The Social Network

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know about Facebook. On any given day, at least 250 million active users log on to Facebook and spend over 700 billion minutes per month updating their status, posting pictures or playing casual games. So dominant is this social network, the name itself is both a brand and a verb. Who would have thought that sharing inanities about what we’re currently thinking, eating, reading, watching with our friends would garner such interest? In the new movie The Social Network, director David Fincher sets out to show how, from the very humblest beginnings, Facebook became the juggernaut that it is today.

In 2003, after a debate and breakup with his girlfriend, fueled by his frustration at his exclusion from the social elite, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius, Mark Zuckerberg, sits at his computer one night and changes the face of the internet. In just a few hours Zuckerberg, deftly played by Jesse Eisenberg, circumvents the firewalls and security of Harvard and creates a website that allows visitors to rate the ladies of the campus. Within a few hours, the thousands of hits crash the vaunted computer network of the university.

While Harvard staff was not impressed with his efforts, it certainly caught the attention of his fellow students, most notably the Winklevoss brothers, who seek out Zuckerberg with the intention of creating an exclusive website for Harvard students. While seemingly mulling over the proposal of the new site, Zuckerberg rapidly, and obsessively, develops his own. The early version of what would eventually become Facebook soon becomes a campus sensation, much to the dismay of the Winklevoss brothers.

Andrew Garfield plays Zuckerberg’s friend Eduardo Severin who funds Zuckerberg’s efforts. Facebook rapidly became the height of social hipness as its exclusivity widened to more colleges and universities. College students across the country created profiles and quickly spread news of the site simply by word of mouth. Or rather word of email. The success of Facebook soon gains the attention of Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake. Parker had risen to prominence as the creator of the popular file sharing site Napster and was eager to become involved with the growing success of Facebook. While Mark is fascinated and inspired by Sean’s slick style, Eduardo isn’t impressed and is highly suspicious of Sean’s motives as well as his shady reputation. As the trailers and posters have touted, you can’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies. Jealousy feeds insecurities that feed accusations that eventually lead to lawsuits.

Eisenberg is fantastic as the egotistical, neurotic, and highly intelligent Mark Zuckerberg, but the true breakout performance of the film has to be that of Andrew Garfield, who has been cast to play Spiderman in the next trilogy of the very popular film series. The British actor who was born and raised in Los Angeles has an understated charisma and appears very capable of becoming a leading man. He infuses Eduardo with class and humanism as he tries to be the friend Zuckerberg doesn’t think he needs.

The film is told largely through flashbacks during a deposition hearing between the parties involved in the lawsuits. Director Fincher skillfully allows his characters to drive the film, letting the story unfold in telling scenes, giving the characters ample room to shine without becoming preachy or resorting to grandstanding.

The characters, despite their flaws, do come across as very believable and sympathetic, even though it’s difficult to imagine going from students to inventors of a pop culture phenomenon, to billionaires in just a few short years. Very few corporations that become dominant in their industry do so without critics, challengers, and those that claim they were responsible for whatever success a company gained.

While The Social Network does not overtly place blame, the light it shines on Zuckerberg isn’t altogether flattering. Surprisingly, the film does not go to the extreme with tech talk. It instead focuses on the relationship between the characters and how they handled the drastic and sudden changes in their lives brought on by a simple program called Face Mash, which became the basis for Facebook.

Strong supporting work in the film combined with the great performances of the lead characters makes The Social Network”a very solid and entertaining film that, for my money, is one of the better films of the year.
While it would be easy to jump to judgment and brand many in the film as egotistical rich people who should be grateful for what they have, I remembered that absolute power corrupts absolutely and I wondered just how well any of us in the audience would react if we were ever faced with a similar situation.

Four stars out of five