The tagline says it all. You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies. The Social Network, a fictionalized account of Facebook’s rise to fame, depicts the sacrifices and steamrolling that many successful businesspeople go through on their way to the top. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s brilliant, almost Aspbergian founder, is the Gen-Y version of the timeless American business hero.
The Social Network doesn’t extol Zuckerberg, though. Played by a sourpussed Michael Eisenberg, Zuckerberg balances out his social reticence by programming a viral software application that lets Harvard students express their basic social needs online.
As Facebook grows, Zuckerberg alienates his former business partners and best friend. Set mainly at Harvard University and in Palo Alto, The Social Network depicts the trials, successes, and innumerable parties that helped nurture Facebook to a landmark one million users.
The movie alternates between two depositions in a conference room, which represent the current time, and scenes from the past depicting Facebook’s founding and growth. The depositions pit Zuckerberg and his lawyers against two different plaintiffs–the preppy Winkelvoss twins are one; former business partner Eduardo Saverin is another. When lawyers quote him or ask him certain questions about Facebook, the movie pans back to chronological segments of the Facebook story. Whenever a story scene ends, we’re brought back to the deposition. I didn’t include all the deposition segments below, just the arc of the Facebook founding story.
The opening scene depicts Mark Zuckerberg and his girlfriend breaking up one night in a bar. The scene employs the kind of satisfying, witty dialogue that reminds me of The West Wing, which Social Network screenwriter Aaron Sorkin also wrote.
After the breakup, a dismayed Zuckerberg goes back to his dorm room, blogs, and gets drunk. To ease his misery, he comes up with an idea, a website that lets users rate the looks of female Harvard undergrads. He spends several hours coding the site, hacking each Harvard residence hall’s database to compile the collection of pictures. “Face Mash” becomes so popular so quickly that Harvard’s servers crash at 4am that same morning.
Zuckerberg gains notoriety through Face Mash, attracting the attention of business partners Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra. They invite Zuckerberg to program a Harvard social media website called The Harvard Connection. After agreeing, Zuckerberg goes to his friend Eduardo Saverin, a Harvard economics major and financial whiz, for seed money for a concept he calls “The Facebook,” an invite-only social networking site available only to those with a harvard.edu email. Saverin provides $1,000 seed money to get Zuckerberg started.
Read more about the plot here. Spoiler alert!
Although The Social Network has the New York Times refers to as having a “complicated” relationship with the truth, it’s still a captivating, well-produced movie.
Trent Reznor’s dark music, combined with party, drinking, and drug scenes make The Social Network surprisingly edgy. The acting was excellent. Eisenberg made for a multifaceted, if not true-to-life Zuckerberg. Justin Timberlake was a vivid Sean Parker; the Winkelvoss twins, both played by Armie Hammer, embodied the most annoying aspects of America’s preppy elite while still being funny. Douglas Urbanski’s Larry Summers, then-president of Harvard, made me laugh out loud several times during his one brief scene.
The business themes in the movie might sound familiar. Zuckerberg, the company founder, single-mindedly pursued his own growth vision for the website. When someone told him something he didn’t want to hear–Saverin wanting to monetize the site with ads, for example–Zuckerberg simply didn’t listen. When someone pointed him in a direction that fit his vision, the way Sean Parker did, he went for it.
Like a true techie, Zuckerberg is something of an artist, calling Facebook a constant work in progress. Like the moneymen that they are, the competition (the Winkelvoss twins) and slighted former partner (Saverin) seek out their share, using the law to squeeze as much out of Zuckerberg as they can get. These thing happen in the business world every day. The Social Network applies them to the latest generation to hit the entrepreneurial circuit, tech-savvy Gen Y-ers.
Overall, The Social Network was well-paced, lacking dull spots or drag. It was adult enough to feature an ambiguous ending, with themes timeless enough to appeal across generations. Plainly put, The Social Network was a good movie. Just take it with a grain of salt–it’s no documentary.