Eugene Weekly : Movies : 10.07.10


Boy Wonder
The founder of Facebook
by Jason Blair

THE SOCIAL NETWORK: Directed by David Fincher. Written by Aaron Sorkin. Cinematography, Jeff Cronenweth. Music, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Rooney Mara and Brenda Song. Columbia Pictures, 2010. PG-13. 121 minutes.

Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

At the outset of The Social Network, the superb film by director David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac), our boy hero Mark Zuckerberg is seated in a bar. Played with both insouciance and hyperkineticism by actor Jesse Eisenberg, Zuckerberg, who will eventually develop Facebook, is arguing with Erica (Rooney Mara) about his desire to create something big. Since we already know the outcome, the message of the scene — and the theme visited again and again in The Social Network — isn’t so much how great ideas develop, but at what cost greatness comes into being. When Mark suggests that his future notoriety will only enhance her own profile — he’s a Harvard student, after all, while she attends lowly Boston University — Erica breaks up with him, remarking that dating him “is like dating a Stairmaster.” In a film in which women are sometimes portrayed unflatteringly, it’s the most honest feedback Mark will receive, as well as our first inclination that Zuckerberg might need warning against himself.

As if inspired by the breakup, Zuckerberg gets to work that night on a pre-Facebook site called Facemash, in which Harvard students rate the relative hotness of their female classmates. The website makes him a pariah on campus, but also something of a legend. These early chapters, centered at Harvard, are so pure in their energy and wit, their (sometimes literally) naked determination and focus, that the film envelops you despite Zuckerberg’s fundamental unlikability. The Harvard mystique is played to perfection, from its secret societies to its allure for young women from nearby campuses — none of which feels accessible to Zuckerberg, for whom Harvard is just an incubator for other people’s success. But Zuckerberg has the good fortune of getting a job offer from the Winklevoss twins (both played, amazingly, by Armie Hammer), who invite him to program their nascent website, Harvard Connection. The site allows you to link to other friends on campus, building your social network via invitation-style requests. All the way back in 2003, the idea seemed revolutionary. 

From here, The Social Network careens into the penalty phase, during which the two lawsuits eventually brought against Zuckerberg play out against intermittent stretches of drama. For the rest of the film, the lawsuits provide the primary dramatic framework, a structure not unlike Law & Order but with much, much better direction. While the depositions plod somewhat — at one point, even the protagonists are falling asleep at the lawyers’ tables — they reveal Zuckerberg at his shrewd, impolite and insecure best, boasting about how the Winklevoss twins were too stupid to steal from (in the one lawsuit) and how Facebook’s co-founders couldn’t keep up with him (in the other). Zuckerberg’s most redeeming quality proves to be his best friend and classmate, Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), a gentle, selfless charmer and Facebook’s first CFO. Merely by standing next to Eduardo, Zuckerberg appears more sympathetic; unfortunately, Eduardo is the source of the second lawsuit.

Working from a stellar script by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War), director Fincher makes computer coding seem urgent, sexy and trangressive. Zuckerberg and Eduardo, in addition to late-arriving Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), are ninjas of modern-day social life, sociologists running amok on the internet with a billion-dollar algorithm. Fincher fully grasps their outsider status, never mocking them but never glorifying them, either, in the process creating a memorable thriller with a rock and roll spirit.