Tom Becker: Punk. Genius. Appellate Judge.
You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.
Creation myths need a devil.
Facts of the Case
When his girlfriend (Rooney Mara, Dare) dumps him, Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg, The Living Wake) takes to his blog and trashes her. Angry, bitter, and more than a little drunk, the talented yet nerdy computer wiz decides to lash out at all the women of Harvard by hacking into the schools' servers and stealing online pictures of the female undergrads. He considers creating a page on which the women are compared to farm animals, but opts instead to create a "who is hotter?" poll. The illegal site attracts 22,000 hits and crashes the school's server before being pulled, landing Zuckerberg in trouble with Harvard's administration for hacking.
This bold, if puerile, stunt attracts the attention of upperclassmen Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer, Reaper) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella, Syriana). They have an idea to set up a social networking site using the harvard.edu domain, reasoning that the status associated with that address would attract girls. They think Mark can be instrumental in getting it off the ground.
Mark takes their idea and runs with it—straight to another friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, Lions for Lambs), who floats him a little front money to get started. Soon, Mark is busy with the launch of his site—initially called "The Facebook"—and ignoring calls from the Winklevoss brothers and Narendra, who feel they've been ripped off.
In the interest of full disclosure, I need to state upfront that I am not on Facebook or any other "social network." I'm sure it's a fine thing, and people I know speak in sometimes awestruck, sometimes dumbstruck ways of how they've reconnected with people they haven't heard from since college, or high school, or pre-k. The business of amassing "friends" that you really couldn't care less about strikes me as the antithesis of social, and frankly, if I've been out of touch with someone for 20 years, there's probably a reason.
This in no way diminished my enjoyment of The Social Network. While it's shorthandedly referred to as "the Facebook movie," it has nothing to do with promoting the site, using the site, or enjoying the site. Instead, it's an audacious and intriguing true-life, modern-day parable in which six of the seven deadly sins become stepping stones for success, with "sloth" replaced by "ruthlessness." Directed by David Fincher (Zodiac), it's a cool, engrossing, yet somewhat distancing film that not only tells its story, but reflects the whole impersonal intimacy of online socializing.
Writer Aaron Sorkin—who adapted Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires—frames the story with a pair of lawsuits Zuckerberg had to fight, one brought by the Winklevoss brothers, and the other by his one-time best friend and partner, Saverin. Through a series of flashbacks related to deposition statements, we see how Zuckerberg, through (according to the film) a combination of genius, duplicity, and, oddly enough, spite, created a Web site that changed the face of social interaction and made him the world's youngest billionaire.
One of the great ironies here is that social interaction is not Zuckerberg's strong suit. As presented, he's an emotionally stunted individual who lacks insight, empathy, and pretty much anything in the way of people skills. His talent is as a technician, which is why the Winklevoss brothers approach him in the first place.
The Winklevoss twins are shown as almost a parody of the upstanding Ivy League male prototype. Handsome, wealthy, athletic, focused, and goal oriented, they believe firmly in Harvard tradition and are as stunned by what they perceive as Zuckerberg's betrayal as they are clueless as to how condescending they were to him. They go after Zuckerberg long before Facebook has any kind of success beyond Harvard—it's about honor to these guys, and the notion that entitled young men like themselves do not get "taken" by a geeky misfit.
Eduardo, too, is a traditionalist. Almost as nerdy as Mark, he backs his friend financially, then tries to use a business model as Facebook grows out of Harvard and begins expanding to other campuses. Unfortunately, this model collides with some of Zuckerberg's goals—not the least of which seems to be absolute power.
Then there's Sean Parker, the snake who slithers into this budding online Eden and tempts Mark's Eve from Eduardo's stalwart Adam with a sex 'n' drugs 'n' good times apple. Parker was one of the founders of Napster, the file-sharing service that helped bring down the retail music industry, and he sees Facebook as the next big thing. Seductive, glamorous, and eccentric, Parker is the cool and dangerous guy the socially awkward Zuckerberg would love to be, while Eduardo sees him as a con man. This leads to the riff between Zuckerberg and Saverin and a series of betrayals between the two former friends that is more damaging than anything that's ultimately resolved by lawyers.
But the center here is Zuckerberg, for whom a computer is not just an appliance, but an extension of his personality. Jesse Eisenberg is excellent as the gracelessly swaggering non-hero, a guy who's frustratingly aware of his limitations but is never in doubt of his strengths. He's the kid who'd never get to play—only he's got the football, so he'll be calling the shots. Eisenberg uses Sorkin's words like he was born to them, seeming always to know where the next barb is coming from. This Zuckerberg never has any kind of quiet, self-reflective time—he's always listening, always observing, and we can almost hear his brain humming like a processor. This is Eisenberg's finest work yet, well deserving of the accolades it's received.
Garfield turns in excellent work as perhaps the film's most—if not only—sympathetic character; Hammer is solid as the Winklevoss twins, a smooth special effect allowing him to interact with "himself;" and Justin Timberlake brings his pop-star charisma to the role of Parker.
Sorkin's script is keenly crafted and filled with endlessly quotable, rhythmic, rapid-fire dialogue that, coming from the mouths of these privileged and too-clever kids, sounds perfectly natural. The film drips with irony, and if empathy is in short supply, that's OK—it's so well done, we barely have to think about how little we like any of these people.
Working without gimmicks or showy special effects, Fincher creates a chlly, vital, cynically funny, and strangely moving masterpiece—along with Zodiac, this is the director's finest work. It's his Goodfellas, with geeks replacing gangsters, an electronic outlaw story without the requisite redemption, a sharp look at how society has, in fact, devolved into a "network," a lopsided metaphor for the post-Millennial world.
Most studios are saving the bells and whistles for their high-def releases, with standard DVDs often relegated to being a bonus disc in a Blu-ray package. To their credit, Sony doesn't treat the DVD as a red-headed step child, putting the same care into this and including the same supplemental package as the Blu.
Both the picture and audio are stellar. The film's muted palette comes across well, with good contrast and an overall clear picture. Audio is presented in a solid Dolby surround track, offering a particularly good showcase for Trent Reznor's score. There's an optional French dub, as well as a "Descriptive Track," in which a narrator describes the action onscreen, the sort of thing that would be helpful for a visually impaired person.
The two-disc set offers a wealth of supplements.
The film features two commentary tracks, one with Fincher, the other with Sorkin and most of the major cast members. Both are insightful, interesting, and move along nicely.
The second disc offers nearly three hours of extras, starting with the 93-minute extensive behind-the-scenes featurette, "How Did They Ever Make a Movie Out of Facebook?" Cast and crew members recount not only their experience making the film, but their impressions of both the process and their thoughts on the real-life players. Shorter, self-explanatory featurettes include "David Fincher and Jeff Cronenweth on the Visuals," "Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter, and Ren Klyce on Post," "Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and David Fincher on the Score," and "Swarmation," an electronic instrument Reznor used in creating the score. In addition, there is an "interactive" music featurette and a multi-angle breakdown of a scene.
A note about the packaging: Sony has gone out of its way—one might say a bit overboard—in making this the "hippest" looking non-metallic box I've ever seen. Under the shrink wrap, you'll find what looks like a cardboard slipcover, but is actually a cardboard tent, with the standard information—raving critical excerpts on the front, synopsis and disc info on the back. Under the tent is another cardboard box, all black, with the tagline ("You Don't Get to 500 Million Friends Without Making a Few Enemies") embossed in grey on one side, and the credits in tiny grey type on the other. Inside this box, is the DVD case, featuring the poster, with Eisenberg's photo under the words "Punk Prophet Genius Billionaire Traitor" on one side and photos from the film on the other. The discs themselves are solid black with the film's title in small white letters on the perimeter. It's a visually arresting presentation, but kind of a pain in the neck to get to the actual product.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Social Network might be the first really successful serious film in which the characters are not heroes, not anti-heroes, but twits. Zuckerberg comes off the worst, a petty, self-absorbed knob, though the smug, pompous Winklevoss twins are a close second (and third). Even Eduardo, our most humane character, comes across as weak, occasionally dim, and more than a bit whiny.
Fincher might have considered running a "truth disclaimer" at the start of the film, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ("Most of this is true"). While a film like this shouldn't be considered gospel, and it's clear that Fincher and Sorkin were looking to comment on events rather than create a biopic, there's a bit of controversy on just how far The Social Network veers from the truth. It's notable because the history is so recent and many people have first- or close-second-hand knowledge of exactly how things did transpire. In some corners, the sentiment seems to be that, in a nutshell, The Social Network is to the backstory of Facebook what The Green Berets is to the history of the Vietnam war. I don't see this as a liability; I rarely trust biopics to be completely accurate representations. It makes for an interesting post-viewing discussion, online or in person, and a quick Google search of "The Social Network" along with words like "fact or fiction," "myths," or "lies" will turn up a number of pretty compelling articles.
The Social Network shouldn't be taken as the definitive statement on Zuckerberg is a remarkable film, one of the best—if not the very best—of 2010. Sony gives this one a first-rate DVD treatment. Highly recommended.
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