Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Social Network - Nothing Particularly 'Social' About Zuckerberg

I watched The Social Network today, David Fincher's new film about Facebook founder and CEO wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) This film deserves all of the praise and then some that it's been receiving from critics at The New York Times, The Globe and Mail and a slew of other media outlets.

Worth mentioning even before I venture into the plot's details is the sharpness of the writing. From Aaron Sorkin's pen to the mouths of Fincher's talented cast, the dialogue in
The Social Network is so intelligent, so sarcastic, so cutting that it nearly pops off the screen. Jesse Eisenberg's deadpan delivery and frequent glowering stare as he cuts down both friend and foe is worth the ticket price on its own.

The Social Network is based on Ben Mezrich's book, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal. The movie's structure jumps back and forth in time, from the events of Facebook's founding to a tense deposition in a boardroom where two parties suing Zuckerberg go for the jugular. You see, after Facebook was founded Zuckerberg was sued by former best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and the upper class Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer in a dual role) Saverin was betrayed and the Winklevoss twins had their idea for a social networking site stolen by Zuckerberg, or so they claimed.

Since the movie is about Facebook's founding, it's only fitting the beating heart should be Zuckerberg himself. As played by Eisenberg he is all towering intellect and calculation. Behind his often blank-faced exterior (rarely do you see a smile play across this boy genius's face) is a mind that's constantly calculating and re-calculating. Not 'friendless' as some of the film's reviews have said, he is nonetheless nearly so. There's nothing in the character's personality that I could call emotional intelligence. There are rare moments of sympathy he displays for others, but these are outweighed by his mind's ledger of past slights and desire to avenge said.

Watching this film, I found it interesting to note that Zuckerberg is the least physical of all the movie's characters. While his Harvard classmates hook up and periodically pat each other affectionately, Zuckerberg remains aloof.

In one scene an enthusiastic Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) moves to embrace Zuckerberg after Facebook subscribers pass the one million mark. There is no reciprocation for Parker; the results are, well... awkward. Awkward could neatly describe all of this damaged genius's social interactions. For someone who created the most popular online social networking tool in the world, the irony is that Facebook's founder is socially inept.

But back to Sean Parker. He's the same Sean Parker who invented Napster. In
The Social Network he seeks out Zuckerberg and proceeds to ingratiate himself, smelling an appealing new business venture. Timberlake really shines here — he's figured out why a flashy party boy like Parker could connect with an introverted nerd like Zuckerberg. The answer is charisma. Parker is a sparking live wire with his shows of material wealth, dazzling smile and high voltage presence. To Zuckerberg he presents a glamorous alternative to a life of coding, more coding and sleep, which is what Zuckerberg does in the movie when he's not struggling to interact with others.

The Social Network is certainly a movie for our time. Thirst for social status, lust for money, betrayal, and connection with other human beings (or lack thereof) are all deftly addressed here.

The only fault I can find with
The Social Network is when one character claims, "The Internet's written in ink, Mark. It's not written in pencil." Actually the Internet is just a string of digital information. As a lasting record, the Internet comes nowhere near the permanency of ink, especially when all those zeroes and ones and Facebook 'friend' connections can vanish with the click of a button.

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