YOU DON’T GET TO 500 MILLION FRIENDS WITHOUT MAKING A FEW ENEMIES.
I joined Facebook four years ago. At first, it felt like a playground for grownups where we poked each other and greedily accepted every new childish application that someone had designed specifically for Facebook. Four years later, this social network has matured into a comfortable and clever way of staying in touch with friends, family and co-workers. We may not poke each other anymore, but it is just as addictive as ever. This movie adaptation of how it all began is not only evidence of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s genius, but also director David Fincher’s supreme skills.
In 2003, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) has a dangerous idea right after his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) breaks up with him. He downs a few beers, writes a mean-spirited blog post about Erica and creates a website called “Facemash” on the Harvard network where male students can choose which one of two female students is the most attractive, in the vein of websites like hotornot.com. “Facemash” becomes so popular that it brings down the network and Mark faces disciplinary actions… but he also gets the attention of twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer). In order to create “Facemash”, Mark had to hack into the databases of several residence halls and it took him no time.
The twins, and their business partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), think Mark is the right person to help them create a social network exclusively for Harvard students. Mark agrees to do it, but it doesn’t take him long to approach his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) with an idea for a website he’d like to call “the facebook”… which is also based on exclusivity.
Virtually every real-life person portrayed in the movie has denounced it as false, at least those who have an interest in upholding their reputation (such as Zuckerberg and Napster founder Sean Parker who come off as more or less the bad guys). The frame story, which is set a few years after 2003 when Zuckerberg has made billions off of Facebook, has the concerned parties testifying in depositions in two lawsuits, one filed by the twins and Narendra, the other by Saverin. Fincher speedily cuts back and forth between then and now, forcing the audience to take the words of these people (who all hate each other) for granted. It’s a Rashomon situation and we don’t know what to believe… but it is compellingly presented.
Fincher knows how to get the most out of a Sorkin script; his camera follows the witty, fast dialogue between characters with an intensity that do the exchanges justice. The opening scene is not only enjoyable for its portrayal of a strange relationship that goes off the rails, but it also immediately establishes the cold too-bright-for-his-own-good nature of Zuckerberg as well as his motive for creating Facebook, as perceived by the filmmakers (an important detail), who cleverly reconnect with that theme in the sad closing scene. The acting is terrific throughout the movie… but my favorite is Garfield who is electrifying as his character realizes that he risks being shut out of a successful start-up.
As for the music, Nine Inch Nails collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross created a largely electronic score that illustrates the excitement of creativity and sadness of making victims in the process.
Therein lies the irony, of course – the man who created the world’s largest social network seems to have lost most of his friends. Still, Zuckerberg shouldn’t feel too bad about this movie. Facebook users may worry about integrity issues, but not enough, yet, to turn their backs on his creation.
The Social Network 2010-U.S. 120 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Ceán Chaffin, Michael De Luca. Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin. Book: Ben Mezrich (“The Accidental Billionaires”). Music: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross. Editing: Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg (Mark Zuckerberg), Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin), Justin Timberlake (Sean Parker), Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Josh Pence… Rooney Mara.
Trivia: Co-executive produced by Kevin Spacey.
Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Original Score. BAFTA: Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Drama), Director, Screenplay, Original Score.
Quote: “I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try – but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.” (Eisenberg to the twins’ lawyer)
Last word: “Here’s how it started: I got a 14-page book proposal that Ben Mezrich had written for his publisher for a book he was going to call ‘The Accidental Billionaires’. The publisher was simultaneously shopping it around for a film sale. That’s how it wound up in my hands. I was reading it and somewhere on page three I said yes. It was the fastest I said yes to anything. But Ben hadn’t written the book yet, and I assumed that Sony was going to want me to wait for Ben to write the book, and I would start a year from now. They wanted me to start right away. Ben and I were kind of doing our research at the same time, sort of along parallel lines.” (Sorkin, Writers Guild)