If we go by the example set in The Social Network then in the 21st century necessity is no longer the mother of invention. Now it bursts forth from the womb* of perfectly normal masculine lust. Following the rise of Mark Zuckerberg from amorous undergrad outsider to Most Influential Man on the Web™, it paints a dense, exhilarating picture of how Facebook was forged in the fires of Harvard’s exclusory social scene and California’s intoxicating nightlife.
It’s difficult to think about Facebook as an invention in the same category as the telephone or hammer, but the film acts as a perfect reminder that Zuckerberg and his cohorts essentially created a tool which not only charts the course of users’ lives over years but in many cases manages to dictate the direction of those lives. I just did a little experiment and had a look at just how far back my own Facebook wall will go. I joined in late 2006, before it was open to non-university students, and I went back as far as 2007 before realising that I can literally look back at my history in minute detail. The movie made me wonder whether or not Facebook is a bubble that can burst and, while I believe that it has a finite reach and lifespan, it will be incredibly difficult to disassemble this international social network and uncouple ourselves from its regimented, perma-udated feeds given that it now acts as unofficial biographer for more than 500 million people.
While the invention of Facebook is important in itself, the ironic story outlined in The Social Network, which shows Zuckerberg as the socially inept genius who inadvertently creates the world’s largest social hub as a means of entering his college’s social elite and chasing tail, is dramatised in a way that is just as electric and energising. Aaron Sorkin’s script is packed with clever exchanges and David Fincher’s direction gives the plot wings. The timeline is rearranged so that the various lawsuits levelled against Zuckerberg by former friends and associates are juxtaposed with the germination of Facebook in 2003. The arrival of Napster creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) and the cycle of hero worship and eventual rejection to which he is subjected by Zuckerberg is just one of the many examples of dynamic relationships which unfold, and though the drama inevitably warps the foundations in reality this is easy to recognise as a thoroughly accomplished film in its own right.
The role of Zuckerberg is one for which Jesse Eisneberg was born. His curt, clipped delivery of lines and immobile but appropriately fresh face capture a man uncomfortable or bored with most situations which do not involve a keyboard, mouse and monitor. In the film he has an encyclopaedia of scathing putdowns on call, but having watched various interviews with the real Zuckerberg, who has a dorkier speaking voice and oddly ditzy upward inflection, it is clear that he has a greater passion for his business and product than the movie suggests and a less prodigious ability for public speaking. It is clear that this is just one of the areas in which the truth has been embellished, sexed up and spun in the name of building a gripping narrative that, despite the liberal use of artistic licence, is still coherent and masterfully constructed.
Zuckerberg’s college roommates and co-founders are all portrayed suitably; future Spiderman Andrew Garfield’s role as co-founder and subsequent jilted business partner Eduardo Saverin is particularly good. Timberlake is a little bit of an anomaly because he’s always going to be ex-NSYNC frizzhead first and actor second, so he is one of the more distracting additions to the cast, although it’s a tiny chip from this otherwise rock-solid movie experience.
Whatever your thoughts about Facebook as an institution or Zuckerberg as an individual it is not an exaggeration to say that The Social Network is essential viewing. It is deep and funny, and I actually came away from it with more respect for the creativity exhibited by Facebook, the tools it offers and the group of individuals behind its rise to power.
*Or balls. Whatever.