I confess, I don’t see the appeal of Facebook. But with over 500 million users worldwide, who cares what I think? Da people have spoken and spoken emphatically. That’s one hell of a demographic – an unmissable and irresistible marketing target for Hollywood.
It comes as no surprise, then, that The Social Network, which tells the story of Facebook’s beginnings, has been a box office smash in the States, topping takings in its first two weeks and already recouping production costs. Good business, clearly, but what about the film?
Oh, it’s good alright. Profit motives aside, the story of the founding of Facebook is ripe for the dramatic picking. All the elements of dramatic intrigue are there: treachery and betrayal, vengeance, Faustian temptation, rebellion against the established social order, ruthless players competing for high stakes…and it’s a ‘true story’! Writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, A Few Good Men) must have relished his task – and it shows. The screenwriting is inspired. As are the direction by David Fincher and the acting performances.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (brilliantly played by Jesse Eisenberg) is portrayed as an angry young misfit, a Harvard University nerd who craves the social status and recognition that is symbolised by membership of exclusive Harvard clubs to which he has no access. These clubs are traditional and old-school – the domain of WASP jock types rather than weedy Jewish geeks like Zuckerberg.
In a drunken fit of pique after his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) dumps him, he hacks into the university database and posts pictures of her and other female students on his ‘FaceMash’ babe-comparison site. This earns him 6 months academic probation, but lands him a job as a programmer working on the website of all-American twins and members of Harvard’s rowing team, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer). Their site, “Harvard Connection’, is a crude social networking facility catering for Harvard uni students, but provides Zuckerman with the seed of a much bigger idea…or so the brothers claim in a subsequent infringement of copyright lawsuit they file when Facebook takes off on a massive scale.
The story zigzags between two parallel narrative strands – the development of Facebook and a later period of legal negotiations between Zuckerman and his adversaries. This is structurally shrewd, juxtaposing a dramatic reconstruction of ‘what happened’ with the warring parties’ perceptions.
On the way through, we are given a fascinating tour of the world of the high-flying supergeek. Much is as you might expect: manic programming sessions in between hard partying, pitches to ‘angels’ (venture capitalists), and a whole lotta skulduggery by players seeking their slice of the rapidly expanding Facebook pie – notably Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who comes across as a scheming narcissistic marketing visionary without a moral bone in his body.
Something that did surprise me: the roles of the (mostly Asian) female members of the Facebook entourage are largely decorative or sexual – essentially, they are presented as groupies. I’d have thought the culture of Gen Yers at the cutting edge of web technology would have been more sophisticated, and that young women in that set would have demanded more respect than the gals in the movie were afforded. Not that they deserved much. They come across as bimbos much of the time, messing around with computer games, giggling and getting stoned, while the boys are busy creating history!
The final scene of the movie is poignant and telling, and speaks to the irony of the title. Spoiler consciousness precludes me from elaborating. Suffice it to say the network behind the emergence of Facebook was hardly ‘social’, and Zuckerberg, for all his 500 million ‘friends’, is as lonely and full of yearning at the end as he is at the beginning. I guess the billions of bucks in his bank account must have been some compensation.
Who knows how accurate a depiction this is of the reality? That doesn’t matter much to me as a reviewer. My concern is the film – and in my view, it works tremendously well. Highly recommended.
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