David Fincher’s The Social Network does for the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, what Rudy did for Daniel E. ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger. It doesn’t matter what was actually true, and what was fiction, the account that matters — and that may as well be the truth, whether it is or not — is what is memorialized in film. To the rest of us, Zuckerberg will always look like Jesse Eisenberg, just as Daniel Reuttiger will always look like Sean Astin. It’s more than truth; it’s a goddamn film.
Mark Zuckerberg, at least the one depicted in The Social Network, would probably appreciate The Social Network. It would satisfy his every desire to be depicted as a monstrously successful asshole, an insecure egotist, even if it’s not exactly true. Then again, Facebook isn’t true, either. It’s the embodiment of what we want ourselves to be; it’s the best picture of a bad bunch; it’s our life, reduced to an online highlight reel. That’s what The Social Network is for the origins story of Facebook: A well articulated, fast-paced, and, paradoxically, a humanely soulless highlight reel of the rise of Mark Zuckerberg.
It’s nothing less than brilliant.
What’s almost poetic about The Social Network — besides the masterfully constructed narrative, the effulgent banter, and the whooshing virtuoso performances by everyone in this film, including Justin Timberlake, but especially Eisenberg — is the cultural metaphor that Fincher has constructed. Eisenberg has created what most of us would consider a dweebish anti-hero, but for the Millennials his Facebook has helped to shape, there’s nothing anti about him. Gen Y has never been about putting something good out into the world; it’s been about putting themselves out into the world, which is why reality shows are one of the biggest industries in the United States. Millennials aren’t selling vacuums; they’re selling themselves (and part of the reason the economy is going to shit is because no one is buying). Zuckerberg is the FACE on the poster of this generation. Indeed, he didn’t create Facebook to make money or improve the lives of college kids — there’s barely any attention paid in the film to what Facebook actually accomplishes for the individuals that use it — he created it to make himself look important. If Facebook had existed before he’d invented it, “creating Facebook” would be the centerpiece of his FB wall. He invented Facebook for one fucking reason: So he could say, “I invented Facebook, bitch.”
It takes Fincher and Sorkin — a couple of Gen Xers, one of whom, Sorkin, has professed little knowledge of social networking before he took on this screenwriting gig — to hold a mirror up to an entire generation and smash it in their faces. It’s the brilliant, fast-paced back-and-forth zing-pop banter of Sorkin drenched in Fincher’s cynicism that reduces Zuckerberg from billionaire entrepreneur to a little fuckface dweeb who is misguided enough to believe that the best way to connect with someone is to make a name for yourself.
Indeed, it was all to impress a Boston University undegrad (Rooney Mara), who dumped Zuckerberg because he was too obsessed with his own need to be respected and appear important (at least, that was the motivation in the film, and as far as the world is concerned, that motivation has been concretized). Facebook was created out of his spite. After she dumped him, Zuckerberg developed, overnight, a HotorNot.com type site with the profile pics of Harvard women, which not only got him six months academic probation for violating the privacy of these women (oh, the irony), but elicited the attention of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who had the idea to create a MySpace exclusive to Harvard. Zuckerberg took their idea, modified and improved it, made it his own, and launched Facebook while Narendra and the Winklevosses were under the mistaken belief that he was creating a website for them.
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg also brought in his best — and only — friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), to front him the money to start Facebook and be the financial officer of the company. The problem was, at the time, Facebook didn’t need a financial officer; Zuckerberg was too intent on keeping the site “cool” to put advertising on it. “That’d be like throwing this really great party and telling everyone they had to go home at 11,” the founder of Napster, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), tells them, as he aims to push Saverin out of the picture and replace him with himself. It’s that political maneuvering and a lot of alcohol that would lead to the ousting of Saverin and one of the two lawsuits — the other being between Zuckerberg and the Winklevosses — that frames The Social Network.
“The Facebook Movie” is not about Facebook. It’s about the social warfare behind its development. It’s about the hurt feelings, alienation, and anger of those left by the wayside in the rise of Facebook. It’s a pulsating, layered indictment of and about this generation, scored quietly by Trent Reznor. It’s also extremely smart, taut, engaging, and important, but it’s neither self-serious or humorless. It manages to be cool enough that the very people Fincher is damning would want to align themselves with this movie, a hat out of a rabbit feat that only two of the very best at what they do could pull off.
Over a year ago, when The Social Network was announced, almost everyone mocked the idea of a Facebook movie. We scratched our heads, and wondered what was becoming of Aaron Sorkin. Fincher enrolled Justin Timberlake, and we shook our heads again, laughing at the idea (I have the posts and comments to prove it). In the end, The Social Network is like a huge middle finger to all those naysayers, ourselves included, who insisted that this was a terrible idea. But it’s a middle finger we’ll gladly swallow, if only because it adds some intelligent and well-needed social commentary to the world. And when Sorkin gets up to accept his Oscar for best screenwriting, I hope he walks up on stage in his bathrobe, grabs his statue, ambles over to the microphone, says, “I’m Aaron Sorkin, bitch,” and exits stage left with one hand around a cocktail and the other one-finger saluting every punk blogger who had the audacity to doubt him.