Film >East Egghead
The epic, two-minute trailer for The Social Network, director David Fincher’s take on Facebook’s origin story, begins with snapshots of the website’s various uses – a girl showing off her new tattoo, an unseen person changing their relationship status from “single” to “in a relationship” – all ways in which wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg’s creation affects its multitudinous users, and with the click of a mouse, can say so much about where they are in their lives. It’s a living anthropological snapshot of our hearts and minds at a certain time and place in a way photo albums could never fully convey. Set to Scala’s haunting rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” the trailer makes a moving statement, a celebration of the overshare culture as preamble to the condemnation (and yes, he is quite the creep in the film) of the person who made it possible.
The Social Network flips the trailer’s intent: It presents Zuckerberg as a brilliant sociopath, complicated and infuriating, in a coldly distant manner until the very end, when the lawsuits are out of the way. Then, we see Facebook as we all know it: a deeply personal experience capable of mediating great joy or crushing heartache. (Who among us doesn’t have someone out there – a long-lost love, a fallen friend – whose acceptance of, or sending of, an “add as friend” request could result in either of these emotions?)
The Social Network’s weak spot is that this human connection comes so late in the game. It’s not a movie-killer – the nearly two hours beforehand are more often than not utterly engrossing – but it leaves just enough to be desired to prevent the film from true greatness.
Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Zuckerberg presents a challenging protagonist, socially awkward, effortlessly demeaning and spiteful. We open with a breakup scene that ranks among screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s greatest vignettes. Boston University student Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) has had enough of Zuckerberg’s Harvard elitism – the final straw is his bitter diatribe about “final clubs” – and Albright wisely bails on him. Zuckerberg responds by blogging awful accusations about her and drunkenly programming a website (Facemash) that allows users to vote on which of Harvard’s coeds are prettier in a side-by-side comparison.
His hurt temporarily sated, Zuckerberg is then approached by a trio of wealthy, entitled overachievers hoping to start a Harvard-exclusive dating website. Zuckerberg half-heartedly agrees to work on it, then never does. Instead, and with Gatsby-esque motivation, he invents a social network for college kids: “The Facebook.” This is all intercut with drawn-out depositions from lawsuits brought on by both the aforementioned trio and Zuckerberg’s best friend, Eduardo Saverin, who co-founded Facebook, and put up the first dollars to launch it before getting squeezed out inelegantly by Zuckerberg and his new partner, Napster founder Sean Parker (played with puckish delight by Justin Timberlake).
As beta male Saverin, Andrew Garfield impresses the most. His quiet desperation, his need to be near Zuckerberg even at the cost of his dignity, serves as a stand-in for Zuckerberg’s future users seeking comfort and a reprieve from loneliness within the cold confines of the Internet. Saverin’s downfall, his increasingly panicked grasping, is nothing compared to what many would feel if Facebook was suddenly taken away from them. Imagine that feeling combined with the loss of billions of dollars and your only friend in the world.
Densely written and expertly directed with performances that rank among the year’s best, The Social Network is not perfect – Trent Reznor’s clueless, punishing score should be brought up on cinematic charges and executed – but neither is anyone involved in its (or Facebook’s) making. Then again, neither are its users.