DIR: David Fincher • WRI: Aaron Sorkin • PRO: Dana Brunetti, Ceán Chaffin, Michael De Luca, Scott Rudin• DOP: Jeff Cronenweth • ED: Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall • DES: Donald Graham Burt • CAST: Rooney Mara, Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
Rarely are biopics released whilst the subject still lives, and even rarer to find a biopic so relevant and so current that the ink is not yet dry on the litigation papers. So we find ourselves in the very recent past, sitting across the table from an incredibly young Mark Zuckerberg, concerning ourselves with a contemporary techtacular event that effectively changed the imaginary field of the internet… and shook the more substantial world of commerce. The story of the youngest billionaire, and how it all may or may not have come to be, thus begins.
The breeding-ground of Harvard is introduced as a stellar universe in which only the brightest stars shine – and Mark is a burning star, intelligent to the point of neurosis. This pertinent fact is encapsulated in his introductory conversation with a girlfriend, in which he manages to insult everything from her intelligence to her upbringing, all in the name of showing his own resolution to be noticed. How to excel in a centre of excellence seems to be the order of the day, and Mark manages it by being unashamedly self-serving and anti-social – out-geeking even the most agoraphobic of geeks. Making an asset out of his ability to alienate people and effectively negate unenthusiastic detractors by virtue of not noticing them, Mark begins to build on his already impressive grasp of not only technology but (and here’s the clincher), the social networking of college-aged folks. An already exclusive college, Harvard – being the spawning ground for greatness – also contains many clubs and societies made even more exclusive by the inability of people like Mark, with no ‘family’ or money, to join them. All Mark did, really, was to exploit that innate desire of humans to not only be on the inside, but to feel as though they are keeping others on the outside. And so, it appears, the ‘friends’ list was born…
Were this just a simple tale of genius and creation, it would have remained a feel-good tale to aspiring IT professionals – but as with any meteoric rise to the top, people were stepped on and questions asked. When his girlfriend dumps him, Mark dumps on her in the fledgling livejournal stakes by not only lambasting her online, but putting together and releasing a website containing all the females at Harvard, allowing others to vote them as ‘hot or not’, called ‘facemash’. Mark’s initial and, it might be said, only friend was his co-conspirator Eduardo Saverin, who financed the project eventually known as Facebook, and supported him when others sought seemingly to exploit. At the other end are the Winklevoss twins – alpha males who contain not only the genetic code to get ahead at Harvard, but the requisite family name. The twins approach Mark with the idea of an exclusive Harvard dating vehicle, having seen Mark’s reprehensible ‘facemash’ programme storm the websites of Harvard, and the conundrum of who created what is born.
However, this is really a tale of Mark and Eduardo – or more correctly, of how Mark copes with ideas of friendship and alliance. The casting is crucial: Jesse Eisenberg carries a weight of character baggage to the role – he is consistently the loveable geek, the nerd with a heart and the social outcast who can be socially integrated. This is important, for while Eisenberg gives good depth and feeling to the role, his previous characters are subsumed into the persona of Mark to the extent that we root for him no matter what. On the other hand, Eduardo is played by Andrew Garfield, a soft-featured and slight man who is a relative unknown to American audiences (not for long, as he will soon be the new Spiderman). Their interaction is the most important of the movie, and luckily for all involved, they have an onscreen chemistry that makes their friendship realistic for all its perversities and their estrangement all the more genuine and heartbreaking. Fincher directs the interaction with the lightest touch, allowing a sense of untainted reality to prevail in the story – the intertwining narratives of past and present serving to root us in the downfall, while remembering the ascent.
Mark’s own Facebook page gives us a glimpse of the persona he seems to want; he says, ‘I’m trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share.’ Though he refused to be involved in the making of The Social Network, the overriding impression we get of Mark is this very encapsulation. The idea prevails that really, despite its reprehensible beginnings and controversial continuings, Facebook was – for him – an opportunity to be cool rather than rich. The Social Network is not an uplifting call-to-arms of ‘geeks’ and IT-strugglers everywhere, and is all the better for it, delivering a deep and borderline-complex window into the world of a social outcast who became a social engineer.