As we sit at our computers day in and day out, clicking through the digital realm of social interaction that has supplanted phone calls, text messages and even e-mail, most of us rarely stop to think about how it all began. But the same social networking site that serves most students as the ultimate tool for procrastination transformed one college student from a brainy misfit into a billionaire.
Director David Fincher’s new movie, The Social Network, takes us on the controversial journey Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took throughout the creation and first few years of the website’s existence — at least according to Ben Mezrich.
Since Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is based on The Accidental Billionaires, Mezrich’s book, for which Zuckerberg was not a source, we can’t exactly be sure how accurate the film is. We can be sure, however, that Mezrich’s “Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal” translates well onto the big screen.
The film begins as Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a computer-savvy Harvard student, rambles with little discretion to his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) about his perfect SAT score and his obsession with being invited into one of Harvard’s elite secret societies known as final clubs.
Pushed over the edge by Zuckerberg’s unbearable arrogance, Erica dumps him, making sure that he knows girls will never like him — not because he’s a nerd, but because he’s a jerk.
As Zuckerberg sprints back to his dorm room to get revenge via the Internet, the audience is told that it’s fall of 2003 at Harvard University.
Facebook has yet to be invented, but its origins take root that night as Zuckerberg spitefully blogs about Erica and takes his anger out on the entire female population at Harvard by hacking into school directories to create a website where visitors can choose which one of two female students is more attractive. The website gets so many hits that it causes the entire network to crash.
This slightly drunken stunt not only earns Zuckerberg academic probation, but also notoriety around campus and the attention of the Olympic-bound Winklevoss twins (played by Josh Pence and Armie Hammer) who recruit Zuckerberg to assist with the programming of a Harvard-exclusive dating site they’ve been developing.
It is Zuckerberg’s agreement to work with the “Winklevi,” as he calls them, that lands him in one of the two lawsuits that serve as the framework of the film — the other brought on by his former roommate and best friend, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).
The remainder of the movie jumps back and forth between the court hearings and Zuckerberg’s neverending attempts to impress Erica with his quickly spreading online phenomenon, revealing a very human — yet oddly inhumane — face behind the book.
Eisenberg portrays the almost mythical Zuckerberg persona to the tee, his snarky social awkwardness bringing a few laughs into the otherwise very serious conference room scenes.
“Did I adequately answer your condescending question?” he asks the Winklevoss’ lawyer at one point.
The rest of the young cast is also very strong, including Justin Timberlake as Napster co-founder Sean Parker, who gives Zuckerberg a taste of the rock star life that he too could lead if he takes Parker’s advice about what was originally called thefacebook.com. Zuckerberg does just that when Parker tells him to “drop the ‘the.’ Just Facebook — it’s cleaner.”
Fincher’s direction of the carefully selected cast complements Sorkin’s writing well, as both infuse their masterful telling of the story with the perfect mix of drama and wit, a story that serves as a commentary on an entire generation of technology-obsessed individuals.
Even the detailed computer programming depicted at the film’s start — not something easily made interesting on screen — is executed flawlessly. The programming scenes’ quickened pace as Zuckerberg punches out the indecipherable code is paired with electronic music demonstrating Zuckerberg’s mental superiority rather effectively.
Even more powerful, however, are the moments when Zuckerberg’s fingers are not tapping away on the keys that have made him the youngest billionaire in the world, but rather when he is face-to-face with his friends, rivals and ex-girlfriend. It is in these scenes that filmmakers reveal the great irony that surrounds Zuckerberg’s life: He created a site to bring people together, but in doing so pushed all those closest to him away.
Almost as brilliant as its protagonist, The Social Network provides us with an intimate glimpse into Zuckerberg’s previously well-concealed life, a glimpse not unlike the one the Facebook CEO has provided us into the lives of all those whose friend requests we have accepted, those whose pictures, posts and private thoughts anxiously await our review.