Matthew Schur returns with his thoughts on the cinematic talking-point of the moment.
Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the devil. At least I don’t think he is. He’s just vastly misunderstood, and The Social Network (2010) investigates his muddled history of genius and rise to power – filled with backstabbing and potential intellectual property theft. However, as he digs his own real-world social grave, the audience empathizes more, not less, with him.
Because, despite all the terrible things he has done – which is plenty – Zuckerberg will have created perhaps the most influential product of our time, and that unwrapped present of what Facebook could be creates an abundance of energy and anticipation that drives the story. Give large credit to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing (1999-2006), A Few Good Men (1992)) and director David Fincher (Fight Club (1999), Se7en (1995)) for creating a masterfully spun story with a great, paradoxical villain.
The movie itself moves fluidly along in three different times; the first, a narrative thread of events starting from the onset of Facebook to near-present day, and two lawsuits happening concurrently somewhere around present day. Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s original partner (and former best friend) is suing Zuckerberg, along with Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss and Divya Narendra – three men with the original idea for Facebook, or so they claim.
Given the three different threads and all of the drama, it’s largely a film that feels like an action movie, even though it’s a story about the creation of a website.
The opening scene – a great one – is indicative of the pacing, tone, and hilarity of the movie, setting the overall mood for things to come. It starts at a bar before Facebook was even an idea, and shows two people talking at each other, Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his then girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara).
Zuckerberg is racing from one idea to the next and Albright fittingly compares dating him to dating a StairMaster. Despite her efforts, Albright can’t keep up with Zuckerberg, and neither can the audience – which is the point.
As the conversation continues, Zuckerberg, oblivious to social cues, misinterprets everything Albright says, and ultimately offends her. After all, no one is as smart as Zuckerberg. Their relationship ends before the date is over.
The audience knows what Zuckerberg doesn’t, and as he sticks his foot deeper in his mouth the great irony of Zuckerberg and Facebook becomes apparent: the man responsible for providing the greatest online social network has a failing real-world network.
With the break-up as a catalyst, the movie launches into Zuckerberg’s rise to fame. Where most sucessful geniuses take on an unlikeable villainous role, Zuckerberg never comes across that way. For as pompous and self-serving as he is, he’s only that way because he wants to be successful. Facebook is, and, as it appears in the movie, will forever be, his baby; he wants to see it be as successful as possible. It’s hard to fault a guy for that.
The more he pours his heart into the project, the more toes he steps on. Along the way, he meets Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who is unrelentingly charismatic, dragging the plot and Zuckerberg along for the ride of numerous peaks and valleys.
With The Social Network, you’re engaged as if it were an action movie, laugh as if it were a comedy, and feel all the tension of a drama. When a stuffy lawyer condescendingly asks if he is worthy of Zuckerberg’s attention, Zuckerberg’s response is so apt and cutting, it silences the room. The message? No, you actually don’t deserve my attention as I am designing something that no one, even in that room – a room of successful lawyers and Harvard graduates – could muster the intelligence to do.
This movie is as genius as Zuckerberg; the characters and actors work flawlessly together and Sorkin and Fincher make the ideal partnership, creating a film that’s close to perfect.
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