by Mel Valentin
"The Social Network," David Fincher ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Zodiac," "Panic Room," "Fight Club," "The Game," "Se7en") and Aaron Sorkin’s ("The West Wing," "A Few Good Men") adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s ("Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions") non-fiction bestseller, "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal," about Mark Zuckerberg, the “creator” of Facebook, the social networking site and multi-billion dollar company, already has been called the “film that defines a generation” by over-excitable, hyperbolic movie critics and movie bloggers. It’s hard to disagree that Facebook and, by extension, social media, has reshaped how we interact, maybe even profoundly, but is the heavily litigated story behind Facebook as profound and illuminating as Fincher and Sorkin think it is? No, far from it.Sorkin and Fincher settle on a reductive (and fictionalized) explanation for the creation of Facebook: the One Who Got Away, Erika Albright (Rooney Mara), an attractive Boston College coed who breaks up with the impenetrable, insensitive Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in the opening scene. Unsurprisingly given the weight they give to Zuckerberg's motivation, The Social Network ends with a friendless Zuckerberg sitting alone in a conference room repeatedly hitting “refresh” on Facebook, hoping Erika will accept his friend request. In between the opening and closing scenes, Sorkin and Fincher structure The Social Network around depositions taken in two lawsuits against Zuckerberg that flash back and flash forward and involve multiple points-of-view.
"In cyberspace, no one can hear you scream."
That first, dialogue-heavy scene, typical of Sorkin’s writing for The West Wing, also contains the first glimmers of Zuckerberg's obsession with social status. Short, slight, unathletic, and socially inept (as depicted, he seems to suffer from an autism spectrum disorder), Zuckerberg lacks the family connections or WASP background to join the super-exclusive “final clubs” that make-or-break the college and post-college lives of Harvard's undergraduates. Zuckerberg's best friend and future Facebook co-founder/partner, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), gets "punched" (invited) to apply for Phoenix Club membership, but Zuckerberg doesn't, a development that apparently contributed to the eventual breakdown of their friendship and partnership.
After trashing Erika on his LiveJournal blog, a drunk Zuckerberg raids Harvard’s servers for each dormitory’s “facebook” (photo collection of students), creating a "Hot or Not" variation, Facemash. The new site gets 22,000 hits in just four hours. The university reprimands Zuckerberg and puts him on academic probation. Zuckerberg’s notoriety brings him to the attention of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) and their friend-business partner, Divya Narendra (Max Minghella). The Winklevoss brothers are everything Zuckerberg isn’t: privileged, wealthy, good-looking, and extroverted Olympic-level athletes.
Zuckerberg initially agrees to write code for their “Harvard Connection” website, but instead develops his own Harvard-only social networking site. With Saverin as CFO and primary (actually only) investor, Zuckerberg launches the first iteration of Facebook (“thefacebook.com”), initially limiting the site to Harvard students, then expanding it to other Ivy League schools, other high-reputation schools, and over time, to anyone and everyone. The Winklevoss twins and Narendra sue and later, when Zuckerberg moves to Palo Alto at the suggestion of Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), so does Saverin who gets edged out by the ambitious, scheming Parker.
The Social Network's Rashomon-inspired nonlinear structure and multiple points of view gives us, if not the "truth," then, according to Fincher in interviews, something "truthful," For all his obsessive behavior, ineptness, and insensitivity, Zuckerberg, who refused to be interviewed for Mezrich's book or Sorkin's adaptation, emerges as a compelling, tragically flawed, figure. If Sorkin and Fincher are to be believed, Zuckerberg may have lost his soul to gain a virtual empire (shades of The Godfather's Michael Corleone), but he ultimately obtains almost everything he wants: wealth, power, status, and women (even if he spends most of The Social Network’s running time openly pining for Erika).
Women are either objects of frustrated desire (with, at least in Erika’s case, some agency), sexual props, unbalanced, obsessive hangers-on, or in the case of Marylin Delpy (Rashida Jones), one of Zuckerberg's attorneys, audience stand-in. Mirroring the first scene where Erika calls Zuckerberg an a-hole before ending their relationship, Delpy says, “You’re not an a-hole, Mark. You just want to be.” After sitting through The Social Network, audiences will have to decide whether they agree or not with Delpy’s claim, but it’s there to suggest that Zuckerberg may, despite all the evidence Fincher and Sorkin present in the preceding two hours, can change.Not surprisingly, Fincher and Sorkin’s cautionary/morality tale takes us across familiar ground, offering audiences lessons about ethics (or lack thereof), greed, egotism, selfishness, friendship (and betrayal thereof), money, and power (and sex as a fringe benefit). But "The Social Network" is more than a cultural critique and a study of a flawed character. It also celebrates the ruthless, amoral, ultimately profitable pursuit of innovation, regardless of the personal and professional consequences for Zuckerberg or anyone around him. Post-lawsuit, Saverin regained co-founder status and a billion-dollar stake in Facebook.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=20232&reviewer=402
originally posted: 10/02/10 05:45:13