It wasn’t all that long ago I swore to my friends that I would never join Facebook.
It was 2004. I was a freshman in college, in a new city. Facebook was only available to college students, and only some colleges had a network. It was maybe not in its infancy, but definitely in its childhood, not yet ubiquitous, and I was certain I would never need it. I thought it was a grasping ploy at popularity, an excuse to count how many friends you have, stalk that guy in your French Literature class, and yak about your love of soccer, politics and "The Boondock Saints". I thought it was creepy, and a flash in the pan besides. I was too cool for Facebook.
Written by: Aaron Sorkin
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
I joined before my first semester ended.
Now I read my boyfriend’s Twitter page and link to my colleagues on LinkedIn. My mother is my Facebook friend, and writes comments on my status updates. You’re not really friends with someone unless you’re friends on Facebook.
Does Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg know what he hath wrought? He has publicly claimed that he will not see "The Social Network," about the formation of Facebook and the making of his riches and household name. But how could he not see that the very fact that the film exists says volumes about the importance of what he created?
Well in any case I think it’s Zuckerberg’s loss. Because "The Social Network" is a beautiful, intricate drama that defies expectations and portrays not just the making of a web site, but the steel, pulsating core of my generation.
It would have been easy for the film to falter. How do you create a movie about a bunch of guys who sit in front of a computer screen and then sue each other? How do you write a drama about one morally ambiguous nerd who writes code the whole movie? Thank God we have the masterful team of director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin, who brings his patented rat-a-tat dialogue and relentless wit.
Sorkin and Jesse Eisenberg (who plays Zuckerberg) portray the Harvard student as incredibly intuitive about the cultural and social structures of Ivy League institutions, but completely clueless as to how to navigate them, or any social structure. At the beginning he’s dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara), who’s had enough of his egotistical ramblings. "Having a relationship with you is like climbing a StairMaster!" she exclaims, after he taunts her about going to Boston University.
After he wanders home and gets himself good and drunk, Zuckerberg codes a web site in one night, a nasty little piece called Facemash which takes pictures of female Harvard students and pairs them, asking young Harvard men to judge who was hotter. Though his prank gets him in trouble with the school and makes him a pariah to the young ladies of Harvard, it also gets him an assignment from upper-echelon Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer), twins who want to create a dating and social site specifically for Harvard students.
The movie tries to remain as open as possible to whether or not Zuckerberg actually stole the brothers’ idea to make Facebook, or simply improved on their half-baked plan- my own uninformed opinion leans towards the latter, though he was certainly not forthright about what he was doing.
He partners with his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), a financial brain who eventually sued Zuckerberg after he was pushed out of the company. Garfield takes what could be a one-note role, a gives a nuanced and delicate performance. He delivers each of Sorkin’s lines like he’s tasting them, feeling their textures and shapes.
As a minor character says in the film, every creation myth needs a Devil. This one takes the delightful form of Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, creator of Napster and Internet playboy who both takes Facebook public and destroys its soul. Timberlake has limited range as an actor, but what he does he does well. He’s a pied piper in this movie, a maniacal ghoul who knows just what to say to hook Zuckerberg and push away the more cautious Saverin, though the movie also makes the point that Zuckerberg was well on his way to being corrupted all by himself.
The Winklevoss brothers (or the Winklevii, as Zuckerberg hilariously calls them) got a $65 million payout from their own lawsuit (small potatoes when you consider the billions that Facebook is now worth). Saverin, who’s painted as the far more wronged party, received an undisclosed settlement. These facts are less important in the movie than the idea of money itself, and of worth. It’s stated several times that Zuckerberg doesn’t care about money- he cares only for his creation, that he’s made something cool that people like. His longing for human connection, even as he spurns it with cynicism and condescension, was what inspired Facebook.
Fincher understands, and is able to convey, our brave new world in a way I don’t think any other director has. And he’s able to balance both the central themes of greed and alienation and the need to make a movie about computer programmers…you know…interesting. "The Social Network" moves at a good clip, and even has a few action-esque sequences, but Fincher never jumps off the cliff of melodrama. I don’t think that all of the events in the movie actually happened, but I can believe that they might have happened. His delicacy with the plot is matched by a truly wonderful score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, which keeps the pacing and adds a lyrical quality to Sorkin’s dialogue.
The entire point of Facebook is to create a low-pressure way of becoming someone’s friend — of making a connection with them. You reach out, you "poke" them, then retreat to see if they return the sentiment. Your profile states your existence in the world. Here I am. This is what I like. These are my friends. This I what I have to say. That sense of simultaneous connection and separation colors everything in my generation’s social world. We move along together, parallel, but rarely touching in any real way.
Though the words "best movie of the year" stick in my throat as trite and kind of silly (how does one rank these things, anyway?) I will say that this was my most enjoyable experience at the theater this year.
In fact I plan to write a status update about it after this publishes.
After all, everyone needs to know.