Be honest. The first time you saw the full-length trailer for The Social Network, you dismissed it as a money-grab. “They’re making a Facebook movie?” you wondered aloud. “What’s next, a film about the making of Apple?” The trailer came across as overdramatic, too, with a choir rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” chanting behind slow-motion scenes of college life.
As it turns out, The Social Network is not overdramatic; it’s dramatic in all the right ways. It’s heavy in dialogue, but not exhaustingly so. The character development and conflict are absorbing; the two-hour plus running time doesn’t seem as tough to sit through as you might predict for a movie about internet ownership woes. And Trent Reznor’s musical score unsettles us at all the right times, infusing the film with a suspense-ridden ambience one would expect from a horror.
The film has received some flattering reviews to say the least. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone states that it “brilliantly defines the decade.” Collider.com calls it a “masterpiece.” These may be exaggerations of the film’s strengths, but you can see what the trend in thought is – the mere concept of the film makes it timely. After all, it outlines the push towards immediate news and gratification that characterizes ‘Generation Me.’ The Harvard University setting allows us to feel nostalgic for the days when academics, dating and parties, not necessarily in that order, were our biggest concerns, and gives us a taste of what life among the intelligentsia and the financially privileged might be like. And as it cuts back and forth between the development of the Facebook franchise and the modern-day legal setting where Zuckerberg is dealing with multiple lawsuits, it paints a picture of how nebulous and sensitive the matter of intellectual property is in the 21st century.
At first, our loyalties lie with Zuckerberg. He is, after all, friendless and alienated, though we’re not yet sure whose fault that is. In the initial boardroom scene, we take Mark’s former business associates, the Winklevoss twins, to be ravenous parasites, hungry for whatever piece of Mark’s entrepreneurial pie they can get. The film’s opening scene even shows Zuckerberg’s girlfriend breaking up with him, prophesizing that women won’t refuse to date him because a nerd, but because he’s an asshole. Sure enough, Mark transforms from a well-meaning college student to a merciless, obsessive techno-visionary. As the film rebounds from present-day law-banter to the college days when Facebook was still in the making, we learn how these elite students (cleverly portrayed by actor Arnie Hammer) come to see litigation as their only recourse. And given Zuckerberg’s refusal to work with them after they share with him the budding idea of Facebook, we are no longer blindly attached to Zuckerberg. Rather, we hope they earn some of the recognition they deserve. The fact that they rarely miss a chance to wisecrack about their unique genetic situation only endears us to them further.
The closest thing to a truly sympathetic character is Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Zuckerberg’s former best friend and associate, who doggedly works and makes sacrifices for the company only to be schemed against by another entrepreneur, the former head of Napster, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Though loyal and expressive of all the qualities we would like to see in a successful leader, his earnestness is seen as a weakness by his peers, particularly Parker, who seeks to oust him from his number two spot at Facebook’s helm.
Parker too is a fascinating character. He first appears halfway through the film when he wakes up in the bed of a conquest and opens her laptop to find she’s logged into this new thing called Facebook. From this point his interest is piqued. For a fallen star like him, getting back in the public spotlight in a positive way would be all the vindication he’d need. Yet he’s manipulative and sinister, and has no hesitation to boot people off the ladder in his climb to the top.
And then of course there’s the complex, quasi-protag Zuckerberg himself, who has more of a cutthroat streak than we might give him credit for. With his wiry frame and curly mop of hair, he embodies the most timid and unassuming of college students who seems too soft-spoken to do anything but regurgitate verses of programming code. But the quick rejoinders to his dissidents are abrasive, and his slithering business approach paints a devastating fate for his peers.
I didn’t walk out of the theatre feeling like I wasted cash on an superfluous film. Rather, a feeling of gratitude prevailed. I was happy to have witnessed a somewhat faithful account of the characters involved in Facebook’s creation. And for someone like the ill-fated Eduardo Saverin, that probably rings true even more.
Verdict: A well-paced and engaging drama that has the ingenuity to make it a classic.