Speaking of Facebook, here’s my review of “The Social Network”
You can tell immediately this part of campus is completely foreign to him. Bare walls, florescent lighting, none of the wall hangings and plaques of the other hallowed, historical halls of Harvard University. In this place, it only matters what you see on screens and what you cannot see. Sure, Eduardo Savurin knew how people connected online- sending emails, moving money, sharing music- all in short bursts, interruptions in normative social life. His friend, Mark Zuckerburg is about to change all that.
Now a familiar sight, a binge drinking party in the CS lab designed by Mark to test the mettle of potential interns. Mockingly, Eduardo says, “Which part of the interns job will they have to do drunk?.” Mark snaps back, “I guess a more accurate test is whether they can keep a chicken alive for a week.” Eduardo’s membership in the Phoenix stopped mattering after he forked over their emails to launch the site.
The commotion stops and Mark walks purposefully over to the monitors. Everyone sits poised for Mark to make a move. Without letting on, he turns to one programmer, thrusts his hand saying, “Welcome to Facebook.” The crowd erupts. Mark just became 12 ft tall and as Eduardo stands in the shadows, cheering with the rest for the creator and president of the biggest final club in the world, it’s clear these two friends are on completely different planets.
David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin will have the last laugh. They made a film about how we live and tricked us into thinking it was all about social media. Except for hacking scenes and montages of Zuckerberg creating the initial site, the film takes place off-line, face-to-face, and person-to-person. With Sorkin’s writing, the film makes talking into a contact sport. Take the scene with the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) in Larry Summers’ office. Summers, played by Douglas Urbanski, in a few words cuts through to their core beliefs of entitlement and tramples them to our viewing delight.
The most transfixing element of THE SOCIAL NETWORK remains for me Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Mark Zuckerberg. He is in nearly every scene or the specter of Zuckerberg hangs over the other characters in his absence. Eisenberg, I feel, uses his fictional Zuckerberg to characterize our cultural obsession with greatness. In the film, Zuckerberg’s ambitions reach beyond impressing girls or even making money. The scene I described above is probably his happiest moment in the film- surrounded by people celebrating his creation. He’s grown beyond the student who wanted recognition among his peers through a final club, he has soared above his peers to be an arbiter of their talent and creator of their enjoyment.
Mark’s focus on and commitment to Facebook has been read as destructive and malicious, but I never totally agreed. I didn’t know how to describe his performance until the Jesuit at America podcasted on the film. Fr. James Martin, a writer I respect on all things religious and cultural, described the Zuckerberg of the film as amoral. I think Mark is so myopic and so young that he cannot fathom other people would be hurt by his actions. In the first meeting with the Winklevoss Twins, I could see how little he esteems Harvard Connection. The one kernel of value resides in exclusivity, the dating aspect means nothing to him. With Eduardo, played by Andrew Garfield, you never see Mark relate to him as a business partner or equal in this enterprise. Mark envisages something greater for Facebook and can never communicate that to his friend. Facebook eclipses Eduardo and the betrayal is harsh, yet Mark’s blinders are on full blast and keep him from seeing what is happening. Lastly, with Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) Mark seems to have found someone who understands the potential scale of his idea. Yet, Sean’s recklessness and flash never rubs off on Mark, who remains rigiously focused on the tasks at hand.
Eisenberg conveys this with such power, that I was incredibly drawn to his level of concentration and steadfastness. For someone whose emotions rarely get beyond him, Eisenberg brings a lot of nuance to this character. Sly smirks while hacking and cold glances under interrogation have this magnetism behind them that kept me invested in his character. When he does explode, it’s completely earned because of the character’s belief in his goal and obsession with it.
I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall they have a right to give it a try. But there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention—you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?
Here, he’s agitated by people both questioning the work he’s done to create the site and hindering him from taking it even further. Eisenberg couples this speech with a strong physical performance. His posture before this scene is detached, but as he drops this hammer, he takes an almost predatory stance, staring right through his challengers. Sometimes, his eyes obfuscate his true thoughts. For instance at the close of the film, he refreshes a friend request to Erica (Rooney Mara) who sparked Mark to create Face Mash. Does Mark want reconciliation with her, or recognition from her for what he’s created, or to simply test how she views him years later. Eisenberg never lets on and gives us something to ponder after the film ends.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK serves as a great film portrait of what we believe about greatness. We regard individual effort, singular inspiration, and solitary wealth as the ideal of success. The film takes that idea, translates it through this creation story of Facebook, injects it with incredibly fierce characters played by talented and nimble actors and dares us to deny our own beliefs. In the person of Mark Zuckerberg played by Jesse Eisenberg we find the extreme version of this idea and see it’s not so outrageous to what we would want to find in an entrepreneur of today, even if we don’t like it. Eisenberg’s performance should force us to rethink this cultural obsession and seek to celebrate teamwork, collaboration, and sharing credit even if his character shuns it. THE SOCIAL NETWORK will remain, I proffer, one of the greatest films of its time. My hope is in the future it will serve as a recollection of this time and not a predictor of a future that could use a little less Zuckerberg at the top.