With Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, John Getz, Armie Hammer. Directed by David Fincher. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language. 121 minutes.
Love it or hate it, there’s no question Facebook has changed the world we live in. It’s hard to believe it is less than seven years old. THE SOCIAL NETWORK takes its start up as a parable of our times, less concerned with how we use this Internet site than what it did for and to the people behind it. One should take this as a dramatization rather than a documentary, but this is a film that tells us something about the world we’re in today.
Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is portrayed as a social misfit, obsessed with succeeding at Harvard and taking out his frustrations through computer programming, coming up with what was originally called “The Facebook” as a means for Harvard students to connect online through a single website. It expanded to other colleges and then to the general public and now has approximately 500 million members around the world.
In telling Zuckerberg’s story, director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin tell it from several points of view, including that of a trio of Harvard students who claim Zuckerberg stole their idea and Zuckerberg’s friend and partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Both the rivals and the friend end up suing Zuckerberg and the story unfolds through the hearings and depositions that dog him. What’s interesting is that Zuckerberg starts out as a somewhat unlikeable character and ends up sympathetic and a bit tragic, albeit unimaginably wealthy.
If there’s a villain in the piece, it’s Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) who tempts Zuckerberg to the Internet’s dark side. No, not porn, but cutting deals and betraying friends and totally disregarding any issues of loyalty or morality. Parker made and lost a fortune with Napster, the online music trading program that was brought down for violating the copyrights of the musicians who created the music in the first place. He feeds into Zuckerberg’s desire to have the site’s “coolness” take priority over profitability.
Eisenberg, who just grows from film to film, makes a quantum leap as Zuckerberg, daring to be arrogant and unlikeable, and winning us over in the end without relying on the puppydog looks that played so well in movies like “Adventureland” and “Zombieland.” He chews up Sorkin’s dialogue with expert speed, almost making you wish Sorkin’s TV series “The West Wing” was still on the air to see what he’d do there. As the angel and devil on his shoulder, Garfield and Timberlake offer able support. A scene where the former partners and best friends confront each other with the remains of their once strong bond may be the most poignant scene in the film.
While those of us who enjoy Facebook, or at least some aspects of it, will find the story of “The Social Network” a fascinating behind the scenes look, ultimately it is a tale that transcends the online world. This is an age-old story of an ambitious person who is able to accomplish much, but loses sight of what’s really important. The final image of Zuckerberg at his keyboard, seeking something beyond wealth and power, reflects the eternal human condition. In the end, his and every quest boils down to a Bette Midler song lyric: “You’ve got to have friends.”•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.