Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Social Network

Originally published by The Johns Hopkins University News-Letter

The concept of Facebook is known by everybody today. But how the addicting Internet community came to infiltrate nearly everyone’s lives is mostly unknown. The Social Network, directed by David Fincher, aims to reveal the story behind the birth of Facebook and uncover the creator of it all, Mark Zuckerberg.

Though the film was heavily advertised before its release, and the trailer seems to promise a melodramatic story of fame, money and their consequences, The Social Network delivers far more than just that. Instead of an over glamorized account of Zuckerberg’s rise to Internet monopoly, the film offers a darker, sympathetic portrait of the world’s youngest billionaire, albeit not the most flattering depiction. Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Zuckerberg, finally breaks his character mold of an awkward but funny teenager, and performs as a snarky, socially inept genius.

As a sophomore at Harvard, Zuckerberg gets attention for being an incredible computer programmer, and three upperclassmen ask him for his help on a website idea they have – a site that allows Harvard students to create profiles and connect with one another. Zuckerberg agrees to help them but delays their project and creates TheFacebook.com instead. With the help of his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) they launch a website that grows faster and becomes more popular than they could have hoped for. It’s the coolest thing there is.

Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin’s Zuckerberg isn’t concerned with the money the site could make, but instead with its social popularity. From the beginning of the film Zuckerberg has a tunnel vision obsession with Harvard’s “Final Clubs” and belonging to a higher social echelon. Eisenberg’s eyes widen at the idea of becoming popular and his few smiles (really they’re more like smirks) are seen only when he knows he’s “made it.” He’s ready and willing to become famous. Enter Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster, who with appletinis and stories of stardom and billions of dollars sells Zuckerberg, whisking him away from Harvard and into Silicon Valley.

Just as the audience is being swept away with the clubs, music, and promise of success, Fincher takes them back to reality, more precisely into one of three conference rooms where Zuckerberg is in the midst legal deposition and being sued. Within these scenes lies the heart and tragedy of the film. Here it is learned that Zuckerberg has betrayed his best (and only friend), Eduardo. Here Eisenberg is stone cold, answers questions with brutal honesty and haughtiness. Garfield looks at him pleadingly with wet eyes, but Zuckerberg remains in a darker light, devoid of emotion, an almost expressionless face.

Is it surprising though that a person so completely disengaged created a website that both connects and isolates people?

The pacing of the film is extraordinarily zippy, never lagging too long on one scene, and often cutting quickly to juxtapose Zuckerberg’s computer programming fixation with the world that surrounds him. Take an early scene in the movie that cuts between Zuckerberg creating a website that rates Harvard women’s “hotness” and a party of booze, bowties, and half-naked women at one of the University’s clubs. This is the world he ultimately wants to belong to, but never really can.

Sorkin’s writing is quick, biting, and smart. The dialogue moves from the lofty tones of Harvard students to the manipulative monologues of Parker to the bitter, hateful Eduardo to sardonic Zuckerberg seamlessly. Sorkin displays great emotion in his writing, which is often performed subtly but powerfully by the actors.

The film is actually so well paced that the two hours go by as fast as one. The audience is struck by the ending and epilogue so quickly that it comes across as far too abrupt and even disconcerting. There is hardly any resolution. And maybe that’s the point. Given the popularity and expansion Facebook is still experiencing there is no clear ending.

This is not a cautionary tale and is free of moralistic undertones. It is instead an open-ended commentary on the role that online social networks play in life today. There is an inherent power and danger within the Internet, but how it will manifests itself is unknown. Perhaps it is a question too great for Fincher, so he leaves the viewer refreshing their webpage waiting to see what’s next.

The Social Network releases nationally on Friday October 1st.

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