October 1, 2010
Review - " The Social Network " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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The Social Network
Directed By: David Fincher
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Rooney Mara, Bryan Barter, Justin
Will you be my friend?
It's a question pregnant with meaning, dependent on context.
Said on a school playground it means something. Said in a
singles bar or by a politician, it means something else. Said
with a push of an online button, it might mean anything. With
the advent of Facebook, people can be "friends" with
strangers, enemies and coffee shops. And we begin to wonder
what the word friend really means in the Information Age.
In a club near Harvard University in late 2003, Erica Albright
tells Mark Zuckerberg — future businessman, future billionaire,
future inventor of Facebook — that she just wants to be
friends. She doesn't mean it. Few do when they're breaking
up. Nor, perhaps, would Mark grasp the concept if she did.
You get the sense, watching The Social Network, that Mark
has little experience with friendship.
Arrogant, angry and oh so brilliant, he interacts with people as
most would with a computer, relates to a computer as most
would with people. And in the wake of Erica's rejection, he
flees to his dorm room and opens his soul to his laptop screen,
flooding a blog with bitter put-downs and unspoken rejoinders -
venting and processing perhaps the only way he knows. And
while doing so, he patches together bits of code and
unleashes a bit of vitriol on women in general - creating an
online game of "who's hot, who's not" on the Harvard campus.
He calls his work Facemash, and it nearly gets him expelled,
partly because he hacks into Harvard's secure network to
launch it. But it also earns him a measure of fame, of notoriety. It's a taste of the popularity Mark pretends to eschew but
obviously craves. Soon, members of Harvard's ruling caste ask for his help in crafting a campus-only social network, and he
agrees. But instead of hammering out code for his new employers, he begins working on a networking site of his own - a site
he initially calls thefacebook.com.
Within days of launching, it's the rage at Harvard. The following month, The Facebook expands to a handful of other
campuses. Financially backed by roomie Eduardo Saverin, the site then earns a rabid following among tens of thousands of
collegians around the world and interest from entrepreneurs. People are meeting, socializing and hooking up online. And
friend instantly becomes a verb.
Mark didn't understand friendship, The Social Network tells us, so he redefined it.
The Social Network is based on Ben Mezrich's
book The Accidental Billionaires, written largely
with the help of Eduardo Saverin. Little surprise
, then, that the big-screen version of Eduardo
is the film's most sympathetic character.
Amiable and winsome, Eduardo is Mark's only
true friend. As the rest of Harvard ignores Mark,
Eduardo supports him, both personally and -
as The Facebook slowly takes flight - financially
He ponies up the first $1,000 for the venture,
becoming Facebook's chief financial officer,
then sweetens the pot to $19,000 when Mark
sets up shop in Palo Alto, Calif. He's not the
film's hero, but its everyman. And it's through
Eduardo's eyes that we see Facebook's
brilliant and brutal beginnings. He is, in some
respects, a Horatio Alger character … ultimately betrayed by the American Way. He works hard and plays by the rules, only
to find that the rules have changed around him.
Twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are more extreme examples of this same dynamic. Wealthy and powerful, they
represent old-school Harvard — including its semi-chivalrous code of conduct. They believe they came up with the idea for
Facebook. But even when it seems obvious to them that Mark pilfered their idea and used it as his own, they decline at first
to sue "because we're gentlemen of Harvard."
Such ideals seem quaint within The Social Network, but while the film chides the Winklevosses a little, it saves its harshest
criticism for the amoral system that swept such notions of fair play aside. The new dot-com ethos, embodied by Napster
founder Sean Parker, is smooth and brilliant and ethically vapid. As such, The Social Network becomes something of a
morality play — a tragic paradox in which a site based on connectivity leaves its creators disconnected from what matters.
Though you'll find no real heroes here, The Social Network's narrative moral underpinnings are difficult to miss.
One specific item of positivity: The movie goes out of its way to remind moviegoers that just because a stray (hurtful) thought
manages to skitter through their heads doesn't mean they should write it down and post it to the Web.
The first time we meet Sean, he's waking up in the dorm room of a Stanford undergrad. We see the Stanford woman in
revealing underwear and, later, see her bare back as she removes a towel to get into the shower. We learn that Sean's been
involved with Facebook interns and other young women, too. He parties with several woman — one of whom takes off her
blouse so Sean and others can snort cocaine off her body.
club is because she slept with the door guy. (She denies it.) A poster reads, "Big Boobs and Brains."
Sean relishes the idea that Napster turned the music industry on its head by triggering the music piracy stampede. He
comments that it might not have been a good business move, but it "pissed a lot of people off." Eduardo loses his influence
in Facebook through duplicitous means. When the police bust up a drug party, a row of college girls all lie about their age.
Though based on real-world research, The Social Network is a work of fiction. Its characters bear recognizable names and
some of the events they participate in truly did happen, but they may or may not actually be like their real-world
counterparts. This is not a documentary. It's a drama — albeit one that the real Mark Zuckerberg would rather you not see.
As screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (Charlie Wilson's War, The West Wing) tells The Daily Beast, "He's got right now — frankly,
because of me — the whole world wondering if he's an asshole, OK? He's got to pick up the paper every day and see that."
This film may indeed cause some to look at Zuckerberg — who seems to have more confidence and charisma than we see
onscreen — in a harsher light. I doubt, however, that it'll impact how folks use Zuckerberg's landmark achievement. Those
familiar with Facebook know how it's used, misused and sometimes abused. Many probably know something about its
recurring privacy issues and sneakily addictive games. Frankly, they probably know more about that sort of thing than Sorkin
himself, who admits he doesn't use Facebook. They'll continue to use it if FarmVille stays fun and it allows them to stay in
touch with Aunt Gertrude across the country. Whether Zuckerberg was a jerk when he created the thing will remain beside
the point for most.
And the film's makers seem to know this. The Social Network is a well-crafted story of modern-day creativity and greed and it
points a lot of fingers at Facebook's creators, but talks very little about Facebook itself. We know it's "addictive" because a
Stanford coed tells us so. We know it's a billion-dollar idea because Sean says it is. We know folks think it's cool because
we're told how many students have flocked to it. But Sorkin and director David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin
Button, Fight Club) spend very little time critiquing this mode of communication itself … except for this recurring caution:
Just as thefacebook.com is beginning to take off on the Harvard campus, Mark walks up to Erica and asks if he can speak
with her alone. Erica shrugs him off. Why would he want to speak to her alone yet feel fine speaking about her to the entire
school through his blog?
"The Internet isn't written in pencil, Mark," she tells him. "It's written with ink."
Facebook, like most other online modes of communication, is a tool — something which we can use for good or ill.
Zuckerberg's creation has allowed us to connect to people in new and exciting ways, but it's given us yet another avenue in
which we can hurt or offend those we care about, too. Sometimes we write things we'd never say, post things we're
sometimes ashamed to even think. We
actually live in the Too-Much-Information Age,
where we confess not to a priest in the quiet
confines of a church, but to an entire online
The Social Network, if it has a practical
message at all, tells us that the wonderful
promise of online communication brings with
it a cadre of new temptations and problems.
And we're shown some of those in an
up-close-and-personal way. We're told that
the movie's main characters never paused
to consider such things. But we, the users,
might want to do just that.
But Parker's far from the only character
preoccupied with sex. As both Mark and
Eduardo allude to, one of Facebook's most
popular features for the college set is its
"relationship status." It tells users, in Mark's
words, "Are you having sex or aren't you?"
We see students dance in underwear and
play strip poker. Women kiss each other and
cavort in a club wearing bikini-like outfits.
Two girls hit on Mark and Eduardo, and all
of them end up in bathroom stalls. Between
the two couples, we see pants being
unbuckled and unzipped, shirts ripped open,
groping, panting, etc. One girl moves down
to give oral sex.
Victoria's Secret gets a shout-out, and Mark
discusses his ex-girlfriend's bra size on his
blog. He suggests to her that the only
reason they gained access to a particular