Page to Screen: The Social Network (2010)

The Social Network
based on
The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich

When the trailer for The Social Network dropped this summer, I was absolutely blown away. (I still think it’s the best trailer I’ve ever seen.) It perfectly drove home the point that The Social Network isn’t a movie about Facebook; it’s a movie about wanting to belong–exactly the sort of theme that renders even a film about a very specific moment in time timeless. Since that trailer, I couldn’t wait to see The Social Network, and my wait was finally ended two weeks ago.

The Social Network intertwines two stories; the main story of Mark Zuckerberg inventing and expanding Facebook as Eduardo Saverin, his best friend and business partner, is increasingly shoved out of the picture, framed by Zuckerberg testifying in two lawsuits–one filed by Saverin and one filed by Tyler Winklevoss, Cameron Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra, who accuse him of stealing the idea for Facebook from their concept for a dating website for Harvard students.

As I mentioned above, The Social Network isn’t focused on the founding of Facebook–it’s focused on the tragedy of Zuckerberg, regardless of whether or not this is true to life. His motivation is introduced even before the Columbia logo fades from the screen. At Harvard, Zuckerberg wants in; into the exclusive final clubs filled with the elite of society and into the exclusive sparkling old money world that he sees tantalizingly close at Harvard. The Winklevoss twins represent all the things he cannot have, right down to the ultimate exclusive collection–that of being, genetically, the same person. (One of the twins occasionally makes clever retorts about the fact that they’re essentially the same person, culminating with “I’m six-foot-three, 220 pounds, and there are two of me!”) Being included in something exclusive appears to be Zuckerberg’s driving force; when Saverin gets selected to try out for Pheonix, one of the final clubs, Zuckerberg lobs spectacularly passive-aggressive compliments his way. The cinematography almost preys on Zuckerberg’s isolation, constantly framing him as outside events, even events that ostensibly include him as he builds his own exclusive universe in Facebook. Everything in this film subtly nods at this theme, and there are plenty more themes and motifs to be found–old money versus new money, a sense of entitlement, connection in the digital era. It’s a rich and deep film, and I am certain I’ll rewatch this several times once I buy it on DVD.

I’ve always felt bad for Jesse Eisenberg. I have a friend who watched Zombieland all the way through without realizing he wasn’t Michael Cera. But I’ve always thought that Eisenberg is a much better actor than Cera, and his work in The Social Network is absolutely phenomenal. Zuckerberg is daringly unlikable and passive-aggressive, processing the world at such a freakishly high rate that he’s always miles ahead in whatever conversation he’s having, proven right off the bat in the initial scene. His foci (both the focus of his mind and the focus of his eyes) are almost horrifyingly intense. It’s compelling stuff, and the film pulls off the neatest trick of all–at the end of the film, they actually make you feel for the bastard. My brother expressed concern over the casting of Justin Timberlake as Shawn Parker, but it absolutely works. Saverin dismissively calls him “The Shawn Parker Variety Hour”, and you need someone who can have that magnetic personality to play Parker. Andrew Garfield is fantastic as Saverin, a slim-hipped economics major ready to do business the old-fashioned way–a way that Zuckerberg thinks is too slow and stodgy. After he spends the film working to forgive Zuckerberg and trying to work with him, the moment he finally snaps is both a relief and utterly startling. The rest of the cast is fantastic, especially Armie Hammer as both Winklevoss twins, but Rooney Mara, as Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend Erica, is wonderful–Zuckerberg’s pitiful attempts to reconnect with this bright, practical woman crop up a few times in the film, but it’s absolutely clear that she’s utterly moved on.

I’ve never seen The West Wing, but Sorkin’s legendary gift for writing the gab starts off the film immediately, grabbing you by the lapel and never getting go. It’s a wonderfully written and painful scene; Zuckerberg going a mile a minute as Erica tries to connect with him–and fails. Between Sorkin’s sparkling writing and Fincher’s fantastic direction, the two hours are so compelling you hardly notice they’ve gone by. Everything in this film just works–well, the score does make a misstep during a scene where the Winklevoss twins lose a race, but it’s like a tiny scratch on a beautiful Ferrari. Prior to seeing The Social Network, I was a bit concerned about how the film might treat women, but I quite enjoyed Erica and, to a lesser degree, Rashida Jones as the legal assistant who tries to connect to Zuckerberg towards the end. Sorkin, who is known for writing good female characters, responds to such concerns to a blog comment here, which I thought was very classy.

Bottom line: Between Sorkin’s quick and witty dialogue, Fincher’s darkly gorgeous direction, and Jesse Eisenberg’s stunning performance as Mark Zuckerberg, The Social Network is a compelling and deep piece of work. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

I saw this film in theaters.

10 thoughts on “Page to Screen: The Social Network (2010)

  1. Okay, I apparently live under a rock, because up until now I’d only heard of this film in passing and hadn’t watched the trailer. Between that and your review, though, I’m completely sold. I’ve no idea when it will be released here, but I shall find out.

  2. Pingback: Page to Screen: Where the Truth Lies (2005) « The Literary Omnivore

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