The first thing I did after seeing The Social Network
, the excellent new David Fincher film, was “facebook” Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, and Sean Parker -- the principles in the founding of Facebook. Yes, they’re all on the site, and no, I didn’t try to “friend” them. I just wanted to see what information they were willing to make available to the 500,000,000 of us who have drunk the kool-aid and become Facebook junkies. Most of the info on their walls is unremarkable and general, with the exception of Zuckerberg who has photos, publicity articles and interviews, and a sort of mission statement: “I’m trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share”. His personal life? Not so much. Whether or not the film gives an accurate depiction of Zuckerberg and his friends starting up Facebook in Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room is up for debate. Much of it is a matter of public record. The personal relationships and interactions are another matter. Zuckerberg has commented that he will not see the film and considers it to be purely fiction.
Zuckerberg should not dismiss this film out of hand because Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant screenplay, adapted from Ben Metric’s The Accidental Billionaires, does not assign villain or hero roles to anyone. Rather, it shows through flashbacks differing points of view, mistakes of youthful immaturity, and growing awareness of the enormity of the vehicle that the “founders” had created. The film opens at the negotiating table for the lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg by his former friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and a second one by the Winklevoss twins -- Cameron and Tyler -- who accused Zuckerberg of stealing their idea for a social net-working site. Each point of the negotiations generates a flashback showing the development of Facebook from just an idea, to acquiring “seed” money and taking on programmers.
Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg -- who bears a striking physical resemblance to the man he’s portraying by the way -- as a brilliant but socially inept computer genius “nerd.” He is at times arrogant and boorish, but Eisenberg allows the character’s vulnerability to surface through subtle facial expressions entirely appropriate to Zuckerberg’s well-publicized guardedness about anything personal. His ability to empathize with others is severely limited. His social awkwardness leads him to admire and choose Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who arrives in his life like a force of nature, over his dorm-room CFO and friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Parker, the founder of Napster, introduces Zuckerberg to the world of venture capital. Parker, who is now acting as president, sees to it that Saverin is frozen out of the newly expanded Face book -- hence, the lawsuit. It’s a matter of record that Parker was fired from his position over a cocaine scandal, but he retains his shares in Facebook. Timberlake’s magnetism on screen is a perfect fit for the confident, hard-partying, chick magnet Parker, who convinces Zuckerberg to move to Palo Alto. Zuckerberg never returns to Harvard, and the little net-working site with a Harvard.edu address morphs into the global phenomenon that is Facebook.com today. Andrew Garfield is a stand-out as Eduardo Saverin, the straight-as-an-arrow business major who helps Zuckerberg get his site off the ground. Garfield is an enormously engaging actor whose sincerity brings poignancy to the more tragic aspect of the story -- betrayal between friends.
Aaron Sorkin’s intelligent script with its rapid-fire dialogue will keep you focused and entertained. I can’t say that it shows Harvard in a very positive light. Old-money social posturing and intellectual snobbery would seem to define the place, but it also comes across as having a surprisingly typical binge-drinking, bong-smoking, casual-sex-having college “party” atmosphere. I would have thought that Harvard attendees would spend more time hitting the books. Smart, intense performances by the ensemble cast make this film completely believable.
Actually, It’s one of the best films of the year.
So, what happened? The lawsuits were settled for undetermined amounts, and if you want to know what’s going on with Zuckerberg or any of his crew today, just check Facebook.