The Social Network follows Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) through the creation of the social networking website, Facebook.com. Launched in early 2004, the rise of Facebook has been quick and complete. With over 500 million users, Facebook has changed social interaction. The digitalization of our interpersonal relationships is perhaps best exemplified by a fact that David Fincher's The Social Network aptly brings to attention – that Facebook can even be used as a verb. How did we keep track of old classmates, remember acquaintances birthdays, or browse through other people's vacation photos before Facebook?
A bit too early to offer much of a retrospective on the impact of social media, The Social Network remains aptly in the moment. Characters occasionally reflect upon how new technology is changing the nature of relationships, but mostly the Aaron Sorkin-penned The Social Network seeks to tell a story and not necessarily teach a lesson. The story itself is fascinating. In the opening scene of the film, Mark sits in a smoky, crowded bar with his girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), drinking beer and fretting over college life. Their rapport is both intelligent and intense, revealing Mark's moral ambiguity and drive. However, when Mark off-handedly remarks that he will one day introduce Erica to important people she wouldn't otherwise have met, Erica explodes and breaks up with him. In a fit of fury, Mark runs back to his dorm room and simultaneously blogs insults about his ex-girlfriend and begins writing computer code for a project that will eventually lead to the creation of Facebook. Not only does Mark drink prior to this entire night spent programming, but he drinks throughout the process – a creative process more often associated with art than technological development.
As played by Eisenberg, Mark Zuckerberg is a socially inept genius. "It's not that you're an asshole," one character remarks, "It's that you try so hard to be one." Eisenberg succeeds in creating a character that is at once both iconic and deeply human. Zuckerberg is fiercely irreverent, a character who itches to stick it to the man, so to speak. Although impulsive, his instincts often further his own development. While many of Mark's actions are ethically questionable, he is still at times a sympathetic character. Painfully flawed, Mark repeatedly drives away his real friends, such as best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Mark serves as both protagonist and antagonist, and it is this central conflict that drives the film.
Another item worthy of mention is Justin Timberlake as Napster creator Sean Parker. Timberlake's natural charisma and commanding demeanor work well here, revealing a surprisingly insightful job on the part of casting. Many singers turned actors have been far less successful.
How true is The Social Network? Probably like a good rumor, there are elements of fact skewed by fiction. Regardless, it is clear that the real Mark Zuckerberg is a man surrounded by controversy. How could he not be? The Social Network is correct in presenting Zuckerberg as the youngest billionaire in the world. That is a unique honor that promises to bring both friends and enemies.
Whether or not The Social Network accurately presents the creation of Facebook.com, the film does embody a certain cultural mentality that is both outside the norm and immediately recognizable. Zuckerberg's success despite his continual disregard of authority is captivating. Eisenberg's Zuckerberg commands attention even in his uniform of Adidas flip-flops, a t-shirt, and jeans. The Social Network probably reveals more of a cultural anxiety around the popularization of youth culture than anything else. Throughout, the expansion of Facebook is treated with both admiration and trepidation. The Facebook phenomenon is handled with both respect and fear, creating a unique tension. No matter your beliefs on the implications of social media, The Social Network presents this new means of interaction with startling accuracy and entertains throughout.
Rating: THREE BONES
Reviewed by Marit Rogne
Release Date: October 1st, 2010
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Josh Pence, Max Minghella, Arnie Hammer, Rooney Mara, Joseph Mazzello, and Justin Timberlake
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Aaron Sorkin