When I wake up in the morning, I do three things. I jump start my foggy brain with coffee. I feed the cat. I check Facebook. So do you. No matter how much we rail about our lack of privacy, the danger to our children and the destruction of society in general, we love the thing. Say what you will about Facebook, but it's changed our culture more than any invention since the flushable toilet. It's surprising that no one has done a film about it before now. But The Social Network isn't really about the effects of Facebook in the way that Catfish is. It's a study of one man, what drives him and what success can do to you.
It's 2003, and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is breaking up with his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) in a bar. He doesn't realize it, but his stream-of-consciousness babbling about how getting into 'final clubs' at Harvard will help her rise in social circles is driving her away. He just can't seem to grasp that she would be hurt by the words he can't seem to stop himself from saying. It's clear from the first moments of director David Fincher's film that our 'hero' will not be sympathetic. Fincher's Zuckerberg is one of those guys you tolerate because you've been hanging around him so long you can't seem to shake him. You pity people like this. You feel bad and befriend them, only to be shocked when this guy you've tried to help screws you by heading for greener and more influential pastures. Zuckerberg's best friend Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield, your brand new Spider-Man) provides the young company with the start up money only to watch as he's tossed aside for flashy Napster creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Zuckerberg leaves a behind him a wake of people that he's used for his own purposes and a string of lawsuits from people who trusted him. And at the end, he's alone, missing his old girlfriend.
Fincher drops us right into Zuckerberg's psyche, letting us see how he hurts people without thinking. The opening scene is almost exhausting to watch, with non-stop dialogue and a piercing look into the inner workings of Zuckerberg's mind. And it was brilliant. Between the performance of Jesse Eisenberg and the well-crafted script, you're as frustrated with him as his girlfriend is. You're as stunned by his lack of tact. You're as annoyed by his need for acceptance. You're sucked into his world. The same goes for Savarin, who is stepped on and betrayed and wears it all on his sleeve.
Fincher begins the film in a linear style, then jumps surprisingly and seamlessly into court cases about 20 or so minutes in. We realize that the story we've been watching is the answer to a question from a lawyer. The point of view switches, depending on who's answering. I found myself grinning at a technique that might have annoyed the heck out of me from a lesser film maker. The film is beautifully shot, wonderfully arranged and doesn't let up for a second, taking what could have been a tedious subject matter and keeping you engaged from beginning to end. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin did a fantastic job, but it's really the stunning performance from Eisenberg that steals the show. Believe me, no one will ever refer to him as 'another Michael Cera' again.
Zuckerberg in the film (which the filmmakers have acknowledged as a somewhat fictional portrayal) is an ass. The irony is not lost here. The man who managed to connect the world has no real connections of his own, and it's his own fault. But Eisenberg takes a completely unsympathetic character and makes you want to take him home and give him hot chocolate and a hug by the end. He tears up the screen. He steals every scene he's in. Garfield is heartbreaking to watch as he lets us into Savarin's shock at his friend's betrayal and his panic as the business, his friendships and his love life spin out of control. Here is a guy who probably would have been happy with a nice regular job, a wife and 2.5 children and just can't keep up with the sharp ambition of his former partner.
So were there problems with the film? Sure. The sheer amount of information was one. There is a lot thrown at you in a short amount of time. I'm not sure every single detail needed to be included from the book it was based on. Here the casting saved the film from it's flaw. The performances were engaging enough that I stopped taking notes a few minutes in and let myself be swept away by the character development. It doesn't mean I wasn't aware that I was missing a number of details about the lawsuits. Please don't quiz me. I'm not sure it was necessary to stunt cast one man (Armie Hammer) as the Winklevoss twins, the golden boys of Harvard from whom Zuckerberg steals the Facebook idea. I wasn't sure what was bothering me about the characters until I learned that fact, but there was something off about them. But these are very tiny flies in a vat full of ointment. The film grabbed me by the throat from the first moment and didn't let go until the very last.