A little more than six years ago a 19-year-old psychology major at Harvard University pushed the mouse button on his computer in his dorm room and delivered what ultimately became the click heard around the world.
His name is Mark Eliot Zuckerberg, and with that simple click he gave birth to what he called “The facebook.” Now we know it as Facebook, which boasts 500 million members worldwide and which has made Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire in the world.
Of course it was only a matter of time until someone decided to write a book about Zuckerberg, and Ben Mezrich did exactly that when he published “The Accidental Billionaires” last year. And what was the next logical step in conveying Zuckerberg’s amazing story to the public? Obviously it had to a major motion picture, and “The Social Network” opened nationwide last week to well-deserved rave reviews.
Although it is loosely based on Mezrich’s book, the complete accuracy of which many have questioned, and although the film has been criticized for conveying less than the complete truth, “The Social Network” is nonetheless a superbly directed and brilliantly acted movie that I predict will be in the thick of the 2011Oscar race for best picture and a number of other nominations. In addition to being a fascinating character study of Zuckerberg and his buddies who founded Facebook, the movie also is an absolutely riveting legal drama.
As the film opens, Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) is sitting in a bar with his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara), and their conversation soon escalates into a nasty argument. He is trying to explain to her that why he wants to get into one of Harvard’s many clubs.
“I need to do something substantial in order to get the attention of the clubs.”
“Because they’re exclusive and fun, and they lead to a better life.”
After this portion of the conversation Mark and Erica begin exchanging insults, and Mark is so brilliant that he has a reply for everything she throws at him. Finally she tells him that their relationship is over and expresses her frustration by saying, “Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster.” And before she leaves, she drops a prime insult: “Mark you are going to go through your life thinking girls don’t like you because you are a nerd. But I want you to know from the very bottom of my heart that it won’t be because of that. It’s because you are an asshole.”
Mark is so angry that he returns to his dorm room, begins drinking, and puts some very unflattering information about Erica out on the Internet. Then he hacks his way into the Harvard network and establishes a site that he calls Facemash, on which he places pictures of two coeds side by side and asks viewers to pick which one is better looking. The site generates so many hits that it ultimately crashes the entire Harvard system.
When Mark sees the response to Facemash, he decides to take things a step beyond, and he tells one of his friends, “People want to go on the Internet and check out their friends. So why not build a Web site that offers that? Friends, pictures, profiles. I’m talking about taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online.”
And so Facebook is born, and it gets 22,000 hits within the first two hours of its existence. As they say, the rest is history.
“The Social Network” chronicles Mark’s founding of Facebook and his subsequent legal problems initiated by those who helped him with the project. The film effectively moves alternately between the current court hearings and the events of the past, and in this way it manages to build and sustain a certain aura of suspense about the ultimate denouement.
The only applicable adjective to describe the acting in this movie is brilliant. If Eisenberg doesn’t earn an Academy Award nomination as best actor, something is rotten in the state of Hollywood. Mark is an extremely intense young man, and Eisenberg conveys this by imbuing his character with a robotic speech pattern in which he delivers his lines with the staccato rhythm of bullets fired from a machine gun.
The film’s supporting cast includes the following: Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, Mark’s friend who supplied the money to launch Facebook; Armie Hammer and Josh Spence as the Winklevoss twins, who sued Mark for stealing their idea of Facebook; and Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the guy who founded Napster and who helped bring Facebook to the attention of the Silicon Valley. Like Eisenberg, all of these young actors turn in outstanding performances that simply enhance the stellar direction by David Fincher (“Panic Room” and “Seven”). In a recent Time magazine interview, Fincher explained how the film was about more than just the people in it.
“It’s not just about the people involved. It’s the people involved showing us a bigger truth about the last seven years, and a bigger truth about what it is to be youthful and have a dream and enthusiasm, and how once money gets injected into something, it tears up the fabric of all of those idealistic good intentions.”
And in the film’s production notes, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin offered a superb analysis of Mark.
“Mark is an anti-hero who becomes a tragic hero by the end of the movie because he pays a price along the way. He is fundamentally a hacker, and hackers are, by nature, anarchists. It’s about thumbing your nose at the establishment; it’s about tearing down what you believe is in your way. And who is Mark revolting against? It’s the people who are somehow making the world a place that makes him unhappy. In Mark’s case, the idea of self-worth has alchemized itself into anger, very sharp-edged anger. But anger is fuel to him; it’s rocket fuel, and then he has this Eureka idea, and his life seems made. But the very last thing he wants to do — and this is a huge part of the movie — is to kill Facebook by commoditizing it, by having it make money and not be anarchistic. That’s the story of the movie — the journey from hacker to CEO. The journey of the film is nothing less than a Horatio Alger story, but our version is this lonely kid in a dorm room who in a very short time becomes a very important figure in the world we live in right now.”
“The Social Network” (This one gets a 10!) is one of those rare films that offer perfection in acting, directing, cinematography, writing, costumes, and editing. If I were a member of Facebook (I’m not, nor will I be.), I would offer the following post: “Don’t miss seeing “The Social Network.” It’s a perfect example of the way films should be made.”