October 6, 2010 10 Comments
Near the very end of David Fincher’s, The Social Network, Ms. Marilyn Delpy (Rashida Jones) stops at the door on her way out, gives an empathetic look at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and says, “You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.” But that isn’t an accurate statement at all. Zuckerberg is very much an asshole – at least, as he is portrayed in this thought-provoking biographical drama about the inception and meteoric rise of the Facebook website…and the legal ramifications that followed shortly thereafter.
This proper “A-hole” label is made palpably clear in the very first scene of the film, when we see him arguing with his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), and he tells her she doesn’t need to study because she goes to B.U. It is more evident as we watch Zuckerberg throughout the film dealing with various people – classmates, colleagues, women, attorneys, administration, et al. And yes, it’s illustrated when we see the new business cards that he had specially made which read, “I’m CEO, bitch.” In Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay (based on the Ben Mezrich book, The Accidental Billionaires), Mark Zuckerberg is a computer nerd who desperately seeks the approval of everyone; a terribly insecure young man always on the outside looking in – with tremendous ambition and no social skills whatsoever. He is arrogant, obnoxious, a “punk” (as it reads in one of the film’s billboards)…a social misfit. It is no wonder that the real Mr. Zuckerberg wanted no part in the making of this movie and has since rebuffed the events dramatized in it.
What we are seeing here is, in a sense, two stories being told simultaneously. The first of which is the creation of the Facebook website, which begins in Zuckerberg’s dorm room on the Harvard campus in 2003. He is ferociously blogging about his disastrous evening with Erica; insulting her online for all to see. This is the woman who will haunt him for many years to follow, as we see in the film’s very last scene. He comes up with a clever programming idea for the students on campus to participate in, which becomes insanely popular overnight. This idea will later lead to the much larger design of the Facebook networking website. The second story, which really works only to narrate the events of Story #1, is the initial legal proceedings against Zuckerberg as he is being sued for millions and millions of dollars. Again, Zuckerberg acts as if this is just some burdensome errand he must run for the day – like picking up a friend at the airport – and it is this kind of depiction that keeps the audience from having any sympathy for him whatsoever.
Despite the anti-Zuckerberg sentiment, the film works. The story of the beginning stages of Facebook – and Zuckerberg’s relationship with CFO Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and later, Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) is too compelling not to. Unlike most Sorkin screenplays that play off too much like melodramatic TV and filled with cheesy lines, this script flows much more naturally. The back-and-forth of both stories keeps the pace moving and it never lulls off. The score – by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – stands out and suits the mood of each scene very well. Garfield’s performance is a fine one and he is the one character we truly end up feeling for – he looks so tormented when sitting opposite the man he is suing. As the source of money and “business side” for Zuckerberg’s venture, he is pushed to the wayside when the flashy Parker shows up on the scene and seduces Zuckerberg into a West Coast life of investors, women, and margaritas. We get the sense that Saverin was the only real friend Zuckerberg ever had, and Garfield makes that believable. Timberlake adds a lot of flavor to Parker and is well cast, playing the opposition to Saverin admirably. The very limited Eisenberg does what he is supposed to do, I suppose, but little else. He has shown in past films that he can play the neurotic, quick-tongued, quirky, deadpan-delivery young man – and that’s pretty much what he does here, without adding anything to help us understand his reasoning.
Despite what others may have written, the film is not about Facebook. Sure it takes place in a time where social networking was starting to take off and is a solid representation of our lives in the digital age. But really, you can substitute any other business enterprise here for Facebook and get the same story. The themes of loyalty, money, friendship, trust and ambition are what this story is all about — and all showcased well in Fincher’s film.
I won ‘t pretend to know anything about the origins of Facebook – who came up with the idea, who stole from whom and who should have credit. I wish I did know because then I could compare the real story with The Social Network, which takes a lot of artistic license with the facts, I am sure. I can only go by what the movie portrays and that is of a young man who took the ideas of others and went off on his own – only to pay millions and millions of dollars (“a speeding ticket”) for doing so. I’m not crazy about the underlying idea that he went through this all to impress a woman — I find that a bit far-fetched…but it doesn’t keep this from being a smart and entertaining film that, because of its central themes, I think will hold up well years from now when Facebook becomes a “Oh, you remember that? So 2009!”