Warning: This review contains SPOILERS
The “Facebook movie” isn’t really a movie about Facebook. That’s hardly a surprise. After all, a website does not make for a very exciting biography. But what’s surprising is that The Social Network isn’t even a Mark Zuckerberg movie. By the end of it, we know very little about the man who created Facebook, except how he created Facebook. We don’t know anything about his family, or even if he has one. We do know that he is a loner, and we get to know his best friend because they are both crucial to the story, but beyond that, Mark Zuckerberg is a blank slate. No, this movie can best be described as a “Like – triangle”. It’s a movie about friends, and ambition, and greed and more ambition, and finally, it’s a movie about three intelligent people bound by an idea. Of course, Facebook is at the epicenter of it all, it is the fulcrum, the crux, the eye of the hurricane, so to speak, but it’s not what the movie is about. And that’s what makes it work.
Even before the film was released in theatres Aaron Sorkin raised quite a few hackles when he said that he was less interested in the truth and more interested in telling a good story. And a good story it is. It’s not a very deep story, it’s more interested in what the characters do than why they do it, but you don’t really get to notice that. The movie is cut tightly, with scenes and dialogues whizzing by at a hundred miles an hour, and too much of exposition would have just slowed it down. Pace is what the movie is all about, and that’s why it is cut like a thriller, with Trent Reznor’s musical queues adding a techno industrial vibe throughout.
The film begins at a Harvard pub with Mark Zuckerberg fast talking his date through a veritable maze of topics, bouncing around like a conversational pinball. His date dumps his, he goes home, sits at his computer and writes a program that allows Harvard students to compare and vote on the relative hotness of all the women on campus. It is mean, sexist and low. It’s also so popular that it crashes the entire Harvard network.
This sequence takes quite a bit of time and is punctuated with Zuckerberg uploading his blog about highly unflattering comments about his erstwhile girlfriend. This somehow makes him a more sympathetic character in my eyes. It gives purpose to the meanness and crassness he displays when he creates his website. The scene also has Zuckerberg explaining how he downloads all the images of the girls on campus from the server as well as the problems he has to overcome in creating the previously mentioned website, but the constant patter is too fast to follow, as I am sure the director means it to. There is no reason to understand exactly how Zuckerberg overcomes these problems, only that he overcomes them fast, often ingeniously, and that he’s damn good at what he does. In a way, his monologue is almost like background music, telling you nothing, but saying everything.
The reason I spend so much time on this sequence is because this sets up the whole movie. It’s a peek into the mind of Zuckerberg, his relationship with his then best(only?)-friend Eduardo Saverin, as well as his surprising level of insight about what makes a website popular or desirable. Surprising because Zuckerberg himself displays no social skills or understanding of human nature whatsoever in his dealings other than when he is creating.
The movie mixes things up by cutting between two lawsuit depositions, both taking place in the present. The rest, we realize soon, is all flashback from various parties involved. It can be confusing at times, with Fincher cutting between courtroom scenes what seems like mid sentence. However, that does not make the movie incomprehensible, but rather gives it a thriller – like air, as your brain rushes to keep up with what’s happening. What helps is that the dialogue absolutely crackles with energy.
Through these courtroom scenes and flashbacks we get to know the main players in the game… the Winklevoss twins, two Harvard rich kids who believe Zuckerberg stole their idea to form Facebook (a belief that certainly has merit), Zuckerberg’s former best friend and former Facebook CFO Eduardo Saverin, who was frozen out of the company for reasons that are largely kept a mystery, and finally, the creator of Napster Sean Parker, the third side in this Like-triangle. Unemployed and hunted, Parker seems to survive by sleeping with women awestruck with his renegade celebrity status, until he meets Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg in turn sees Parker like a rock star, hanging on to every word he says. For the first time in perhaps his life, he admires someone, someone who truly understands his way of thinking. Saverin does not like Parker, naturally, and finally that is what drives the wedge between him and Zuckerberg.
The performances in this movie are uniformly good, but the show stealer is Justin Timberlake as Parker. His is also the only character who is allowed any kind of depth and progression, first suave and smooth, a guy who always seems to know a guy, then vaguely sinister and finally, scared and vulnerable in a climactic scene that flips the relationship between him and Zuckerberg around. Timberlake has been good in other movies, and the first part of this film is largely parallel to his real world persona of a smooth talker, but it’s at the end that he shows his real acting chops. A little different and Parker could have become a “villain”, but that never happens (evil blue light constantly on his face during a club scene notwithstanding) simply because Timberlake makes him so very genuine. Part of him truly believes that Saverin is bad for the company, and it is hinted that he is the driving force behind Saverins ouster (although even that doesn’t explain why Zuckerberg goes along with it)
The Social Network is a great movie because it manages to be a movie about geeks, but not a geek movie. It does it with smart direction, a whippet like script and the feel of a thriller. And although I didn’t buy the final attempt to give Zuckerberg an emotional anchor by trying to friend his ex (Isn’t Mark Zuckerberg automatically the friend of anyone on Facebook? And what self respecting girl would want to be part of a website created by a guy who humiliated her? Doesn’t make sense to me), it’s a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.