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January 31, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

The Social Network

I had to remind myself that if I watched The Social Network, I shouldn’t demonise the billionaire genius who invented one of the world’s most successful social networking sites. I know that a lot of things can be spawned from jealousy. But thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s super-zingy script, there wasn’t any chance I would simply demonise Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO. It was more like I was about to make enemies with just about everyone connected with the uber-popular site. And I couldn’t help but find that mildly ironic.

The Social Network revolves loosely around two lawsuits launched against Zuckerberg; one by the Winklevoss twins Cameron and Tyler (both played by Armie Hammer), who argued that Zuckerberg stole their idea for a social networking site while they were all students at Harvard; and another by Zuckerberg’s former friend, who in no uncertain terms was royally screwed by his inexperience and the machinations of more devilish people. The film jumps from scenes during each deposition to the beginnings of Facebook, when it was a Harvard-centric site that eventually grew to swallow up the attention spans of universities on other continents, and finally the world.

It’s almost criminally easy to make a villain out of Zuckerberg. Now the youngest billionaire in the world, it’s a well-known fact he is socially inept and a computer genius. The opening scene sees him patronising his very patient girlfriend, right before she dumps him. Zuckerberg does what most people do after a break-up, gets plastered, but instead of just leaving an angry voicemail on his ex’s phone, he creates a hot-or-not website to rate undergraduate Harvard students. Not only does he humiliate his ex on a blog, he decides to even the imaginary score in his head by humiliating all other women on campus. So far, so good.

But the main thing that strikes me about The Social Network is the fact that almost everyone in it is alienated from each other in some way, in turn preventing the audience from ever discovering their anti-hero. Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is isolated by his intelligence, but also by his complete social ineptitude. Even though Zuckerbeg has a friend in Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), the two seem like they’re on distinctly different planets most of the time and aren’t really suited for each other. As Chief Financial Officer, Eduardo is busy doing what most business students would do in Facebook’s early stages; trying to source revenue for a site budding with potential. But Zuckerberg is bent on the honing the concept rather than the financial value; Sorkin here seems to be saying that the values of the artist predominate, even when a substantial amount of (in this case, Saverin’s) money is involved.

Fortunately Zuckerberg is not the only person you can love to hate in The Social Network. The ‘Winklevii’ twins also come in for a malevalent beating, depicted as prissy rich-boy rowers who can’t handle losing out to a nerd. Most of their shots involve them either rowing, muscles on display, or arguing with less-attractive people about how to get Zuckerberg back for stealing their idea.

The focus of The Social Network, however, tends to shift to a more darker mode when Sean Parker, the creator of Napster and computer whiz-kid, makes his appearance and starts to take a dangerous interest in the welfare of Facebook. Justin Timberlake is surprisingly apt at playing a creepy predator, much in the same way the Eisenberg successfully moulds his Zuckerberg into an angry, resentful, repressed young man. Timberlake’s Parker is suave, uber-cool, arrogant, and somehow far more socially apt than any of the others characters. Parker has already been through the circus of lawsuits and ethics, he’s already a very rich man, and he knows the path that Zuckerberg is on. The scary thing is that Parker’s arguments make complete sense to Zuckerberg, who in his naivete mistakes financial interest for friendship.

I know very little of the real story of Facebook, but I think The Social Network makes a good stab at outlining what has been left in Facebook’s wake. Zuckerberg is a man who lost a lot of friends during its creation, but then gained about 500 million more ‘friends’. Overall, this film left me feeling rather hopeless that any kind of business venture can end with people behaving the way moral codes dictate they should. I’m not naive enough to think that money doesn’t change people, but do they need to change this much? Aaron Sorkin leaves the audience with very little room to breathe, or to poke holes in the shroud of disappointment that surrounds the growth of Facebook. Zuckerberg is an isolated, apparently unhappy young man, and yet he’s one of the most successful people on earth. Similarly, the Winklevii twins enjoy wealth, intelligence, good looks, excellent physique and apparent creativity–I find it hard to believe that the outcome they achieved as outlined in The Social Network was one with which they could have been completely dissatisfied.

For a film about friends, The Social Network offers an incredibly bleak outlook on life. It makes Facebook’s core concepts seems calculated, predatory and perfectly geared towards acts of spite. And while Sorkin’s million-miles-an-hour dialogue offers some (sparse) comedic relief, The Social Network makes it difficult to perceive Facebook as anything but the fanciful method one isolated nerd used to connect himself with the outside world.


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