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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Go See ‘The Social Network’

Published: October 8, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

One night in 2003, Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerburg got dumped, got drunk and created a website that eventually led to the massive social networking giant we now know as Facebook.

At least, that’s what the movie “The Social Network” wants you to think. Whether it actually happened that way or not is still up for debate.

Known for months before it came out as The Facebook Movie, “The Social Network” actually tells us little about the popular website that we didn’t already know: Zuckerburg created the site while in college, and as it spread from campus to campus he eventually dropped out to manage it full-time. The narrative, which mostly dealt with Zuckerburg’s relationship with his fellow programmers, came from Ben Mezrich’s 2009 nonfiction novel “The Accidental Billionaires”—which was written without any input from Zuckerburg or members of the Facebook staff. Mezrich’s publisher was once quoted to have said that “the book isn’t reportage. It’s big juicy fun.”

So instead of giving us a history lesson, the film acts as a commentary on the rise of social media.

This is partly achieved through the film’s structure. Rather than telling one cohesive story, the film constantly flashes back and forth between two different time periods: the time Zuckerburg spends developing Facebook, and the time he spends in legal negotiations with those who want to sue him. It can be a bit overwhelming to follow at first. Yet, Aaron Sorkin—known for his work on “The West Wing,” among other projects—is in top writing form here, and the dialogue is fast-paced and sharp. The effect, in some ways, can be compared to reading a Facebook news feed, with random bits of information constantly coming your way to be digested.

Good writing is supported by good acting, and the cast does a great job of making their lively characters believable. Though there are many minor characters, much of the drama focuses on Zuckerburg (Jesse Eisenberg), his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and, to a lesser extent, Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Eisenberg’s version of Zuckerburg is where the real social commentary comes into play. He is brilliant and ambitious, but also possesses few recognizable social skills. Watching Zuckerburg talk to people is like watching a brilliant philosopher talk to himself—he has a tendency to change the subject at random or, more likely, completely ignore what the other person is trying to say to him. The great irony that the filmmakers are trying to convey revolves around this fact. Zuckerburg, who spends most of his time screwing around with code and designing a website meant to replicate the “social experience of college,” has little ability to have that experience himself. His character plays into the stereotype that many members of older generations apply to ours: That with all our technology, we just don’t know how to socialize face-to-face.

Of course, before I get too far into labeling the film as a brilliant piece of meta-storytelling, I should add that the film is not perfect. Since Mezrich, and by extension Sorkin, effectively reinvented much of the story surrounding Facebook, a few scattered Hollywood clichés find their way into the otherwise great script. Scenes where Saverin accuses Zuckerburg of forcing him out of the company due to jealousy, or where Zuckerburg sits at his computer pining over a failed relationship, attempt to provide the audience with a motive, a method behind Zuckerburg’s madness. But they are inventions, and since few people actually know true story, efforts by the filmmakers to fill in the gaps often fall flat.

But despite these faults the film still does most things right, and more importantly, it provides an intense, entertaining two hours that will leave you wondering if our generation really does act the way we are portrayed.