A Review of The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg is not an arrogant man.
At least he is not portrayed that way. He merely wishes that people were not complex. When he talks to people in ways that may sound arrogant, he feels he is stating facts rather than trying to gain an upper hand. He wishes that he could figure out people.

Was Facebook just a way for Zuckerberg to create an algorithm to define people? It seems likely. The film certainly opens that up for debate. Oh yea, the film. That is why you are here. It is a great one, to the point where I almost don’t feel like critiquing it and just suggest you go and watch it. But there are a few pointers I am sure I can give.

The film starts at Harvard University, Fall 2003. Everyone is looking for a new idea that would make them the next Bill Gates (a lookalike even appears giving a speech in one scene). Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg from Zombieland) is merely looking for a way to get noticed by the exclusive social clubs at Harvard. After a fight with his girlfriend about the topic, he exacts revenge by creating a website called Facemash (where undergraduate Harvard girls are ranked based on their appearance) that crashes the Harvard network. This catches the attention of twin brothers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Josh Pence and Armie Hammer, respectively) who want to create a sort of website that connects the students of Harvard. However, Zuckerberg creates his own version called “The Facebook” with his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) that slowly expands to other schools. However, tension mounts between the two after a meeting with Napster cofounder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake…and the man can actually act) who suggest ways to revolutionize the website that Saverin does not agree with.

I am not sure where to really start; let’s go with Jesse Eisenberg’s performance. I am not sure how accurate it is; I have not met the real Mark Zuckerberg. However, for the purposes of the film, it is hard to top. The Zuckerberg as portrayed in the film views the world as a mathematical equation. Everything he does is driven by logic. Everything about him reflects that. He rarely blinks, he constantly stares into space when people are talking to him, and his expression is always blank, but the mind behind it is clearly at work. I am not a psychiatrist, so I cannot speculate on whether or not Zuckerberg is autistic. I can (and will) certainly empathize with his desire to understand people in a way that makes logical sense. It appears that he was not alone in this desire, considering how many people embraced Facebook over the course of the film.

This is the real Mark Zuckerberg

The rest of the film is sort of the same way –  logical and calculated at first, but slowly it is revealed how terrible such a world view can be. At first we see everything in Zuckerberg’s coldly logical world. Then, as the film progresses, it becomes more organic. Tears are spilled and more human drama invades this seemingly perfect world. Even the soundtrack (the best I have heard all year) reflects this. The score starts as cool and calculated, and then, when the film becomes centered around the lawsuits, becomes far more emotional. Those scenes, which are constructed in a unique way, keep audiences interested. In one scene, Zuckerberg and Saverin and inseparable chums, acting as though they will conquer the world. In the others they can barely look at each other. Only later do we understand why.  Now, obviously, the money would be the focus in any such lawsuit. But the film does not allow them to devolve into strict monetary discussions. The people are truly hurt and believe they were wronged and want to destroy Zuckerberg, to show him that his world still interacts with theirs. Sorkin’s script allows for a lot of contrast between the two mise en scenes. At the end, human nature wins out, because no one can accept Zuckerberg’s logical manner. But how long will that last? This film may be the sort of bridge between two eras. I cannot wait to see the film again in a few years; I have a feeling it will only look more interesting as time goes on.

Now, thematically, there is a lot to digest about the film. The film trips (but quickly recovers) here. Is it, say, some sort of Jewish revenge fantasy as Zuckerberg thumbs his nose and proves himself to be intellectually superior to the Aryan (and more popular) Winklevosses? Does Sean Parker act as a foil of Zuckerberg? Or is he some sort of idealized life style that Zuckerberg wishes for himself? Well, the film contains all of those things. In fact, the deluge of information is actually one of the film’s strengths. After all, we are all bombarded daily thanks to Facebook. Why not try to create a film that feels like the website? I was surprised the film even tried (although it did lead to a few bad Farmville puns from Justin Timberlake, but even those are somewhat buried). A film this dense at least needs to be seen to examine what people take away from it.

These are all good aesthetic qualities, but why is the film important to us now? Well, the first reason is that the film delves into a part of our world that has become so dramatically important that some people plan all activities around it. This behind the scenes story is something that most people will not know. But what else does it say about us, as a species? It shows that the same sort of thing drives everyone, from the wealthiest to the poorest. Also, the whole thing does reach to some sort of Shakespearean depth. The film reminds me of Othello told strictly from the point of view of Iago, if that makes any sense. Actually, it does not, so let me make an addendum. It’s Othello told from the point of view of Iago if Iago had no clue what he was doing. Mark Zuckerberg is not a villain, although people try to cast him as such. He is merely a man driven with ambition and becomes convinced that this ambition is all that needs to exist. By the end, even though he is far wealthier, he is trapped in his own creation (as the closing scene shows), completely alienated from the world.

I suppose this is a happier ending. At least he did not perish.

One final word; this one about the ad campaign. The film has been set up to be some sort of beacon guiding jilted audiences to a paradise away from the terrible year this has been. This does nothing but inflate expectations. Is this that shining diamond in a monstrous black cave?  Well, it is a great film and will probably get a few Oscar Nominations (my guess is for Sorkin’s script, Eisenberg’s performance, and Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross’ score) but is it the “film of the decade?”

I don’t know. I leave that declaration to you.

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