Over the years, we’ve seen many movies about sweet-tempered simpletons (Forrest Gump being a prime example) but very few about brilliant jerks. The Social Network is such a movie.
We learn almost everything we need to know about Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg, in a fearless performance) in the first scene. He’s at a bar with the girl he’s dating, and he’s rambling on about the elite social clubs he wants to pledge. In the course of their (mostly one-sided) conversation, he manages to be testy, rude, elitist, defensive, cruel, and just a wee bit desperate. The girl promptly breaks up with him.
Of course, Zuckerman isn’t the film’s hero, he’s more like its jangly nerve center. He’s, famously, the young billionaire who founded Facebook, and The Social Network tells the story of how he built up that site from a campus-only social phenomenon—a way to get girls and maybe be seen as cool—to the biggest thing to happen to global communication since the telephone.
The film is directed by David Fincher (The Fight Club, Zodiac), who makes visceral, dynamic movies that have a rhythm and thrilling audacity of their own. In a master stroke, Fincher partnered with voluble screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, a man just brilliant enough to make a story about the creation of a website that is not just entertaining—it’s downright exhilarating.
The tagline of The Social Network is “you don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies” and most of the film takes place in a courtroom where Zuckerberg is being sued—twice. The first plaintiffs are twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (you just couldn’t make those names up), both played by Armie Hammer, a strapping blond actor with a lazy country club drawl. As we see in flashbacks, the twins approached Zuckerberg with an idea for a Harvard only dating site—and he took their basic concept and morphed it into Facebook. In any other movie, the Winklevoss’s would be the villains—as Cameron wryly puts it, “The guys in the skeleton costume chasing around the Karate Kid”—but Sorkin makes everyone equally flawed and equally human. They’re entitled, spoiled, condescending—and just maybe right?
Zuckerberg is also being sued by his former best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who serves as the film’s conscience and ostensible hero (it’s fair to note that the film’s script was loosely based on The Accidental Billionaires, a book Saverin authorized). It was Saverin who put up the small amount of seed money to create Facebook and it was Saverin who recognized that once Zuckerberg met Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake, holding his own), nothing would ever be the same again. Parker is the serpent, if you will, in this tale of innocence lost, who dazzled Zuckerberg with the prospect of fame, wealth, and access, but put off Saverin with his rapacious ways. But was Saverin really cut out of the company, as he claims? Or was he too cautious and small-minded to ever allow Facebook to take the necessary leap forward?
You’ll leave The Social Network chewing on all of these questions—who was right, who was to blame, what you would’ve done under similar circumstances. And you’ll actually feel sorry for the lonely billionaire Zuckerberg. The film’s final scene is such a stroke of poignant, sad-funny genius, I won’t dare spoil it here. Suffice it to say, if there’s one thing that Facebook has taught us, it’s that everybody wants to have friends.
For my complete review of The Social Network, check out the November issue of Baltimore.