According to The Social Network, You Are Definitely Not the Only Asshole on Facebook
The Social Network is a wonderful title, at once Olympian in its detachment and self-descriptive in its buzz. Everyone will opine (and Tweet) on this Scott Rudinproduced, Aaron Sorkinscripted, David Fincherdirected, universally anticipated tale of Facebooks genesis and founding geniusat least until something sexier comes along.
The main talking point is the movies unlovable protagonist. As written by Sorkin and played by Jesse Eisenberg, Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg is a character far more compelling than his story. Insensitive, paranoid, humorless, and implacably driven, Zuckerberg may not be the years most irritatingly arrogant cine sad sack, but he is the most formidablehowever grandiose, neither Ben Stillers Greenberg nor Ron Bronsteins Daddy Longlegs became a billionaire at age 25.
A sort of mildly autistic Sammy Glick with a grim 1,000-yard glare, Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as the dog in the manger, keeping the audience at arms length while ferociously guarding his screen space against all comers. The first thing we learn about the ungainly Harvard sophomore, yammering away at his date (Rooney Mara) while hunched over a table in a crowded Boston bar, is that he scored a perfect 1600 on his SATs. The next thing is that hes obsessed with gaining entrance into one of Harvards ultra-exclusive final clubs.
This pre-credit scene ends with Zuckerberg driving the fresh-faced co-ed to break up with him then and there: Youre going to be successful and rich. But youre going to go through life thinking that girls dont like you because youre a tech geek. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that wont be true: Itll be because youre an asshole. Her name is Erica, but in the context of The Social Network, it should be Rosebud. Wounded Zuckerberg retreats to his dorm room and, after insulting the girl personally on his blog, avenges himself on her gender by instantly (and drunkenly) devising a website to rate all Harvard women by hotness. The site draws so much traffic from his fellow students (visualized in party-down mode as Zuck programs) that it crashes the Harvard computer system.
Erica is not impressed. (When Zuckerberg attempts a maladroit apology, she sarcastically wishes him good luck with your video game.) But others are, notably a supercilious pair of upper-class upperclassmen, the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer). The golden boys invite Zuckerberg into the foyer of their finalist of final clubs and enlist him in their scheme to create a Harvard-only version of then-reigning social network sites like MySpace and Friendster (Girls want to go with guys who go to Harvard); outsider Zuck appreciates the appeal of Crimson exclusivity and, funded by his dorm-mate, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), runs with it. Facebook is born.
The Social Networks first act is its besta hellishly precise youth movie rattling along on a clamor of computer jargon. Applying a Zodiac-level love of detail and subtly expressionist lighting to another sort of petri dish, Fincher produces a rich, gaseous atmosphere. His Harvard is at once cold and cozy, electric with possibility and oppressively organized according to arcane internal castesalthough I have to wonder at what temperature an actual alum like Andrew Bujalski would have served this material. Suffering through Caribbean Night at his déclassé Jewish frat, Zuckerberg tells Saverin that theyre taking the entire social experience of college online. Facebook.com will be a virtual final club with them as presidents.
Difficult not to root for this graceless parvenu to overturn the system, especially since the self-entitled Winklevoss lads make even Harvards then-president, the execrable Larry Summers (played to the hilt by Rush Limbaugh fill-in Douglas Urbanski), look good; its additionally enjoyable to see Zuck blithely confound a succession of high-powered lawyers once the bamboozled Winklevosses file suit. But here, the narrative stumbles. Saverin eventually sued Zuckerberg as well and, drawing on Ben Mezrichs novelistic history The Accidental Billionaires, itself largely dependent on Saverins story, Sorkin flashes forward to the discovery processes of both suits. The depositions prompt a succession of clumsy chronological, legally approved flashbacks: Zuckerberg leaves Harvard for New York and then, under the Mephistophelean influence of Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), Palo Alto. Its there that Zuckerberg takes Facebook galactichalf a billion users, and potential movie-ticket buyersbut once the charismatic Parker appears, Fincher and Sorkin cede the film to him, along with his patsy, the pathetically duped Saverin. (I was your only friend, he whines as silent Zuckerberg scrunches further into his private void, wondering what it was he did.)
While Zuckerberg grows increasingly enigmatic, Parker gets to make the flashy pronouncementsPrivate life is a relic of a bygone time. . . . Now were going to live on the Internetand is even credited with giving Zuckerberg the idea for his notorious business card (Im CEO . . . bitch). Parker confesses that, back when he was a high school hacker, he invented Napster to impress a girlbut its asserted throughout the film that Zuckerberg is driven by something more than a desire for money or sex or even a monstrous sense of spite. He thinks he wants to be cool, but, like everyone else, he just wants to be loved (though he doesnt know it). Corny as that is, the films nadir comes when Zuckerbergs pretty young lawyer comforts him (or us) with the mealy-mouthed observation, Youre not an asshole, Mark. Youre just trying so hard to be one.
As dramatized in The Social Network, the story of Facebooks founding is not unlike that of any large corporationmegalomania rewarded, sweethearts trampled, partners buggered. Zuckerbergs real achievement, however, was something more mysterious than a 21st-century MGM or Standard Oil; he manufactured intimacy through the creation of a parallel, personalized Internet offering an ongoing second life in a virtual gated community. True to its moment, The Social Network is less interested in mapping this new system of human interaction than psychoanalyzing it through its quintessential user: Zuckerberg.
Like any form of entertainment, Facebook succeeds to the degree that it compensates people for something missing in their livesa lost sense of neighborhood or extended family or workplace solidarity. The key insight in The Social Network is that Zuckerbergnot particularly friendly and not at all prone to sharingcreated his virtual community for the same reason Kafkas self-starved Hunger Artist found his métier: because there was never any food he liked to eat.
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