The story of how Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, together with a few friends, developed a little website known as Facebook.
What we thought:
Is Mark Zuckerberg an asshole? It's a question that The Social Network seems preoccupied with. It's the subject of the two conversations that open and close the movie about the
I'll admit that when I first heard about "The Facebook Movie", as it was called during its development, it was not a subject that seemed as fascinating as The Social Network turns out to be. For many Facebook users, Mark Zuckerberg was an enigma. What was known about him through cursory research will include the fact that, at 26, he became the world's youngest billionaire. And what The Social Network wants to tell you is that that is the least interesting thing about him.
Adapted from Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires by The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher with surprising understatement, The Social Network is nonetheless a thrilling, fearless, fast-paced, endlessly fascinating character study about an utterly singular mind. As portrayed with gob-smacking confidence by Zombieland star Jesse Eisenberg, Zuckerberg is an irascible genius. The seeds for Facebook, or The Facebook as it was first known, are planted one night in 2003 as Zuckerberg takes to his blog from his Harvard dormitory to hit back at Erica Albright, the girl who dared dump him. Drunk and more than a little bit sore, he sets about proving to her (and himself) that he is better off and tries to grab the attention of the college's club elite, which are exclusive and otherwise closed to the likes of computer geeks such as himself. Raiding Harvard's college directories, he develops an instantly popular website called Facemash – essentially a game that ranks each girls' attractiveness based on user votes – over the course of a few hours and many beers, and tests the mighty Harvard's servers to breaking point.
At the other end of the spectrum is Eduardo Saverin (played by British actor Andrew Garfield), an Economics major and Zuckerberg's best friend. They're an odd couple and shouldn't really work together – Saverin is promising and well-adjusted, where Zuckerberg is insular and arrogant – but there is a nurturing aspect to their relationship, albeit from one direction. Saverin scolds Zuckerberg for always behaving in a way that will ensure girls take no interest in them. What Zuckerberg really thinks of his friend is suggested through ever-menacing moments scattered throughout their story.
Because, as we soon learn, there are two different Mark Zuckerbergs being presented to us. The first is that drunk, annoyed manchild, sitting in his dorm room on the cusp of something great, and the other is slightly older, more bitter than ever and locked in boardrooms, fighting over his invention on two fronts. One is against Cameron Winklevoss, his twin brother Tyler Winklevoss and their business partner Divya Narendra, wealthy Harvard students who approach Zuckerberg to help them develop a new website, HarvardConnection.com, after his Facemash stunt becomes campus legend. You've probably never, ever heard of HarvardConnection – or ConnectU, as it was later renamed – because Facebook came first, and therein laid the problem.
In another boardroom, around the same time, Zuckerberg is engaged in a more emotionally taxing lawsuit, against his former best friend and initial investor in Facebook, Eduardo Saverin himself. Their relationship, told through flashbacks (an admittedly inadequate word to express what unfolds) forms the backbone of The Social Network. With Zuckerberg's idea for creating his own brand of exclusivity, Saverin's $1 000 seed money and the notoriety that came with their internet exploits, we have the bare ingredients of what we know as Facebook. How that idea grew exponentially while Zuckerberg and Savarin's personal and professional relationship crumbled is heart-stopping stuff, and makes for golden cinema. It's not quite David and Goliath, or Julius Caesar and Marcus Brutus, but Fincher makes a case for it anyway. And in these two gripping hours, their story really does feel just as mighty.
At every turn, The Social Network hits its mark – as a courtroom drama, a campus comedy, a history lesson, even as a nail-biting sports drama. It has almost nothing to do with the story, but watching the Winklevoss twins (both roles expertly played by Armie Hammer) compete in a prestigious rowing event on the River Thames is such a beautifully suspended moment, it's a welcome respite from the relentless pace elsewhere. Although it's that pace which, in many ways, is also what's best about the movie. It crackles with that infectious energy that comes with youth and innovation and a belief in something that feels like a revolution. And it’s a feeling that doesn't quite go away even once the end credits roll. In many ways, the story of Facebook is still ongoing – in Silicon Valley, the boardrooms, bedrooms and classrooms of the world. This is as 'now' as a movie is likely to get.
Sorkin's gilded words spring forth from his young cast like graceful pirouettes and land with the precision of acrobats. It's quite wonderful to behold. This cast, most of whom are under the age of 30 and the type of actors who could still get away with playing high schoolers on teen soaps, are collectively heralding an exciting new age for young actors who are able to shape performances as sharp and intuitive as their more acknowledged veterans. Since his breakout performance in Boy A, Andrew Garfield has carved out an enviable career, and his performance as the wronged Eduardo Saverin forms the emotional core of this story. Was Zuckerberg that jealous of him for achieving the social acceptance he craved? Did he really set out to punish his friend? I don’t believe that Sorkin's script allows for much grey area in this matter: Saverin is the one the audience should side with.
Even Justin Timberlake makes an impression as Napster founder Sean Parker, who jumps onto the Facebook bandwagon as it takes off around the country's colleges. He is depicted as a shameless opportunist, taking advantage of the lapses in Zuckerberg's social and business skills and as close to a villain as this movie is willing to wager.
Of course The Social Network takes many liberties with the truth. It would've been a terribly boring film otherwise. The facts are there for those who care to find them, and the movie certainly makes a case that you do. For one, I'd like to believe that the women in these boys' lives had a greater role to play than just turning them on and pissing them off.
Right now, The Social Network feels like the movie of our times. If social media has anything to say about our times it's that we don’t like missing out on anything. So don't.