The Social Network
“Awaiting friend request confirmation.” That’s what you see after you’ve made the request to add someone as a friend on Facebook. It also succinctly tells you everything you need to know about Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook and the subject of the fantastic new movie, The Social Network.
In this fascinating and practically perfect in every way movie, we learn how Facebook came to be (more or less - details are in dispute but the gist is right) and, more importantly, what effect it had on the people involved. But also, we learn that any story about a boy is always a story about a girl.
We first meet Mark in a bar, where his girlfriend proceeds to break up with him. At one point, she calls him obsessed. A few beats later, Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) responds to her and says, “There’s a difference between being obsessed and just being motivated”. Throughout the entire movie, we’re left to decide which Mark actually is.
With that quote, I’ll get my fan-girling out of the way: Aaron Sorkin is brilliant! It’s dialogue like that - the attention to detail, to word choice, the palpable love of language - that makes Sorkinese so exciting to listen to. The Social Network is peppered with some of Sorkin’s go to phrases and themes. For example, when we first meet Sean Parker, played exceptionally well by Justin Timberlake, he reminded me a little bit of Josh Lyman: The way he is cool and casual, deceptively nonchalant, only to come out swinging and impress his audience with his consummate knowledge of the subject at hand, which, in this case, is the lady (Amelia Ritter, but she prefers Amy. Hello, Amy Gardner!) with whom he woke up. I wish people in real life spoke as articulately as Sorkin’s characters. But really, the best thing about Sorkin writing this script is that he got to the root of psychology behind Facebook and its creator.
I mentioned before that this story is ultimately about a girl. After Mark is broken up with, he sprints back to his Harvard dorm room where he gets drunk and blogs about the break up and revenge fantasies while creating a website, The Face Mash, that allows users to choose which of their fellow students is hottest. This episode sets him off on the Facebook path.
After the Face Mash’s overnight success (literally), Mark is approached by three upperclassmen - who happen to be part of a Final Club that Mark desperately wants to be a part of - to create Harvard Connect, a dating website, of sorts, that would be exclusive to Harvard-ites. This is when, in reality, the disputes start. The upperclassmen, led by the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler (and played by one actor, Armie Hammer), claim that Mark took their Harvard Connect idea and turned it into his own venture, The Facebook, as it was first called, leading them on for months, never delivering Harvard Connect and effectually screwing them out the billions of dollars Mark has made as Facebook’s creator.
The other dispute is a little more personal. To start The Facebook - and start it well - Mark needed to buy server space, as Harvard’s servers couldn’t handle the kind of traffic Mark expected. For this Mark turned to his then best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who happened to have a nice chunk of change in the bank after a successful summer job. With Eduardo putting up the cash, the two agreed upon a business deal, making Eduardo CFO of The Facebook. Eventually, Mark would sell out his best friend, after which point Eduardo vows to come after Mark and everything he’s worth. Both the Winklevosses and Saverin have sued Zuckerberg, each suit resulting in a settlement. (Some of the script or inspiration for the script is taken from depositions given during these suits.) That’s the action of the story. But what makes this so compelling is not the action - it’s the motivation (or obsession) behind it.
Mark Zuckerberg, as depicted in The Social Network, just wants to fit in. When his girlfriend is breaking up with him, he’s going on and on about trying to get in to one of the Final Clubs, some elite group of elite clubs at Harvard. We later see him sorely fitting in at an AEPi party. (AEPi being not a Final Club but a Jewish fraternity.) And what interests him the most about the Winklevosses initial offer to work on Harvard Connect is its exclusivity - the idea that he would be a part of something that not everyone else could - that for once he might be sitting at the cool kids’ table. I think this makes him incredibly sympathetic. He’s not necessarily a bad guy. He might have made some bad decisions - some BIG bad decisions - or executed decisions badly, but deep down he doesn’t strike me as a bad person. He’s just someone who wants to be liked. Isn’t that what we all want? Don’t we all want to fit in? Isn’t that why we dress a certain way or ascribe various labels to ourselves? Facebook, it would then seem, was Zuckerberg’s attempt to fit in; he knew he couldn’t fit in within the current social avenues available so he created a new one.
Along the way, though, this lonely guy was seduced by the illusions of friendship borne out of his own creation and that led to the suits, the irreparably damaged friendships and questionable business decisions.
It’s a fun ride to watch, though. I’ve already mentioned how terrific Aaron Sorkin’s script is but the script is just one of the perfect elements at work in The Social Network. David Fincher’s direction here is superb, cutting between the events and the suits with great precision, editing just so to give Sorkin’s words extra potency. The score was perfect, too. Atticus Ross and Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor created an original score that was at times haunting, atonal, dissonant and thrilling - sometimes all at once. The other perfect - and often elusive - element was the cast.
Justin Timberlake first came to us via the Mickey Mouse Club and hasn’t stopped entertaining us since. Here, Timberlake does an excellent job of portraying Napster founder Sean Parker as a creepy, delusional, egotistical seducer. Parker discovers The Facebook and slyly interpolates himself into the business (he still owns about 7% of the company), taking the susceptible Mark under his wing, introducing him to the perks of the cool world, encouraging Mark to move Facebook (removing the “The” was Sean’s idea) to California and setting him up with business partners and investors who would ultimately dilute Eduardo’s shares of the company.
I think Andrew Garfield is going to get a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Eduardo. This relative newcomer gives an outstanding performance here and now I’m quite keen on seeing him take over the Spiderman franchise, not to mention whatever else he has coming down the pike. Garfield’s a bean pole but exudes confidence and conviction that make him a powerful force to be reckoned with. He is able to show strength of character and vulnerability as Eduardo sits across from his former best friend during a deposition, silently pleading with Mark to do the right thing.
And doing exactly the right thing as Mark throughout The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg is at the top of his game. There is a scene during which Sean is describing his fantasy plans for the computer science whiz. Mark sits listening, not saying anything. Yet, Eisenberg conveys so much with this deep, intense stare and the start of a smirk. The look on his face says, “Yes, I want that - that seems so cool”. It’s also a look that says, “I so desperately want to be part of that world - please let me in”, which is really the crux of the character. And towards the end, as we watch Mark contemplate making a Facebook friend request, Eisenberg manages to tell an entire story with just one twitch of an eyebrow. His performance is subtle and careful, and ultimately incredibly effective and affecting.
The Social Network has been getting all kinds of buzz - Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave it four stars and other critics are raving, too; industry folks are touting it as an awards season contender; and with its pedigree, Sorkin, Fincher and the triumvirate of Eisenberg, Garfield and Timberlake, most people - myself included - were holding it up to a very high standard. I am happy to report that it lives up to all those expectations and deserves all that acclaim and more. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go update my Facebook status.