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Opening with a social maladroit’s inability to communicate with his real, live girlfriend; her abandonment will set a young man into a tizzy of revenge that will result in one of the most significant and controversial inventions of this century.  The irony of the creation of Facebook is in its originator’s incapacity to cultivate any sort of normal relationship with even those who would be his closest friends, choosing instead to grow and nurture a device that brings together complete strangers over the internet in a proximity that the inventor would probably never allow in real life.

Director David Fincher’s biopic of Mark Zuckerberg, whose Facebook website made him the world’s youngest billionaire, is also the story of a late-bloomer overwhelmed with a success that could never occur in his most elaborate fantasies.  Capturing perfectly the ephemera of the college experience of the early 2000’s (bedecked with Abercrombie and Fitch and faux lipstick-lesbianism), Fincher grasps what is it to be a young man coping with the first flushes of adult freedom, yet trapped amongst people that you hate and who don’t understand you.  It doesn’t help that his subject makes himself a ready vessel for derision, belonging to that special breed known as the computer nerd.  The isolation of spending every joyful minute alone in front of a monitor combined with a stratospheric IQ has affected Mark Zuckerberg’s ability to relate to flesh and blood human beings and given the young man a contempt for those not in his intellectual class.  The Social Network’s cutting and smart script could be an analogy for the corruption of sudden fame and money that Zuckerberg’s landmark website will bring about later; however what makes that narrative chestnut compelling here is not only its oddball subject, but also its exploration of the nuts and bolts -- or scripts and chips -- behind Facebook’s initial rise, if not the mass hypnosis the programme seems to have placed on the general public.  Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wisely avoid attempting to explain that public’s lemminglike willingness to hand the website their intimate details for worldwide consumption and the lack of boundaries that the current culture encourages, which could be an epic in itself.  Instead the focus is on the virus-like growth and popularity of the application and its direct effect on those involved in creating it.  Who knew there were Facebook groupies?

Jesse Eisenberg gives a great performance as Zuckerberg, so brilliant yet socially inept as to make viewers wonder if he hasn’t got some form of Asperger Syndrome.  Equal parts Holden Caulfield and Ratso Rizzo, Zuckerberg blurts unedited thoughts off the top of his head, oblivious to his rudeness and uncomprehending when he’s rejected.  Indeed, Zuckerberg displays an almost-sociopathic nonchalance to the offence he’s given the entire women’s population of Harvard after creating a hack programme that lines up purloined photos of every lady on campus and asks viewers to choose the hotter of two students.  Such challenges to his superior intellect are met with a shark-like, dead-eyed blank stare.  He seems incapable of understanding ex-girlfriend Erica’s indignation after he drunkblogs hurtful, intimate things about her after their breakup.  Direct explanations of his errors, like Erica’s brilliant rejoinder, “The internet’s not written in pencil, Mark.  It’s written in ink.” fail to compute and are dismissed as a lack of humour on the part of those affronted.  Andrew Garfield in smart suits and early Naughties’ vertical hair wall fringe, is puppy-eyed as Zuckerberg’s patient best mate, Eduardo Saverin, who tries to steer Zuckerberg around his self-created social pitfalls, believing in his friend so much as to be the first investor in his little computer project.  Once Zuckerberg’s experiment begins to bear fruit, expanding its reach far beyond Harvard’s ivy-covered walls, the vultures and hangers-on come running, including a trio of upperclassmen from a posh fraternity who claim Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from them.  Included in the three are the Winklevoss twins, a pair of pampered, privileged brothers who in their thoughtless condescension to the nerdy nobody create a monster.  Aaron Sorkin’s skillfully layered screenplay never makes a clear cut argument for who stole what from whom, allowing the viewer to make up their own minds.  We spend the last half of the film ping-ponging back and forth from Zuckerberg’s lawsuits with the “Winklevii” and another with his former bud, Saverin into flashbacks of the circumstances that lead up to the litigations.  Saverin’s allegations are made much clearer as he is shifted into the seat of the film’s sympathies, having had his place as CEO, advisor and closest pal of Zuckerberg completely usurped by Napster inventor and eventual Facebook officer, Sean Parker.  Somewhere between clever irony and crass gimmickry lies the choice of Justin Timberlake to play Parker, the Justin Timberlake of computer geeks everywhere.  Parker is the bad boy of the internet set, spending nary a sober moment, sailing into the most exclusive clubs and restaurants like a rock star … or Justin Timberlake.  All of this is blinding to Zuckerberg who could never have dreamed the life that Parker lays out before him.  The starstruck college student’s genius somehow fails to comprehend that Parker, for all his fame is in effect a transient living from place to place; full of brilliant ideas and bountiful connections, but essentially homeless and prone to arrest for his uncontrollable vices.  Saverin isn’t as impressed, but can’t compete against Parker’s tidal wave of star power.  Watching the loggerheads between his old and new friends play out with the aloofness of one observing a science experiment, Zuckerberg does nothing to stop Saverin being cheated out of his share of Facebook.  We’re left to question whether the motivation for this betrayal was passive-aggressive payback for petty differences -- Saverin’s admittance to a frat Zuckerberg coveted, his way with the ladies, his wealth -- that could only have been substantial to someone whose self-absorption cannot be measured.  Somehow, for all Zuckerberg’s quirks and downright foul behaviour, Fincher and Sorkin do actually manage to make him into a sympathetic character:  The film’s last scene of the now-massively wealthy Zuckerberg depending on his own invention to try to contact the girl who got away is one of the most memorable final images of recent cinema. 

The Social Network’s great young cast delivers rich performances that are worth the price of admission.  The adroitness of Sorkin’s modern morality tale about the rise of the world’s youngest billionaire comes to life in Fincher’s deft hands, creating one of the coolest, sharpest films of the year.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

October 1st, 2010

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Sony Pictures)

 

 

 

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