“The Social Network” (2010)
At the end of David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” a young lawyer who’s been sitting in on the depositions with Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) says to him, “You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be one.” Played expertly by Jesse Eisenberg in his meatiest role yet, Zuckerberg is a weasel of a man, a neurotic genius who is acid-tongued, bitter and condescending. Eisenberg is used to playing the likable nerd. Â This time he plays a nerd all right, but this one is utterly unlikable and unable to connect with anyone. Consider the opening scene of the movie as Zuckerberg has a beer with his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara soon to star in Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”). Their conversation seems normal at first but upon further listening, you realize how strangely he is interacting. It’s darkly comedic but also deeply unsettling as is the rest of Eisenberg’s performance. Zuckerberg verbally assaults Erica and is not so much talking with her than piling all of his rage-filled grievances onto her. She promptly dumps him and heads toward the door not before turning around and calling him, yes, an asshole.
And this is the young man who founded Facebook at Harvard back in 2003 and is now the youngest billionaire. He is a computer programming genius obsessed with being included, driven by his idealist vision and yet so blind-sided by it that he becomes a Citizen Kane for the Internet age, a man whose goals overwhelm his ability to remain engaged in the world around him. Mark Zuckerberg is the anti-hero of our time. Director David Fincher (“Zodiac,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) are a miracle of a pairing who have taken the story behind the founding of Facebook and turned it into a modern epic that is endlessly compelling. This is a rush of contemporary filmmaking that is brilliantly entertaining and even more brilliant in its resonant implications and unexpected emotional wallop.
Based on the book “The Accidental Billionaire” by Ben Mezrich, Sorkin takes what could have been a complex and muddled tale and shapes it into an easy to follow and fascinating fact-based structure full of searing and intelligent dialogue that rewards big for paying close attention. The narrative shifts back and forth in time between Zuckerberg’s creation of the revolutionary website and the depositions surrounding the lawsuits that followed its success. Aiding in the storytelling is the impressive and sleek editing as well as the cinematography from Jeff Cronenweth which bathes every visual in a gorgeous sheen. A tantalizing and ominous musical score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross fits the mood.
Back in his dorm room after getting dumped by Erica, Zuckerberg sits down and writes a nasty blog post about her that gets us angry and disgusted. He doesn’t stop there and creates a site called Facemash by hacking into the “facebooks” of Harvard dorms, gathering up the head shots of female students and placing them side by side to judge their looks. The site gets a resounding number of hits to the point where it crashes the campus server. The act is illegal and puts Zuckerberg on the map. He soon gets approached by a pair of rich twins, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer), who are on the prestigious rowing team and have an idea for a website called the Harvard Connection. After accepting their offer to help build the site, Zuckerberg privately talks it down claiming how juvenile their techniques are and goes on to create his own site, Facebook.
Of course there’s no way he could do it on his own. He recruits the help of his only friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who lends all the money to start up the site and becomes CFO of the company. Praise is due for Andrew Garfield whose performance is the movie’s moral compass and soul juxtaposed against Zuckerberg’s own soulless proceedings. When he eventually is betrayed by his friend, Garfield shows a painful devastation in Eduardo that cannot be matched. Both Garfield and Eisenberg greatly deserve Oscar nominations for their phenomenal work.
The glitz of fame and fortune is presented to Zuckerberg and Eduardo through the cocky and charismatic co-founder of Napster, Sean Parker, who is played with conviction by Justin Timberlake. Parker takes them to flashy clubs, elegant dinners, house parties with underage drinking and drug use and becomes an idol to Zuckerberg as the one who pulls him into the big leagues. When Parker convinces a move to California, that’s when Eduardo gets left behind by his ex-comrade.
The movie is a surprising thriller, a social observation on why Zuckerberg screwed over the people he did. In the same moment when he is called an asshole by the young lawyer, Zuckerberg slumps down before his laptop and goes to his ex-girlfriend Erica’s Facebook page contemplating whether to request to be her friend. His blank stare as he repeatedly hits the refresh button sums up the cruel irony of “The Social Network.” For something our culture relies so heavily on, something we ourselves have become obsessed with checking more than once or twice a day, the fact that its origin comes from an act of scorn by an angry nerd against those in his own social circle is quietly disturbing. This is a movie about the way we live today, a cautionary tale looking back at who invented this way of living. It is the ambivalence of our relationships and the ambivalence of Facebook itself. This is not only one of the year’s best movies but very well may be the best movie of the year. It is easily the most important one you will see all year.