Think for a moment about your Facebook page. You do have one, don’t you? And since you do, you have created, within this dedicated URL or in the world at large, a customized persona—one that connects you to other exclusive networks of people. For instance, when you add to your “Likes” on the website, it links you to others with the same interests. One goal of these special groups is that you, as a person, will be liked along with that cool something. So the program is, roughly, that interesting traits plus an exclusive “setting” equal more friends.
“The Social Network” demonstrates the irony in this function, centering on Mark Zuckerburg (Jesse Eisenburg), the so-called “creator” of Facebook.
Not that there is ever doubt that he is the prodigy responsible for the website. From the opening scene, his sharp, witty, and timely dialogue shows his intellectual power. In the following scene, drunk, he writes the code for a website that gets 22,000 hits in two hours; he programs it in two hours, drunk all the while. So when two lawsuits are filed against him—one from his friend/business partner Eduardo, another from a group of jocks who had hoped to collaborate with him—there’s not a feeling that these people “made him what he is,” but that they’re leeching onto his conceptual tour de force.
At the same time, the film does raise some questions about where intellectual property begins. These jocks have an idea for a website called “Harvard Connection,” and Mark makes a website that connects people on more than just educational criteria. In another scene, a student asks Mark the relationship status of one of his classmates. Just as he begins saying that people don’t walk around with a sign indicating that sort of thing, he realizes that they could virtually do this with a Facebook function. So Mark is prompted by the things around him, but does that mean he owes everybody for their minor, spark-scale contributions?
The last, most affecting example of this is Eduardo. Eduardo is Mark’s only investor at the start; his thousands of dollars—a small sum compared to Facebook’s now billion-plus worth—gets the website up and running. In order to keep the site friendly and appealing to users, Mark insists that there not be ads “yet.” In the meantime, Eduardo gets no payback, as the website generates no income. He goes along with Mark’s ideas for a long time, but understandably pushes for changes. Once Facebook does go big, though, the film shows him as an incompetent businessman. Thus, Eduardo gets dumped in the end, though he is Mark’s one true and lasting friend. Eduardo hampers Mark’s creativity because he wants money—something Mark doesn’t care about.
What does Mark care about? From the start, it seems like he’s trying to “fit in.” In the first scene, he mentions wanting membership into the first clubs because they are a way to meet “interesting” people and be happy. His girlfriend breaks up with him, and this prompts him to start the Facebook project. Of course, he quickly loses sight of these things, passing up the many cliques he could be a part of along the way.
As the ideas grow, so does his allegiance to Facebook; it becomes his only direction. Even equally-intelligent, Napster-creating Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) does not live up to Mark’s standard; though Parker provides brilliant business direction, his entrepreneurial ventures (esp. Facebook) are only a way to get to objective things like drugs and women. He becomes a liability for Mark.
In the end, Mark is able to protect himself from all of these hindrances, growing Facebook beyond everyone else’s limited vision. Whereas Mark believes that all of the cool and brilliant things he’s done should propel him among the social elite, they instead alienate him from everybody. Nobody can keep up with him, and people like Eduardo become disposable in his vision for being liked. We’re left questioning the supposed benefits of exclusivity and so-refined networks.
Even with all of its thematic achievements, “The Social Network” could have been a boring story if not for all the other components. I’d like to first give credit to the bold screenwriting of Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”). The Zuckerburg that he writes, far from being “dumbed down” (which might have been a temptation), actually rewards viewers who, relating so well to his experience, somehow also feel a part of his intellectual prowess.
Of course, Jesse Eisenburg gives the role a full body; looking the still 20-something Zuckerburg but conveying his assured, unmatched genius seems like it could have been an impossible accomplishment. In the deposition scenes, Eisenburg makes professional lawyers look and sound like complete idiots. Because Eisenburg’s delivery is impeccable, the dialogue of every other character is better.
Justin Timberlake also outdoes himself here. He has the large task of being first Mark’s model thinker, an irreplaceable accomplice, then so corrupt that he looks like a kid in comparison to Mark. Expect to see Timberlake in some strong roles after this film.
Atticus Ross (“Book of Eli”) and Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails) find an eclectic, edgy score that does a lot for the mood of the film. I expect they will also get recognition for the soundtrack.
But it is director David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “Seven”) who most deserves to take a bow here. His 2007 film “Zodiac” also follows an equally obsessive character through the hefty pace of detective work. Here, Fincher makes Zuckerburg a Gap-sweatshirt-wearing workaholic who creates the thing that seemingly everyone is obsessed with. Fincher’s film and Mark’s mind follow about the same frantic pace: I doubt you’ll find many other movies that make two hours seem so quick, as they should. Why? Because beyond all the excitement of what “happens” in the movie, Fincher has made a film that, on all levels (whether visual, structural, or otherwise) convinces us that this is our story. The result is the best film since 2007.
In the end, I think Mark Zuckerburg finds what he’s looking for once he’s finally forced to say that Facebook wasn’t just his work (even if I believe it mostly is). By the time he’s being sued, Facebook belongs to everybody. And even if people treat their personality as just another thing that they own with some exclusivity, Mark’s life shows that there’s a much more beautiful thing that can happen when we find ourselves on an unfamiliar plane: we can finally share something.