The Social Network

Today Mark Zuckerberg, the face of Facebook, is the youngest self-made billionaire in the world. A pretty good accomplishment for a guy who claimed he wasn’t interested in making money. Seven years ago, 2003, he was an undergrad computer nerd at Harvard who drank too much, thought he was a genius, wore flip-flops all the time even in the snow, was obsessed with being accepted into the exclusive male clubs, rude, arrogant, and totally clueless about women. In other words, he probably should have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

His one and only friend is Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), a charming fellow from Brazil, who breezily gets into the most prestigious club on campus, but who nevertheless is loyal to Mark and helps fund his computer business projects. Eduardo’s main problem, we discover, is that he is a nice guy and we know what happens to nice guys–yes, so the cynics say, they finish last.

In the opening scene, Mark is being a self-obsessed motor mouth with his lovely girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara, whom we’ll see again soon as the Goth computer freak Salamander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, to be directed by David Fincher, who helmed The Social Network). Erica is so turned off by Mark’s calculating view of relationships as mere steps on the ladder of upward mobility, that she calls him what he is and walks out. Enraged, Mark goes back to the dorm, gets drunk and blasts her cruelly on his web page. Swell guy, huh?

But, according to The Social Network filmmakers, this inebriated bit of nastiness gives Mark the idea to create a website that will rate the “hotness” quotient of Harvard girls. He pours a few more beers, breaks into the university’s data banks, furiously creates a lot of code–and lo and behold he’s got a site of the members of Harvard’s female clubs up and running. It becomes an overnight phenomenon. The university administrative board is riled up that Mark broke almost every code in the student handbook. Despite his articulate defense, he gets suspended. He also becomes one of the most famous guys on campus. The kind of sweet revenge a computer nerd loves to have on the woman who rejected him.

This incident also brings Mark to the attention of the Winkelvoss twins, identical rich, sophisticated, blonde hunks on the rowing team, (both twins are played by the same actor Armie Hamm–amazing how that was done) and their pal, Divya Narenda (Max Minghella), a budding entrepreneur. They tell Mark their idea for a social network based on the exclusive Harvard email domain and ask him to write the code. He agrees. Then avoids them for months while he puts together his own site. Facebook, more or less, is off and running, and the Winkelvoss twins and Divya are ancient history to Mark — that is, until the lawsuits are filed.

Seduced by the call of Silicon Valley and a famous oily internet guru, Sean Parker (ably played by singer Justin Timeberlake), Mark forgets getting a degree from Harvard and moves west to a new life–and unimagined fame and fortune. He leaves behind a wake of bitterness and charges of dishonorable behavior that will plague him forever.

The story of The Social Network is told, going back and forth in time, in the depositions of various lawsuits filed against Mark Zuckerberg for stealing Facebook. Sounds dull? It isn’t. It’s an utterly fascinating, high-powered mystery told in the words of men on the ring of global greatness, all of whom want their name in the history books.

The film is fueled by a brilliant script by Aaron Sorkin (who earned his stripes with two masterful films, A Few Good Men (1992) and Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) and 154 episodes of TV’s West Wing), as well as compelling, unforgettable performances by all actors. Each element of the film dazzles under the able helm of David Fincher (his chilling cop drama Zodiac is one of the unheralded gems of 2007).

The Social Network is one of those films that keeps your brain challenged as well as totally satisfying your emotions. Even if you don’t know how to turn on a computer, you’ll be able to understand the theories, and even some of the technicalities, behind Facebook — and most importantly, why 500 million people worldwide claim to be its “friend.”

Was Mark Zuckerberg a genius? Or merely a magpie who stole bits of glitter from those around him? Was he a visionary–or an opportunist who just showed up at the right time? Did he make Facebook, or did the users make it? Were there any women at all who were part of building Facebook and not just underage drunken groupies?

I think it will take years, if ever, to fully answer those question, no matter how many books (and there are several) and academic papers (there will be many) are written about Facebook. In the meantime, there’s a terrific movie, The Social Network, that entertains you and for 120 minutes makes you feel connected.

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