I take back every bad thing I ever said about Justin Timberlake. It’s that he came riding in on the back of a popular boy band, and we all know how that usually turns out, right? Well, if you were among the many, many Timberlake bashers, you may take heart in the fact that his singing hasn’t really changed one bit. However, he has proven to be a great pop music innovator, but what really surprised me is his acting ability. In The Social Network, he plays Napster founder Sean Parker, the charismatic machine gun-talking salesman who leads Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg down the path to success, but at the cost of Zuckerberg’s soul.
How do you make a good movie about the formation of a website? Well, hiring David Fincher to direct is a good start. It’s pretty odd that a project like this would come from Fincher. The Social Network is, after all, a movie which is giving acknowledgement to the beginnings of one of the most dominant corporations in the world. One of Fincher’s other indisputable classics (he’s building an impressive resume of them) was Fight Club, a roaring primal scream from one person in a materialistic, corporate world wondering where the line between his gussied up material character and his real self is drawn. Also on the staff of The Social Network is the great screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who wrote A Few Good Men, The American President, and created TV’s The West Wing. The Social Network, as a result, is written and directed in a very engaging manner.
The Social Network’s universe revolves around Mark Zuckerberg, a young Harvard student first seen mouthing off to his girlfriend with the cold bluntness and efficiency one might hear in someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. She finally ditches him with equivocal coldness and efficiency, sending The Zuck back to his dorm to get drunk and badmouth the girl in his blog before setting up a hot-or-not site called Facemash, which crashes parts of the Harvard network. It also brings him to the attention of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who have an idea for a Harvard alumi dating site and and thing The Zuck is the perfect guy to get it online. Zuckerberg likes the idea and uses it to create a whole new social network for people to stay in touch.
Long story short: It gets big. It expands in a way no one has ever seen before. Mark gets rich and inadvertently screws everyone over.
Mark Zuckerberg the way The Social Network portrays him is a tangled mass of contradictions. He is a genius who is easily led on by a very good snake oil salesman. He is a stone, thick and impenetrable for most people but he has an excellent idea of what makes people tick. He is a faithful friend to his friend and business partner, Eduardo, but doesn’t seem to care that Eduardo was screwed over by Sean Parker. Zuckerberg has a personality set to the robot position for the entirety of The Social Network. He seems alienated from the real world most of the time, but is a creative innovator who is able to make billions by analyzing the base desires of humanity.
Zuckerberg likes the idea of a universal connections network, so he takes his inspiration from the Winklevoss twins and a grand from Eduardo for his startup fee. When two girls at a Bill Gates lecture tell Mark and Eduardo to Facebook them, they know they’re on to something, and Sean Parker enters the picture as something of an advisor to Facebook. He has two things Mark and Eduardo need: The first is an excess of charisma shooting from every pore in his body at the speed of sound. The second and more important thing is connections, which Eduardo come in handy when Eduardo tries to make them himself in New York City and fails. Parker definitely plays a role in the success of Facebook, but he also turns into a wedge when he correctly calculates the respective reactions of Mark and Eduardo to him when they first meet. Mark, shooting for the stars, likes Sean. Eduardo, who doesn’t like him, prefers a more conservative approach. Sean, acting like the average kid after doing something which results in his folks playing the good parent/bad parent routine, snuggles up to Mark and uses him as a shield.
The Social Network is set around a pair of lawsuits Zuckerberg faces from the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo. They are all suing Zuckerberg, the Winklevoss twins because they believe he committed intellectual property theft by using their idea to form Facebook and Eduardo because he came back for a slice of the Facebook stock which Sean Parker slickly tricked him out of. The story is told in flashbacks, but they are mostly unbroken so the interruptions to the boardroom scenes are kept at a minimum.
There is a little bit of a Shakespearean element to The Social Network. No one dies, of course, but Mark seems to be made into some shade of Hamlet. Lawsuits are used as vengeance killings once Mark wipes his formerly solid relationships with his friends right off the face of the Earth. Like Hamlet, The Zuck seems lost and uncaring in his own little world at times, much to the detraction of everything that isn’t taking place in his head. The Social Network ends not with a massacre, but with a bitter irony: His Facebook site now has over a million members, but Mark Zuckerberg has no one left in his corner to help him fight his battles. The final scene is Mark, having the kind of money which society deifies, sitting pathetically in an empty boardroom, attempting to friend his ex-girlfriend on Facebook.
It’s possible that by making Mark Zuckerberg such an alienated character even a the best of times, Fincher was turning The Social Network into an other social commentary about where the tricky location of a blurry line between materialism and reality, where the accumulation of things ends and the actual person is formed. If that’s the case, maybe The Social Network has something in common with Fight Club after all.