Facebook is a phenomenon. Pure and simple. It has undeniably revolutionised the way in which we communicate with each other. We’re now able to remain constantly updated with the lives of those we allow entrance to our very own private club. Uncanny is its ability to sap hours of our lives with blissful idleness, wondrous procrastination, when really we have much better things to be doing. Yet we return to our computer screens. Has thingamabob accepted my friend request? Who likes my status? I’ve got an inbox! The Social Network takes this craze and propels it onto cinema screens.
We begin in a dim, smoky bar on a Harvard University’s campus in ‘fall, 2003’. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is talking to his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) about the exclusive Phoenix club at the University. He appears baffled and frustrated that only the privileged few can enter. “I’ve got to do something important” he proclaims. His plan; to fashion a website to allow everyone the right to enter anyone’s ‘final club’. Erica confronts him saying that he is becoming obsessed with the idea. He refutes, “There’s a difference between obsession and motivation”. The film then proceeds to test this dichotomy. Zuckerberg, with the aid of friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), begin to develop ‘The Facebook’. Simultaneously, Olympic rowing twins Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss (both played by Armie Hammer) are in talks with Zuckerberg about developing a similar idea. The film flits back and forth between Facebook’s origins and the two future lawsuits that are brought against Zuckerberg. The Winkelvoss twins believe their idea was plagiarised and Saverin sues, after his friendship with Zuckerberg has been ruined by greed and the persistent stirring of Napster founder, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) who seizes on the billion-dollar potential of the idea. The distinction between motivation and obsession becomes shaky.
Mark Zuckerberg, much like Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, possesses the curious ability to create his own destruction. From being dumped in the opening scene, creating a networking site where fellow students can rate the attractiveness of female classmates and his cold and distanced conduct during legal proceedings, Zuckerberg displays an inability to function normally in social situations. Ironic, then, that he is the co-founder of the largest social networking site. Eisenberg plays him brilliantly. His monotone and deadpan delivery of Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing) sharp and crackling script oddly comes to resemble the droning of some science-fiction super computer. Timberlake is also surprisingly good in the not-at-all ironic role of Parker (“I revolutionised the music industry”. Anybody?). One of the film’s best moments is when Zuckerberg and Saverin clash with Parker looming in the background manipulating the situation to his own ends.
David Fincher’s unfussy direction should not be underestimated either. Seemingly recovered from the fluffy and overlong Benjamin Button, Fincher returns to the pessimistic shadings of earlier, more successful works like Seven and Fight Club. Combined with Sorkin’s script, The Social Network is punchy, highly cynical, and relevant, but ultimately not as interesting or all-encompassing as its subject.