Building A Winning 'Network,' But At What Cost?

Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg i i

Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield,  and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) were college buddies when they started Facebook, but the friendship collapsed under the pressures of business. Merrick Morton/Columbia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Merrick Morton/Columbia Pictures
Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg

Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield,  and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) were college buddies when they started Facebook, but the friendship collapsed under the pressures of business.

Merrick Morton/Columbia Pictures

The Social Network

  • Director: David Fincher
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 120 minutes

PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and language

With: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, Rashida Jones

David Fincher's fast, entertaining, deeply cynical business saga The Social Network tells a disputed version of the story of how Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg invented the Web phenomenon Facebook and became the world's youngest billionaire. To Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, it's a story that has little to do with Facebook itself and what its ascendancy means to the culture. The title is either a misnomer or ironic, since the film's Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is emotionally paralyzed, given to betraying his friends: It's a bitter joke that he'd be the one to create a tool that facilitates friendship.

No, the story Sorkin and Fincher want to tell is about a guy who creates an online social network with no social skills whatsoever to get back at a girl who dumped him — and some WASP elites who wouldn't invite him to join their Harvard club. The obvious conclusion is that only a culture rooted in greed could lionize this vengeful nerd.

I find that message both depressing and, based on what I know of Zuckerberg's life, unconvincing, but the film's hard sell is difficult to resist. Sorkin's dialogue spritzes out so fast it's as if characters want their brains to keep pace with their processors; they talk like they keyboard. The first scene is a tour-de-force, a dialogue between Zuckerberg and his girlfriend Erica, played by Rooney Mara, that's done at triple-speed in long takes. Zuckerberg rattles off his resentment at being ignored by Harvard's elite study clubs — places he says actually bus in attractive college girls with the come-on, "Party with the next Fed Chairman." As the scene escalates, Erica picks up on the impossibility of this guy ever loving anyone, and ends the relationship.

And as the movie has it, that's the turning point in Zuckerberg's life. He goes back to his dorm room, gets drunk, and blogs about Erica's bust size and the likelihood that her family changed its last name to sound less Jewish. Then he hacks into the university's intranet and devises something called "Facemash," on which Harvard students will have the opportunity to rank female students' pictures against one another.

The Social Network has a tricky structure. Fincher leaps back and forth between the creation of Facebook and a deposition room, where a now-wealthy Zuckerberg is being sued by two parties: the six-foot-five-inch twin championship rowers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, both played by Armie Hammer, who claim he stole their idea; and by Eduardo Saverin, a roommate and early collaborator who put up $19,000 but was shut out of later profits. Director Fincher has likened the film to Citizen Kane, his protagonist becoming at once more successful and more alone, ending up with, like, zero Facebook friends.

Fincher gets the details right — the energy drinks, the alcohol, the programmers with their headphones deep in their anti-social trances — and he captures Harvard's oak-and-crimson ambience. But I could sense the actors' panic as he cracks the whip to get them talking faster and faster. This is anti-Method acting, with no time to plumb the psyche. Only singer Justin Timberlake comes through with a nuanced performance as the sleazy former Napster co-creator whose hustle is just what Facebook needs.

My larger problem is that Fincher's worldview is so sour and curdled. There's no hint in the film of a positive social network — only of a world in which losing a few friends is a small price to pay for becoming a billionaire.

Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg

Justin Timberlake stars as Sean Parker, the founder of Napster who helped Zuckerberg make Facebook a success. Merrick Morton/Columbia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Merrick Morton/Columbia Pictures

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