The Social Network (2010), Dir. David Fincher

Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) are potrtayed as ruthless power-hungry mavericks.

Rating: 8.5/10 

One person for every 14 worldwide use Facebook, that’s 500 million people. Facebook really has changed the way we think about our social lives and the way we interact (as Justin Timberlake playing computer prodigy Sean Parker says: We lived in farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re gonna live on the internet!). But will a film about it’s first year of inception really be that interesting? Won’t it just consist of loads of geeks staring at computer screens writing code and talking incomprehensible techno-babble?

Whatever your misgivings about a film based around the internet, Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and David Fincher (The Fight Club), have come up with something that is genuinely entertaining and involving. The fact that they had to play with the truth to do so is another matter which may annoy some looking purely for accuracy, but then how many films based on true stories do you know that are really 100% accurate?

The film follows Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) from his first year at Harvard in 2003, when he comes up with a popular website rating Harvard girls. This leads the entrepreneurial Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) to commission him to work on their Harvard Connect website, a social network exclusively for Harvard. It then shows how Zuckerberg took their idea and with the help of his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andew Garfield), who became his business partner, turned it into Facebook, eventually expanding it worldwide with the help of web entrepreneur Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). This narrative is framed by showing Zuckerberg at a later date being sued by the Winklevoss twins for stealing their idea, and by Saverin for cutting him out of his 34% share, after Saverin froze the Facebook account suspicious of Parker’s growing influence; showing the costs of Facebook’s massive success.
The film is based on Ben Mezrich’s thriller-esque book ‘The Accidental Billionaires’, based itself mostly on the testimony of Mark Zuckerberg’s one-time a friend and associate Eduardo Saverin. The fact that Mezrich got his testimony at a time when Saverin was suing Zuckerberg for his greatly reduced share in Facebook (his 24% share was reduced to less than 10%) will already tell you that Zuckerberg is not going to come off as the most likeable of guys in the film.

The opening scene showing Zuckerberg (a brilliant Jesse Eisenberg) talking condescendingly to his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) about the privileges of going out with him and dismissing her university (“you don’t need to study”), leading to her dumping him (Erica: “you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole”) only confirms this.

Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as if he were slightly autistic, unable to comprehend social nuances and as an unsmiling, uptight, blunt and nervously fast talker. While the script emphasises him as a sex-obsessed loner (“I don’t need friends”)-in ironic contrast to Facebook’s social purpose- desperate to get into the elite clubs in Harvard (something Zuckerberg flatly denies); whose motivations for his successes come from a desire to have a girlfriend and to get revenge on those, like Erica, that rejected him.
However, it does also shows what a prodigy he was, and how it was only really him that could’ve taken Facebook to where it is now, and not the privileged Winklevoss twins who sue him for stealing the idea from their website Harvard Connect. As Zuckerberg tells them in the film: “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.” The final scene also elicits some sympathy for Zuckerberg, showing him repeatedly refreshing the screen as he waits to see if Erica has accepted his friend request; leaving us with the impression that despite being a powerful billionaire all he wanted was to be loved (in reality Zuckerberg actually would’ve been with his current girlfriend at this point).

Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake in a standout performance), the web entrepreneur who helped Zuckerberg expand Facebook, meanwhile, comes off as a brilliant but arrogant attention-seeker who can’t stop partying or chasing girls. He is also ruthless and thinks nothing of cheating Saverin out of his Facebook shares. So really complex character portrayals are not the film’s strong point, but they’re absorbing characters nonetheless.

The film ultimately works by making you think about the meaning of success, how despite having money and influence you can still end up lonely and not much happier. In other words it’s Citizen Kane for the dot.com generation.

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