The Social Network Review
Warning – this review contains mild SPOILERS regarding the film's ending.
In much the same way that All the President's Men quickly adapted current events and spun them in to a modern day political legend, so The Social Network examines the birth of a modern day phenomenon with the benefit of very little hindsight, and delivers a tale as rife with intrigue, misunderstandings and betrayals as a Shakespearean tragedy. Anyone who remembers their first hesitant steps in to the world of Facebook a few years ago will smile with recognition at the nods to its steady evolution since its birth in 2004. But the primary thrust of the film is what drove Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg to create the site, and how its astonishing success drove him and his friends and co-creators apart.
There has been much debate as to the accuracy of the events portrayed in David Fincher’s absorbing drama, but the general gist of the story rings true. It’s difficult to see any lawsuits being filed in the direction of the film by the real-life protagonists, as their portrayals are rounded and believable. Aaron Sorkin’s zesty script makes it abundantly clear that the people who changed the way the world communicated were not on a quest to better humanity or improve civilization. Rather, it arose out the very human foibles of a group of young students, in particular Zuckerberg, who stumbled across a way to get people to connect online that allowed users to sidestep the unpredictable and sometimes painful nature of real social interaction.
Fincher’s film looks at events in flashback from several legal depositions, in the run up to the court battles that were fought by the various parties who all believed they were entitled to a piece of Facebook’s extraordinary success. After being dumped by his girlfriend, the socially awkward Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) sets up a website where Harvard students can rate their female colleagues according to their attractiveness. Its popularity brings down the campus network, and Zuckerberg, eager for an achievement that will get him noticed by the elite, realises he’s on to something. What if the same equation and technology were expanded to include the personal information of each person?
He is approached by the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer on double duty) who ask if he wants to help out with their own website venture, with the promise of access to exclusive social circles as reward. Initially agreeing, Mark is sidetracked by his own ideas and ambitions, and as the first shoots of Facebook begin to emerge, he enlists his roommate Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) as his business partner and financial backer. When Facebook's success becomes almost uncontrollable, Zuckerberg finds himself in a financial and social league far higher than he had ever dreamed. And suddenly what were once petty squabbles and mild irks between friends and colleagues become gargantuan court battles over billions of dollars.
Though the story is on one level the old chestnut about money ruining lives, there is plenty more going on besides. The zinging dialogue is a delight to listen to, and there’s not a wasted moment on screen. Fincher wields what is at times a dizzyingly fractured narrative with ease, so that even as events hop back and forth in time, the audience never feels lost. The performances are universally excellent, led from the front by Eisenberg who is entirely credible as the visionary who just doesn’t seem to understand people. Garfield is the human heart of the story as the friend betrayed, while Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker is excellent, playing the snake-like wedge that comes between them.
The wry closing shot of Zuckerberg requesting to become friends on Facebook with his ex brings the story neatly full circle: the whizz-kid has become a victim of his own success. He has successfully avoided the emotional confusion of human relationships by creating an online social life, but in the end he is isolated and alone, without the warmth that friendship and real people can bring. So is The Social Network a brilliantly timed examination of whether we are better or worse off as people with the advent of Facebook and its like? Perhaps. It is certainly easy to imagine the film being required viewing for social history students of the future.