Tech geeks won’t be able to prevent themselves from outbursts of clapping, laughter and bladder leaks while watching The Social Network, David Fincher’s fast-paced drama about the meteoric rise of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg has, of course, famously derided this quasi-biopic as fiction. And although he is portrayed as an acid-tongued, fast-twitch cyberpunk who wilts every lesser intellect around him, perhaps he needn’t worry about his image. Napster co-founder Sean Parker (played dynamically by Justin Timberlake) comes across as a much bigger genius-idiot-douchebag than Zuckerberg (a better-than-expected Jesse Eisenberg).
The movie kicks off with Zuckerberg on a stormy date with girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). The future mogul confronts, condescends, accuses and changes subjects like an ADD/OCD speed junkie on a tear. After Erica hands him his walking papers Zuckerberg rushes back to his Harvard dorm room to get drunk and blog about Erica’s intimate failings. Then he cobbles together a which-girl-is-hotter comparison website called “Facemash” that invites every frathouse guy to humiliate their female classmates by rating their attractiveness (or lack thereof). One hour and 20,000 viewers later, the site crashes Harvard’s mainframe—and turns Zuckerberg into a big man on campus. Soon rowing crew twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss approach the genius coder to build them a Harvard social network site. Zuckerberg agrees, only to blow them off. Instead, he cooks up his own soon-to-be-spectacularly-popular networking site with the help of best friend and newly appointed CFO Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).
Aaron Sorkin’s dazzling script toggles between law office depositions of Zuckerberg and the litigious Winklevoss twins (who are out to sue him), and flashback sequences that tell the backstory. Eduardo is also there, demanding $600 million in punitive damages. Context and tone are everything in this pitch-perfect drama, anchored in the mishandled friendship between the cold-blooded Zuckerberg and the disrespected Eduardo.
The Social Network arrives at an unprecedented time in modern history when the inertia of the Internet zeitgeist can be encapsulated in one word: Facebook. The filmmakers wisely stay away from explicating how people use Facebook or in any nitty-gritty details about the application itself. Fincher and Sorkin utilize a compressed communicative shorthand to tap into a coded tempo of frenzied energy that people use when engaging on Facebook. These are characters that think and talk fast. Very fast. The way the filmmakers and actors grab the audience by the lapels and pull you up to speed with them, is more than a little arresting.
It’s telling that we’re introduced to Napster co-founder Sean in the bed of an impossibly nubile Stanford college student in the morning after a night of sex. She is as shocked to discover his affluent identity as he is to be introduced to Facebook for the first time. He immediately recognizes the “coolness” element that makes Facebook a much sexier medium than sites such as Craigslist. Zuckerberg’s execution of “taking the entire social experience of college and putting it all online” is an iceberg tip that the narcissistic and “paranoid” Sean appreciates as just the thing to turbo charge the economically flagging silicon valley region of Palo Alto.
Some critics have fallen all over themselves comparing The Social Network to Citizen Kane for their thematic similarities of emotionally slighted young media mavericks who took advantage of the people closest to them to accomplish their goals. But it’s a quicksand trap to make such a comparison. Critics panned Citizen Kane when it came out as a “labyrinth without a center.” But it’s clear that the economic center that has made Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire in history is a young-minded public of Internet users hungry for attention and safe interaction. There’s an undercurrent of sadness to the film’s scale and techo-laced musical score that recognizes its subject’s frat boy logic and sorority girl gamesmanship. The tragedy here isn’t personal; it’s public.
The Social Network (R) ★★★★★