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Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010

The Social Network

The Accidental Billionaires

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Mark Zuckerberg is shown to be a jerk in the opening scene of The Social Network. When the film ends, after covering the years when Zuckerberg’s Facebook went from the germ of an idea to a pandemic, he remains a jerk—albeit with pathos. The irony isn’t lost. A Harvard student with barely any friends, Zuckerberg created a network where anyone can be anyone else’s “friend.” Like Charles Foster Kane, he just wanted the world to love him.

The Social Network
vividly imagines how it all happened. Based on Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, a critical account of the lawsuits and hurt feelings that accompanied the rise of Facebook, the film tends to sympathize with one of the aggrieved parties, Facebook’s original CFO (and Zuckerberg’s only friend), Eduardo Saverin. But the brilliant screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) pointedly leaves many questions open. To what degree did Zuckerberg steal the Facebook idea from a trio of fellow Harvard students who tapped him to develop their own networking site? And to what extent was Zuckerberg only using Saverin for seed money?

As shown in a series of depositions, Zuckerberg would have had a bad day in court. Wisely, he settled the lawsuits before they reached trial.

Director David Fincher juggles the components of the complicated story with a masterful sense for the rhythm of cinema. Unlike his previous film, Benjamin Button, TheSocial Network never drags. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Zuckerberg, an emotionally callow young computer-code writer whose life’s goal at the film’s onset, in the fall of 2003, is acceptance into the social network of Harvard, whose houses already had their own “face books”—online membership rosters with pictures. After his girlfriend ditched him for his clueless behavior, Zuckerberg bitched her out on his blog and, in a drunken frenzy, produced a site that ranked the women of Harvard for “hotness” and compared them to farm animals. Harvard’s server crashed. Zuckerberg was disciplined and forced to apologize. But, suddenly, the nobody was a big man on campus. Other callow guys thought he was cool. Would one of the more prestigious houses now accept him as a member?

According to The Social Network, Zuckerberg had no master plan but keenly seized every promising idea and opportunity he encountered. Originally, “The Facebook” was an elitist phenomenon for networking on Ivy League campuses—essentially the boy wonder’s dream of meeting rich, beautiful people writ large. Napster inventor Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), depicted as a reckless reprobate, opened Zuckerberg’s eyes to world domination and nudged him to cheat Eduardo (played by sad-eyed Andrew Garfield) of his share.

Sorkin allows all sides to air their conflicting views, weaving threads of humor into a story of brilliant ideas and bad faith. Eisenberg is well cast as the socially inept social networker, whose great talent for grasping the potential of the Internet was accompanied at every step by overweening arrogance. Little wonder Zuckerberg rushed into the role of philanthropist in the weeks before the film’s release. More than anything, he probably still wants everyone to be his friend.
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