There’s some irony in the fact that I’m writing a review of the Facebook movie…for my Facebook page.
“The Social Network” is director David Fincher’s fascinating look at the birth of Facebook, and the men responsible for its creation. It is a story of entrepreneurship and theft, and of friendship and betrayal. More than anything else, though, it is a study of Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook’s enigmatic creator, and the world’s youngest billionaire. Thrown into the mix are some intriguing concepts of greed, integrity, and intellectual property rights, elevating “The Social Network” from a simple biopic to a critique of our culture.
After being dumped by his girlfriend, Mark (Jesse Eisenberg), at the time a student at Harvard, takes revenge by setting up “Facemash.com”. By hacking into the Harvard student image directories, Mark creates a website enabling guys to rank girls based on their “hotness.” His project is wildly successful – the flood of network traffic that night brings the Harvard campus network to its knees. Impressed by his work, the two Winklevoss brothers contact him with an idea of their own: an elite, Harvard-only online social network (primarily for dating purposes). But Mark – along with his friend and roommate Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) – isn’t interested in creating a mediocre MySpace imitation. He takes the Winklevosses’ idea and modifies it, crafting a similar website but without using any of the brothers’ code. The resulting site – TheFacebook.com – instantly becomes a massive success on campus.
But of course, innovation requires money. Mark appoints Eduardo as the company’s Chief Financial Officer, tasking him with the financial management of the fledgling corporation. A conflict soon mars their relationship – Eduardo believes the company needs on-site advertising in order to remain viable, while Mark feels advertising will make TheFacebook “uncool.” To settle the dispute, Mark calls in Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), famed founder of the illegal-music-sharing website Napster. Sean has plenty of suggestions for TheFacebook (including a slight name change, to “Facebook”) but Eduardo is uncomfortable with Sean’s involvement. The resulting disagreement sends Mark and Eduardo to opposite sides of the country: Mark (along with Sean and a team of programmers) moves to California to continue developing Facebook, while Eduardo moves to New York in an attempt to solicit financial support for the website.
From this point, the story follows the pattern of many corporate dramas. I won’t spoil any key plot elements, but suffice it to say that the actions taken by Mark and Sean torpedo their relationship with Eduardo.
Perhaps the most interesting element of “The Social Network” is the way in which the director depicts Mark’s transformation from a naive, nerdy college student into a ruthless, cold-hearted businessman. This is accomplished predominantly through the toxic influence of Sean, whose “cool” persona is hopelessly alluring to Mark. Sean’s utter lack of concern for the welfare of others rubs off on Mark, leading to the breakdown of his relationship with Eduardo. “The Social Network” also serves as a sharp critique of our society’s obsession with success. Even at Harvard, Mark’s fixation with Facebook-oriented projects alienates those around him. He gains some measure of notoriety after the initial releases of Facemash and TheFacebook, but such popularity ultimately proves superficial. By the end of the film, he has emerged as an arrogant businessman with no real friends – a lonely billionaire.
Issues of faith and worldview are never directly addressed. Mark and his business partners frequently act amorally, making decisions without considering their ethical consequences. Characters frequently act out in petty, vindictive ways throughout the course of the film.
From a cinematic standpoint, “The Social Network” is outstanding. The performances by Eisenberg and Timberlake are especially notable – Eisenberg is perfectly believable as the slightly tortured genius Mark, while Timberlake perfectly captures Sean’s egotistic, devil-may-care attitude. A tightly plotted script – alternating between college flashbacks and future lawsuits – keeps the story moving along at a fast pace.
As anyone who’s seen the trailers already realizes, there are some content issues (mainly due to frequent scenes of college partying). The movie contains several sexual situations (nothing extended or explicit) and a few scenes where female characters are wearing little more than lingerie. There are a few harsh expletives (including f-words) thrown in as well. Overall, “The Social Network” earns its PG-13 rating, and would likely not be suitable for viewers younger than 15 or 16.
“The Social Network” is a masterful piece of filmmaking. As a corporate drama, it works perfectly. However, as an factual biography…it may not be quite so exceptional. The film portrays Mark Zuckerberg as an insensitive egomaniac (albeit a haunted one). One can only wonder how the real Zuckerberg would respond to the film’s allegations – and as many of the facts surrounding the birth of Facebook are surrounded in clouds of legal secrecy, “The Social Network” may or may not be entirely accurate. In the coming weeks, there will probably be a good deal of speculation about the truth behind the movie.
Should you see it? If you’re reasonably interested in the modern Internet culture, or if you enjoy business-related dramas, “The Social Network” is for you. There are some problematic elements, but the target audience for this film is reasonably adult (I didn’t see anyone under 15 when I went to the theater). “The Social Network” is a well-acted, well-directed warning against obsession and greed that will likely prove thought-provoking for many members of our society.
At the very least, you’ll be thinking about it the next time you check your Facebook.
An eye-opening story of one man’s struggle for success, regardless of the cost.
Normalized Score: 6.9