Film Reviews

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

By • Oct 18th, 2010 •

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An anti-charismatic Charles Foster Kane with social issues, class status anger, and homoerotic panic.

I was holidaying in Ethiopia when THE SOCIAL NETWORK opened. I’ve read all the rabid praise for the film and read Vanity Fair’s article about Sean Parker, With a Little Help From His Friends by David Kirkpatrick, twice. (http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/10/sean-parker-201010).

What I finally sat through was a deposition. With all the facts culled from public depositions (it is the filmmakers protection against being sued by billionaire Zuckerberg), we do not get to the psychological motivations behind the vicious beginnings of Facebook.

It all starts with Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) being an outcast, a slob and socially inept Harvard student who, with inspiration and help from friends, took the idea of a Harvard social network and “created” Facebook.

Or did Mark “steal” the idea?

Mark is a brilliant programmer but he wants to be in a “final club”. According to Wikipedia, “the historical basis for the name ‘final club’ is that Harvard used to have a variety of clubs for freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, with students of different years being in different clubs, and the ‘final clubs’ were so named because they were the last social club a person could join before graduation.” There are currently eight all-male clubs at Harvard.

We know nothing about Mark’s family, but we do know he resents all those around him. He begins his social networking path by creating Facemash after he is insulted by being dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). Mark is an intellectual bully without a trace of charm.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher cannot make Mark a charismatic latter-day Charles Foster Kane. At the very least, Orson Welles showed joy at being a vicious, selfish titan. Kane’s lust for power was a narcotic. Mark’s motivation is based on resentment.

There is no “Rosebud” moment.

Or, was there something more psychological at the core of Mark’s treachery? With Sorkin and Fincher not willing to dig deeper, l had to work hard to come up with the character’s motivation. They do insist that Mark had absolutely no interest in money. So, what is left? Jealousy at not being chosen for a final club? Was it jealousy of his friend getting on the fast track to a final club?

Facemash humiliates Harvard’s female students by hacking into their college “facebooks”. Students are asked to vote on which girls are the hottest.

Facemash makes Mark a “name” on campus (but without the female idolatry saved for Harvard athletes) and he is approached by Harvard’s blond, 6’5″ star rowers, twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Josh Pence). The scions of privilege, with social status and wealth, need help creating a Harvard dating website. They invite Mark to a meeting in the foyer of their final club.

With the financial help of his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Mark hijacks the twin’s idea, stalls them for weeks, and creates The Facebook.

When The Facebook attracts the attention of Napster’s creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), Mark falls under his spell. Sean may be a womanizer, so why does Timberlake swish around the Facebook offices? The twins, along with their Indian-American partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), and Eduardo, are pushed aside when Facebook becomes a global phenomenon. Somehow, Eduardo signs documents without legal representation and is the only one whose stock position within the company is diluted to next to nothing. We are not told how this was accomplished. Sean keeps his stake in Facebook.

The twins, along with Divya and Eduardo, sue Mark.

I loved Eisenberg in ZOMBIELAND, but I was concerned his favored pace line delivery would be a distraction and overwhelming. Fincher is a strong director, so it is not so annoying. Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue helps.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK makes you push too hard to find the explanation of Mark’s choices. If it wasn’t greed, then what drove him? Of course, now it’s a moot point, with the lawsuits settled and Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire on record.

Unlikely as our new Spider-Man, Garfield comes off the best. He seems the only one who expresses his character’s inner emotions. Armie Hammer (with special effects used to create two of him) is also a stand-out. Mara has one essential scene that does not introduce her as the perfect selection for the now iconic Lisbeth Salander. Did Fincher see a lurking hard edge in Mara that we missed?

While Sorkin is running around with a Cheshire grin in the media and a cameo in the film, this is clearly Fincher’s vision. Factually, he did not have much to work with since his star’s character is not likeable, but he could have gone much further. He has the skill to delve into the sub-text, but has chosen not to insult FACEBOOK’s 500 million users about their founder’s true motivations. Zuckerberg might be a creep, but he’s a very rich creep.

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