The Social Network

Faustian Facebook story turns out pretty epic.

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 28, 2010

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Mixing Patterns: Jesse Eisenberg plays Facebook founder and world's youngest billionaire Mark Zuckerberg with a complete lack of vanity

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“Why would I want to go see a movie about Facebook?” my dad asked a couple weeks ago.

Well, that’s the catch, isn’t it? Then again, Citizen Kane wasn’t much interested in the newspaper industry, using a media magnate as an entry point to a story that was a mite more concerned with loneliness and megalomania. “The Facebook Movie,” as it has been dubbed by most folks, obviously aspires to be a millennial Kane , dropping allusions to Welles’ classic left and right and roping in The Great Gatsby and Faust for good measure. It’s the ostensibly simple story of a bunch of friends who screwed each other over while building an unexpectedly popular website, yet this thing is shooting for the high-falutin’ moon, reference-wise.

It also plays like gangbusters.

As far as pure, propulsive entertainment goes, The Social Network is a giddy, two-hour rush of hot-blooded vertiginous dialogue and cucumber-cool cinematic curlicues. The unlikely pairing of florid, heart-on-his-sleeve West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin and clinical, profoundly dyspeptic Fight Club director David Fincher has proved unexpectedly revelatory.

A 162-page script (Hollywood’s usual formula dictates a-page-a-minute) blurted out in just under two hours, the movie is a barrage of intoxicating, rapid-fire chatter. Fincher is more than up to the task of finding sly pictorial counterpoints throughout, and upon first viewing one is often faced with the choice of whether to look or listen. The audio-visual virtuosity is almost overwhelming.

This story by now is an urban legend. Dorky outcast Mark Zuckerberg (fearlessly played by Jesse Eisenberg without a single sop toward audience sympathy) got dumped and drunk one night and set Harvard’s campus on fire by swiping photos of co-eds for a “which chick is hotter” online contest after hacking the university’s “Facebook” intro site for undergrads—and that one evening of spurned, shitfaced dickishness spawned a multibillion-dollar industry.

Legal issues abound. Questions still remain as to who was where for what and when, particularly with regard to two behemoth WASP twins (both played, thanks to some nifty digital trickery, by Armie Hammer) who hired Zuckerberg to code their exclusive Harvard dating site. The Social Network zips back and forth from dorm rooms to deposition rooms, spinning the story into two separate timelines.

But the movie isn’t so much concerned with legal ramifications or questions of authorship as it is with class differences and a level playing field in our tech-savvy here-and-now—revenge of the nerd. Hammer’s Aryan Übermenschen Winklevoss twins (amusingly dubbed “The Winklevi” by Zuckerberg) are the kind of handsome, old-money bros some of us were unfortunate enough to meet in college. These dudes accept success as a birthright and expect everybody else to play by their rules.

Zuckerberg, with his creepy, unblinking antisocial tendencies, stuffed a middle finger in the mouth of the Harvard old-boy hierarchy. He’s a heroically petulant outsider (his Jewishness is only obliquely referenced, but figures largely in the saga nonetheless) and it’s only when Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster, grabs onto Zuckerberg like a leech and seduces him into a new world of dance clubs and Silicon Valley venture-capitalist millions that the Faustian elements of the tale begin to take their toll.

Timberlake, by the way, is extraordinary. Lit from beneath for maximum Mephistophelian overtones, he’s the snake in the grass who is able to sever Zuckerberg’s lifelong friendship with the site’s co-founder, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), introducing our furious antihero into that late-night world of hot girls and very bad drugs that the old school rules always walled off from his nerdy, tattered-hoodie-wearing ass.

“Every creation myth needs a devil,” pronounces Rashida Jones’ lawyer during one of the movie’s more regrettable on-the-nose one-liners. Nobody familiar with his work will be surprised that Sorkin sometimes has a tendency to overwrite. But even clangers like that one are counterbalanced by the movie’s keen empathy with its characters. I understand Zuckerberg is less-than-pleased with this portrait, but having watched countless interviews with the world’s youngest billionaire, I found him oddly sympathetic here.

The last shot is a doozy, though. Sorkin and Fincher might as well be saying: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kane, but Rosebud has still not accepted your Friend Request.”

Director: David Fincher
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg
Running time: 121 minutes

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