Dir. David Fincher. USA. 2010.

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Only a few years ago no one had ever heard of Facebook for one reason, it didn't exist. Today 1 out of every 14 people in the world has a Facebook account. For those unaware, Facebook is a social networking technology that allows people to share their daily lives including photos and videos to friends all over the world. While it has changed the way people communicate with each other in fundamental ways, some decry the communication as superficial and issues of privacy have arisen. The company, led by its founder and CEO, 26-year old Mark Zuckerberg, however, has reached the plateau of having 500 million users, a phenomenal achievement in so short a period of time.  

David Fincher's film The Social Network covers the early days of the founding of Facebook when Zuckerberg was a nineteen-year old student at Harvard. Written by Aaron Sorkin, it is a brutal indictment of a young man's obsession with status and greed at the expense of loyalty to friends and supporters. What is implied by Sorkin, who admits that social media holds little fascination for him, is that “cool” sites such as Facebook offer no benefits to mankind. The picture presented of Zuckerberg is of a friendless computer geek, incapable of having close relationships - an angry, obnoxious, and egotistical young man. In reality, Zuckerberg comes across as warm, articulate and highly sociable, a person that really cares about “making the world open.”

The film, based on the partly made-up book Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich is a blend of fact and fiction that has Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, inventing Facebook as a means of revenge against a girlfriend who rejected him and in order to raise his social status after he was refused entry into an elite all-male “final club” at Harvard. In an opening scene that borders on the chaotic, with music pounding in the background the camera focuses on Mark and his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) sitting at a table in a bar, bantering at a rat-a-tat speed about him fearing he will be rejected if he applies for a Harvard “final club”. Mark is trying to win over Erica but is depicted as so socially awkward that the conversation soon boils over into personal attacks and leads her to remark that, “Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster (a line of exercise machines)” (in reality, the supposed friendless Mark had a girlfriend in college, Priscilla Chan, and they are still together today).

His feelings deeply hurt and seeking revenge for the rejection, Mark insensitively concocts a website called “Facemash” where he hacks into various school sites to obtain and display pictures of various girls on campus, asking users to pick the “hottest”, treating all girls as sex objects to be used for his entertainment. In a sad commentary on the blatant sexism on the campus, Facemash becomes so popular that it crashes the entire Harvard computer system. This event leads wealthy members of Harvard's crew team, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and their friend Divya (Max Minghella), to recruit Zuckerberg to help in developing a new website called “The Harvard Connection”, one that will allow students to line up dates and communicate with each other using the campus server. While this might have seemed original to the twins, in fact a service called Club Nexus began operating at Stanford University two years earlier using that very approach. Zuckerburg takes advantage of this online university network in a fit of revenge but stumbles upon something of great potential. The University's online capabilities had never been used like this before, and due to how quickly his program spread throughout the university, Mark quickly realized that he could do much more by connecting people online.

Mark agrees to work with the twins but deliberately misleads them about his intentions, sending them e-mails about how busy he is, apparently to delay their own project which he worried might be potentially competitive. At the same time, he is working on a new project called “The Facebook” which he is designing along with his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), the films only sympathetic character. Events are shown in flashback as the film zeroes in on later hearings resulting from two depositions, one by Eduardo who claims that he was lied to and betrayed by Zuckerberg, and the other by the Winklevoss twins who sued Mark for supposedly stealing their idea and their code.

Launched in February, 2004, The Facebook enrolled a ton of Harvard students in the first month of its creation. Saverin contributes his own funds to aid in the startup and is made Chief Financial Officer. It is then discovered by the co-creator of Napster, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), an aggressive Web entrepreneur who thinks in terms of expansion not only to other college campuses in the U.S. but all over the world. As it continues to expand, the name is changed simply to Facebook, Mark drops out of Harvard and moves to Palo Alto, California. The final scenes show an increasingly lonely individual, almost a tragic hero, who may have “gained the whole world but has lost his own soul”.

The Social Network is an entertaining and extremely well made and beautifully acted film that holds our interest for its full two hour run. Unfortunately all the creative geniuses are men while women are shown as little more than empty headed groupies and sex objects, eager to serve the boys. While much of the film is accurate in terms of the events portrayed and, except for the invented put-downs of the lawyers, the twins, and Saverin, much of the language is taken verbatim from legal transcripts. While Fincher makes some good points about what is really important in life, it seems that in order to be dramatic, Fincher had to show Zuckerberg in an extremely unflattering manner, almost to the point of character assassination.  
Aaron Sorkin told New York magazine, "I don't want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling," Zuckerberg did not cooperate in making the film and Sorkin was grateful that he didn't saying that if he had met Mark, “frankly, I probably would have had affection for him that I wouldn't have wanted to betray.” With or without Mark's participation, betray he did.


Howard Schumann

Also see Gail Spencer's review of this film.
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