The Social Network [50 New-Old Movies for the 51st Year #11]

A couple of months ago, I turned 50 years old!  And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which cam out in each year of my life (thus the “Old-New” terminology), and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #11.  Spoilers ahead.  

The Social Network

Directed by David Fincher

Release Date:  October 1, 2010
My age then:  40 old

What it is about:  Mark Zuckerberg is a brilliant but frustrated Harvard University student. Along with several friends and roommates, he develops the website that will day become Facebook. The website is a huge success but it leads to a breakdown in his closest friendship, with co-founder Eduardo Saverin. Zuckerberg finds himself sued by multiple parties related to the new service, including by his former friend.

Starring Jessie Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, Armie Hammer as Cameron & Tyler Winklevoss, Max Minghella as Divya Narendra, and Rooney Mara as Erica Albright.

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I knew it was written by Aaron Sorkin (a favorite of mine) and featured Jessie Eisenberg as the founder of Facebook. And I knew it was supposed to be really good, and maybe I knew it was directed by David Fincher.

Reality:  It turns out that yes, it is really good. David Fincher is the kind of director who brings you face to face with challenging relationships and the full intensity of difficult emotions, and The Social Network is full of these characteristics. We get an honest and sometimes brutal look at Mark Zuckerberg’s drives, obsessions and vulnerabilities that lead to Facebook’s success but also to massive failures in his personal life.

Now, “honest” should not be taken her as to mean “historically accurate.” From what I read, there much that seems to be a fair bit exaggerated or even introduced completely dramatic effect–but really that’s standard for many “based on a true story” films. If we can just engage with the material as pure drama, then it becomes a fascinating character study, not just for Zuckerberg but for some of the key figures around him. Aaron Sorkin’s script is full of deft plotting and witty dialogue, and it does a great job showing us what sort of people the various characters are (even if it doesn’t go to great efforts to reveal why they are like that or how they got there).

There are some really interesting dynamics, for example, between Zuckerberg, his original partner Eduardo Saverin, and his later collaborator Sean Parker (the real life founder of Napster). Zuckerberg and Saverin are taking tentative steps forward with their venture when they meet Parker, a sort of entrepreneurial rock star who completely draws Zuckerberg into his sensationalized partying lifestyle. This is key for Facebook’s growth but it contributes to the destruction in his friendship with Saverin.

The contrast between Parker and Saverin is clear–one is steady, loyal and, emotionally engaged, but lacking the gutsy courage that is necessary for Facebook to reach its potential. The other is a risk-taking trailblazer who knows how to engage people and push them forward to achieve his goals , but is ultimately unreliable on a personal level. The film show Zuckerberg shifting his loyalties from one to the other, and leaves us with the suggested question of whether he made the right choice.

Jessie Eisenberg is an actor I haven’t had a lot of exposure to outside of cinematic nonsense like Batman v. Superman or Now You See Me, but he is outstanding as Mark Zuckerberg, in some ways fitting the old of the socially-inept genius we’ve now seen in a hundred TV shows, but going so far beyond any simplistic caricatures. Andrew Garfield is Eduardo Saverin, and contrasts with Eisenberg by bringing out a lot of emotional sensitivity in his portrayal. Justin Timberlake does a great job as the capable but unlikable Sean Parker, and Armie Hammer is also memorable as the Winkelvoss twins (two of Zuckerberg’s fellow students who believe he stole the idea for Facebook from them).

A final note–it’s interesting to see a movie about Facebook remind us what things were like when Facebook first began to come onto the scene. Once upon a time, the sort of instant, global dissemination of information and opinion that we’re all used to was a complete novelty–and the movie wisely spends a beat or two reminding us of that fact.

So…when you get down to it, what did I think?  The Social Network is a strong piece of work–a great cast working with great material under the sure hand of a great director. It’s probably the best film I’ve watched for this series of posts, but I knew that was likely going in, so it’s not much of a “discovery” from that point of view.

See here for the Master List.

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