Now available on DVD, “The Social Network” covers the events and people surrounding the invention and spread of Facebook, the network in question. It spends almost as much time dramatizing the lawsuits following in the wake of that hugely influential—and immensely profitable!—innovation. In fact, director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin supply much of the narrative via the flashback/flashforward technique, a nifty, if initially confusing approach. The story pushes along at dizzying speed, not unlike the rise of its subject.
As the titular founder of the network, Mark Zuckerberg, young Jesse Eisenberg elicits our admiration, but also our revulsion. Ironically, the genius who gave us “friend” as a verb makes a ton of enemies on his way to becoming the world’s youngest billionaire. Among them are his only friend at Harvard, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), the girl friend whose rejection of him (Rooney Mar) gives Mark the germ of the idea, and his initial backers, the Winkelvoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer). Indeed, the only “friend” he seems to have at story’s end is Napster inventor Sean Parker, played with surprising complexity by Justin Timberlake.
The speed of Mark’s rise (or fall, depending on your moral outlook) is reflected not only in the editing but in Eisenberg’s rapid-fire, deadpan delivery. Sorkin, perhaps best-known for his “West Wing” scripts, conveys not only Zuckerberg’s intelligence but also his egotism. A lot of “we” statements subtly shift to “I” proclamations as Mark gains control of the phenomenon. His blank visage betrays little of what’s going on behind his eyes: when we find out, it’s often unlovely.
In his quest for respect and acceptance by the “right people” at Harvard, Zuckerberg betrays not just his friends but some fairly basic ethical principles. Ironically, in the film’s somewhat controversial adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaires,” Mark comes off as not caring much about the piles of money he makes, though everyone around him is focused on wealth and its perks. We may sympathize with his feelings of exclusion; we despise his lying and duplicity.
Facebook is clearly an important social phenomenon, and its birth and amazing growth are worth knowing about. I don’t buy all the critical hype that accompanied the movie’s release—including its presumed Best Picture favorite status-- but I do think it’s well-made, well-acted, and well-directed. If its picture of the founder is not entirely historically accurate, that makes it the rule, rather than the exception among movies. In any case, it’s entirely entertaining, which I’d guess is at the base of its popularity and the attendant Oscar buzz.
Fincher and Sorkin have put together an interesting film, visually and intellectually, even for people who—like your friendly reviewer—are less than enthusiastic about Facebook. (Yes, I have a page: don’t ask.) “The Social Network” is rated “PG-13,” for language, sexuality, and drug use, all of which are authentic, no doubt, but may not be what you want your teenagers to absorb, assuming they haven’t done so already.