The Social Network
Aaron Sorkin (Book: Ben Mezrich)
Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Bryan Barter, Brenda Song, Dustin Fitzimons, Patrick Mapel, Rashida Jones, Rooney Mara, Joseph Mazzello, Armie Hammer, Josh Pence, Max Minghella, David Selby, Justin Timberlake
PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language
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Facebook is such an integral part of our lives that many businesses have taken to blocking the social application from their networks in an effort to keep easily-distracted workers from wasting valuable man hours interacting with it. The Social Network is a behind-the-scenes, partially-fabricated exploration of the founding of Facebook and its socially maladjusted founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Jesse Eisenberg, one of the hot young every-man actors working today, takes on the role of Zuckerberg whose anti-social behavior is at odds with the social network he developed and made into one of the biggest cultural phenomena in the last century. Eisenberg paints Zuckerberg as a selfish, egocentric coding genius who betrays his friends and associates in an effort to succeed, even if not monetarily. The film is told in flashback as Zuckerberg defends himself at two settlement hearings relating to intellectual property theft of an idea by Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer, with body double Josh Pence in some shots as Tyler with Hammer’s face superimposed) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), and contractual betrayal of his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Zuckerberg is portrayed as a maladjusted child unafraid to step on toes and steal in order to succeed.
Director David Fincher keeps the film from feeling overly sensational, doesn’t rock the cinematic boat too fervently, yet manages to create a tight, compelling story that paints its protagonist not quite as a hero, but not a true anti-hero, either. You don’t want Zuckerberg to succeed entirely. Matter of fact, the audience remains torn between the two trials. On the one hand, him winning a victory over the spoiled rich Winklevoss twins would be only mildly satisfying. Whereas, if he were to win over his wronged ex-friend Saverin, you would be less excited. It’s a delicate dance that plays out magnificently over the film’s two-hour length.
I am not a fan of Eisenberg’s. His past work has been a little too straight-faced for my tastes. Even though his performances feel like autopilot, their monotonous nature is what is expected when he’s selected as an actor. Take for example his performance in Zombieland. The character is meant to be emotionally-stunted and lacking in vocal flexibility. He’s meant to feel like a socially inept nerd. And here, he plays that stereotype again, yet manages to make it feel fresh and original. I can’t say that I liked Zuckerberg at all, but you aren’t meant to. His rapid-fire dialogue is engaging and when you first meet him across the table from then-girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), you can’t help but be impressed.
But were it not for the performances of Hammer and Garfield, the film would have fallen quite flat. Garfield adds a humanism to the film that is largely vacant when Eisenberg is on screen. He’s friendly, social and has a good head on his shoulders. He’s not concerned about the money and when he’s slowly roasted over the fire of monetary gain, your heart breaks for him. He’s invested heartache and friendship in a business venture only to come out burned on both fronts. Hammer, on the other hand, in the dual roles of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, paints an entirely different picture. These are financially stable young men bound to their father’s money and not terribly disappointed about it. Yet, even when you look at what they have and how they use it to try and buy their way into success, being screwed over in an idea that is expanded and improved upon seems like an unnecessarily raw deal. So, even when they are aggressively pursuing action against Zuckerberg, you get the impression that it isn’t just about the money. It’s that they feel betrayed and stepped on. Despite their identical twin personalities, there are gentle nuances to each that Hammer astutely imbues that give them a bit of life and energy.
Aaron Sorkin, whose screenwriting career is decidedly political (he wrote A Few Good Men, The American President, and West Wing) has made a film that is both pro and anti-business. There are scenes where entrepreneurial spirit are actively championed, then as the film progresses and we see to what degree people will go to succeed, it shifts gears and pushes itself heavily against big business backstabbing. It’s a tender dance that works quite well. His dialogue is sharp and engaging, keeping the audience glued to the screen just to see what malapropism Zuckerberg will spout next or how he’s justify it in his own mind to rationalize his childish attitude. His disregard for others besides himself is exemplified in his wardrobe, all a part of a successful script.
This is a film that defines a movement. We live in times where originality and development can lead to success in business even when you have no business acumen yourself. It’s a time where our society has become more insular and aggressive in weeding out those which do not conform to our simplistic, self-centered goals. We live in a country where if at first you don’t succeed, you either sue or you step on someone else and push them down to get ahead. And just like the social network it is built upon, the film shows us that warts-and-all, there’s little you can hide from the prying eyes of those around you even if what they are seeing is only partially the truth.
February 14, 2011