The Social Network is perhaps the most publicized movie of the season, judging by the advertisements I’ve seen everywhere—from buses and billboards to pop-ups on the Internet. Like Facebook, the film doesn’t lack controversy or gossip.
The biopic follows the founding and expansion of Facebook, focusing on Mark Zuckerberg’s character (Jesse Eisenberg) throughout the process. The opening scene shows Mark mid-discussion with his girlfriend, speaking in a pretentious and witty tone about the secret societies at Harvard University.
Their conversation seems irrelevant, but it turns out that the central issue of the movie is sparked by that very conversation. Shortly after Mark gets dumped, he goes back into his dorm and starts blogging on his LiveJournal about the girl’s trivialities, revealing her bra size and making other silly remarks. Between swigs of light beer, he comes up with the ingenious idea—and retaliation plan—of posting pictures of girls from the surrounding colleges on a website where users can vote on the more attractive of the two choices. The result: so many people visit the website that the entire Harvard network shuts down. Shortly thereafter, a pair of twin rowers (Armie Hammer) from a secret society approach Mark, asking him to develop a platform for Harvard students to connect with their friends: the fledgling Facebook. He agrees, then talks to his best friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) about funding and asks for his help. The narrative then jumps back and forth between the telling of the story of Facebook’s beginnings and that of a later lawsuit between Eduardo and Mark. Audiences, as if watching a thriller, wait anxiously for the breaking point to occur between the best friends.
What struck me the most about The Social Network were the outstanding performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield. Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg with precision and dry pretension, portraying him as ruthless, snide, and uncaring toward anyone besides his ex-girlfriend; as an added bonus, he even looks like Zuckerberg in real life. Garfield is utterly believable as Eduardo down to his Bob Dylan-esque accent. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Justin Timberlake’s portrayal of Napster creator Sean Parker. His acting lacks seriousness and believability. Although Parker purportedly does not have a very likeable personality in reality, Timberlake takes his portrayal too far, making Fanning slimy, paranoid, and despicable. Unsurprisingly, The Social Network shows that behind both Napster and Facebook were lonely guys looking to impress the girls that dumped them.
Whether these plot lines were fabricated or not, they provoke plenty of questions. Did Zuckerberg really steal the idea behind Facebook? And if he did, did he have the right to do so, since he was the one with the coding knowledge? The last scene of the movie shows Mark alone at his computer “friending” his ex-girlfriend on Facebook. In the end, he is still stuck with the reality of being dumped, just with a few billion dollars more in his pocket.
On the whole, I enjoyed the movie, but I would have liked the plot to unfold a little more quickly. I found myself anxious for the two plotlines to merge, though the acting and the individual stories were enough to keep me entertained. Timberlake ruined a large portion of the film: I cringed every time he opened his mouth. However, this movie is an essential landmark in the history of our generation’s obsession with Facebook and is the most relevant biopic I’ve seen in some time.