With 500 million users, approximately a twelfth of the population of the planet, it is doubtful that there are many people that don’t know what Facebook is. What many people don’t know is the behind the scenes story. That is what The Social Network seeks to shed light on.
Mark Zuckerberg is a sophomore at Harvard University when his girlfriend breaks up with him. In order to vent his frustrations, he hacks the entire university database and downloads pictures of every female student. He uses the photos to create facemash.com, a website where users can rate the level of attractiveness of the girls relative to each other, two at a time. The site takes off with such speed that in one night, within a few hours, the website crashes the university network. This stunt earns Zuckerberg notoriety throughout Harvard. But it also helps him catch the eye of three members of one the prestigious and incredibly exclusive clubs at Harvard, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra. They ask him to help them create a social networking website by writing the code for them. Their idea plants the seeds in Zuckerberg’s mind.
Mark enlists the help of his best friend and roommate, Eduardo Saverin, who had supplied him with an algorithm crucial to making facemash.com. Eduardo joins Mark, supplying all the capital for the start up. In February 2004, thefacebook.com launches and all the trouble begins. Mark’s life fills with turmoil as his friends and enemies turn on him and he isn’t sure whom he can trust.
When this project was first announced, Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher seemed like an odd pairing of writer and director. Now it is clear they are a match made in heaven. Fincher’s penchant for running take after take, hitting at least twenty with most shots, really helps the actor’s find the rhythm in Sorkin’s rapid fire, acid tongued dialogue. I also had concerns about how Fincher’s visual style would blend with Sorkin’s habit of writing scenes of people in rooms talking. Fincher really reigned himself in for this film. That’s not to say that the film isn’t beautiful – it very much is. But in a film centered around computers and the internet, Fincher chooses to use next to no visual effects. Instead, he focuses on the performances of the actors, letting them carry the weight of the story.
And Jesse Eisenberg carries the heaviest load in the role of Mark Zuckerberg. Eisenberg carries this role with ease. He is amazing to watch. The darkness and arrogance he brings to it is something he hasn’t shown before. The way he fires out lines of dialogue dripping with venom at the people that challenge his achievement is absolutely enthralling to watch. This is a kid that created something incredibly successful and refuses to bend to the will of those that don’t want to take him seriously because of his age. Not only will he not tolerate that, he’ll show you just how much smarter than you he is. This performance is so good, so thrilling to watch, I believe that it will win Eisenberg an Oscar.
There to match Eisenberg along the way is Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin. Garfield fills Saverin with traits that seem to be lacking in Zuckerberg. He is reasonable, he respects authority and institution, he understands there are channels of discourse. But he also has fear. He is fearful of taking a big risk with the company or letting it sit until Mark deems it is ready to monetize. But he is more than simply a foil, he is Mark’s only friend. He is the only person that not only tolerates all of Zuckerberg’s alienating qualities, but understands him and cares about him. Garfield is a phenomenal actor. When Mark reveals information to him, you can really see that information hit him. You can see the giddiness of creation shining in his eyes when they launch the website and the smoldering venom in those same eyes when Mark begins to drift away. You can see it in the way he carries himself, the way he walks into a room with shoulders raised and head held high or the way he stares at the ground as he walks away, looking as if every muscle in his body has collapsed. He is acting with his whole body in wonderfully subtle ways.
This is one of the most interesting films in a long time, if for no other reason than the members that were assembled to collaborate on it. Trent Reznor was brought in to work on the score. Now when I think of the creation of Facebook, when I think about people in rooms talking, I don’t think of the primal energy of Nine Inch Nails. And when you listen to the music on its own, it is just that. Working with Atticus Ross, Reznor composed a score that is relentless and dark, filled with echoing snyths and a vibrant percussive attitude. But seeing the music used in the film, it is exactly what the film needed. The electronic nature of the music feels very appropriate given that the world of the film has computers and the internet used as the backdrop. The relentless beat feeds into the energy of Sorkin’s dialogue and the momentum of the scenes. The music is a rather perfect complement to the world that Fincher and Sorkin have created.
If there is one central complaint I have with the film it is that I wanted more. I wanted more of Eduardo and Mark’s relationship. Those moments let the audience in to a side of Mark that is never really seen otherwise. They show the full depth of his character. He isn’t just some arrogant kid. He has doubts. He has regrets. He has weaknesses. And while these moments are hinted at throughout the film, I would have liked to have seen a little more.
The Social Network is an endlessly entertaining film. It is gripping from the very first few seconds to the last moment of the film. It is a film that turns people typing on computers and talking in rooms into something as exciting as a bank heist. To use a term that is more and more becoming common vernacular, I like this on Facebook.