Zuckerberg put Facebook together that’s further intercut with a pair of
deposition hearings during which he is being sued by two parties – one
being a former best friend – that he, for lack of a better phrase,
screwed over in some capacity or another.
Regardless of chronology, THE SOCIAL NETWORK shows Zuckerberg as a
hauntingly lonely and emotionally isolated figure of determination.
Hooked by the desire to
belong, but also by his dream of what a game changer Facebook could be,
Zuckerberg does whatever it takes to push his vision forward. He's
can be an asshole,
but in his devious techno-entrepreneurial way he's also an idealist,
driven by a force greater than greed or his own ego.
This is a young man that’s fiendishly intelligent, but also
intellectually arrogant to the point of making him hopelessly alienated
from just about everyone around him.
He lives in a perpetual state of tunnel vision: he oftentimes can't
understand why people think he’s a jerk and seems oblivious about why people are angered by his actions.
All he cares about is bringing his idea and concept of Facebook to
successful fruition and it did not matter whom he stepped over to make it
The film is intoxicating and
intuitively perspective for how it thrusts us into the college dorm room
lives of Zuckerberg and his initial partners in the creation of Facebook,
and to say it had humble – if not a bit controversial - beginnings is
an understatement. After being spurred by Erica, Zuckerberg goes home to his dorm
in a drunken and juvenile fit and, with the assistance of his BFF and
college roommate, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), he proceeds to hack
into protected areas of Harvard’s computer mainframe network, steals and
copies the house’s private dorm photos of female students, places two
images together on his own site and asks users online to vote on which is hotter.
Although puerile in inception, the site he created – which
represented some aspects that would later make up Facebook – drew 22,000
photo views in just two hours, which subsequently led to the servers
crashing. Zuckerberg was
charged by the administration with breach of security, violating copyright and
privacy laws, and faced expulsion, but he smugly – in
another brilliant scripted scene – and matter-of-factly informs his
disciplinary panel that his hacking should be “recognized” for the
holes it revealed in a system that its experts thought was foolproof.
His charges are dropped, but he earns himself several months of
initial site, called Facemash, made Zuckerberg an instant geek celebrity
on campus, but also a notorious leech among the female population.
His site really catches the attention of some Harvard seniors that
are looking for Zuckerberg’s talents to help them launch a dating
website that has some decided similarities to what would be Facebook.
The seniors are twins, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoos (Armie Hammer,
physically playing one while having his head CGI’ed over the body of
Josh Pence, whom from the neck down plays his twin sibling) and Zuckerberg
hears their initial ideas and agrees to help them.
Unfortunately for the twins, he does estrange himself from them
for several weeks and takes the bare essence of their plan and begins to
forge his own concept for Facebook, leaving them completely out of the
of what makes THE SOCIAL NETWORK so unmistakably intriguing is how
completely it tackles the thorny ethical issue of how corrupt and
unethical Zuckerberg was in his pursuit to create Facebook.
Did he really put knives into the backs of his best friend Saverin
and the Winklevoos (or as he humorously calls them, the “Winklevi”) or
did he tread on proper ethical ground?
The important thing to grasp with Sorkin’s script – which
highlights his supreme command of snappy, rocket-velocity dialogue exchanges
that are so crisp and sharp they could cut glass – is that he creates a
fact based structure to the film concocted from multiple points of view
that culminates in a dramatic presentation of history.
The whole controversy as to whether the film is ostensibly “fact
based” is rubbish; the important thing is how the film is constructed
and how well it works, and on the level of presenting the multiple
Facebook’s fractured developmental origins, the film is on resoundingly
again, did Zuckerberg steal Facebook?
Zuckerberg is played with such an odious edge at times by Eisenberg
that you want to find him guilty of the charges, but the film is more
layered with its outlook to simplistically point fingers like that, and
this is one of the few films that makes you understand the motives and the
ideology of a rascally rogue.
Yes, the twins came to Zuckerberg with a basic concept that was arguably
similar to Facebook and, yes, Saverin did provide the modest
financial backing ($19,000) to get Zuckerberg’s site going.
But, how much of the twins’ idea did Zuckerberg appropriate for his own
The film tantalizes on the definition of intellectual copyright:
Zuckerberg did not steal, in my mind, another person’s
“property” (the entire code of Facebook is his own alone) and the idea
of a social networking site is surely not a patent (as Zuckerberg
rightfully explains at one deposition, “A guy that makes a new chair
does not owe money to everyone who ever built a chair.
They came to me with an idea, I had a better one”).
that I arrived at leaving the theatre was that
Zuckerberg committed no real crime against the Winklevoos twins…other
than being a dishonest prick (he is guilty of misleading them that he was
working on their project when he was working on his own, but he did not
steal Facebook from them).
Zuckerberg is perhaps more accountable for the backstabbing
business politics he engaged in with Parker that lead to some murky legal
papers being signed by Saverin that ultimately left him with a miniscule
ownership of Facebook (one of the screenplay’s central weaknesses is
that it never satisfactorily and cogently explains Saverin’s case
against Zuckerberg, other than he was screwed over).
Saverin did provide the business plan and initial backing, so, in
hindsight, Zuckerberg’s treatment of him seems cold and remorseless.
brings me to another of the film’s minor faults, which is that it takes
an awfully long time for viewers to find an emotional portal of rooting
interest in the narrative. Zuckerberg is so criminally anti-social, neurotic,
ruthless minded, and egomaniacal at times that it’s really hard to
applaud his efforts, and the twins – a couple of filthy stinking rich
Harvard students with hurt feelings and wounded egos because their idea
was stolen and feel the need for financial restitution – are equally
hard to empathize with (the film also does not deal with the overriding
ludicrousness of the egregious $65 million dollar payout that Zuckerberg
them, as revealed in the film’s closing title cards: are “hurt
feelings” and a flimsy lawsuit without much ground worth that much?).
Ultimately, I think that sympathy lies with Saverin, who seems like
the only decent and well meaning lad of the group, and the way that
Garfield (and future Spider-man) plays him as such a wounded and
soulfully melancholic victim is inspired.
He’s our emotional conduit into the film’s crazy world of
business malfeasance, legal ramblings, and friendship double-crosses.
Fincher does an immersive job of centering viewers in the Cambridge (and
later Californian) environments
that are as cold and oppressive as the film’s characters: he creates a
dark and drab lived-in look with the Harvard bars and dorm rooms, and
snow-covered outdoor settings that
occupy the film.
However, for as technically proficient and savvy as Fincher is with
re-creating the world surrounding Zuckerberg and company, there are
a few instances where he lets his penchant for artificial movie magic get
self-indulgent (some conversational scenes set outdoors
during what appears to be frigid Massachusetts’s winter nights uses such
obviously phony CGI-breath that it's glaringly distracting).
THE SOCIAL NETWORK is not so much Fincher’s film as it is Sorkin’s, as
you can feel his voice through every pore of this ambitious and convoluted
real life narrative.
The film is also owned by the actors as well, and Eisenberg –
who has made a career of playing bright, soft-spoken, and affably shy geeks
– deserves serious Oscar consideration for his electrifyingly tour-de
force portrayal of a toxically dislikeable nerd that, despite his overt
personality faults and disturbingly anti-social behaviour, is portrayed
with a remarkable even-handedness.
Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as a distinct asshole, but not a raging
Perhaps even more revelatory is that Eisenberg taps into the
twistedly dark ironies of the film through his performance: the final
image shows Zuckerberg blankly staring as his laptop screen as he sends a
friend request for Erica on his website, the girl that very appropriately
dumped him in the opening scene.
He waits…and waits…and waits…to see if she accepts the
pathetic and sadly paradoxical truth of Facebook is that a friendless
dweeb that knew nothing about forming and maintaining human relationships
created a multi-billion dollar website that’s
all about online human contact.
Even more incongruous is that Facebook has spawned a generation
that loves the solitary pleasure of sitting at their PC’s to see what
their friends are doing instead of engaging in physical contact with them.
It’s strangely fitting, because the Zuckerberg of Fincher and
Sorkin’s intricate social drama may be rich enough to buy multiple
people a thousand times over, but he is all alone in the world.
I am on TWITTER, but I am not on FACEBOOK, which has puzzled not only my friends, but my readers as well. TWITTER allows me to reveal to strangers what movie news I am following, but I would rather spend time with close friends face-to-face than spend time finding out what they are doing on FACEBOOK.