We can’t think of a single recent film coming within miles of the bravura opening of this one. The camera closes in on the intense faces of Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) and Erica (Rooney Mara) as they talk in a Harvard bar in October of 2003. In five minutes, we are treated to an up-close and personal glimpse of a brilliant computer genius who is desperate to join a prestigious club but afraid that he will be rejected. He talks fast, perhaps as a stay to his wildly creative imagination or as a sign of his social awkwardness. He makes reference to Erica's pretty face but then manages to insult her in a series of nasty verbal blows. She fights back, building on his insecurity and need to be noticed. At one point she says: "Dating you is like dating a stairmaster!" But he goes too far in the attack and correctly senses that he has lost her irretrievably. The dialogue in this opening scene is emblematic of the conversations to follow: they are smart, savvy, and revealing.
Mark runs back to his dormitory room, has a few drinks, and proceeds with great daring to hack into the websites for the various dorms and houses to get the photos of all the girls on campus. He creates a website that puts two pictures side-by-side and asks the user to pick which is "hotter." Mark calls the site Facemash. It is instantaneously popular — getting so many hits that it crashes the entire Harvard computer system. The boys love the game; the girls are outraged at being treated as sexual objects and see Mark as the ultimate misogynist. But his goal in the moment is to get revenge on Erica for hurting his feelings, and the site plus a blog post succeed in permanently offending her.
Mark is also looking for recognition and adoration for his skills as a computer programmer. His server-crashing stunt is viewed as brilliant by twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer), wealthy and influential members of Harvard's crew team. Along with their friend Divya (Max Minghella), they have a business proposition for him. They want him to program a new site that will enable Harvard students to find dates and keep in touch with each other through the campus server. Mark is intrigued with the idea and agrees to work with them, then spends the next six weeks putting them off, always with some excuse about other pressing duties.
The truth is that he and his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) have their own project in the works, which they call "The Facebook." It is launched in February of 2004 and within a month half of Harvard has registered to use it. Mark makes Eduardo Chief Financial Officer after he contributes $1,000 as starter money. Eventually, The Facebook is discovered by Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), an ambitious Web entrepreneur and co-founder of Napster. He thinks big and in his first face-to-face meeting with Mark and Eduardo wows them with his expertise on cyberspace and ideas about expanding the website around the world. Eduardo can’t stand him but Mark sees new possibilities dancing in his head. Soon he has taken Sean’s advice and changed the site's name to "Facebook" and moved the whole operation to Palo Alto, California.
The Social Network is an astonishing morality tale that possesses the same magic, ethical vibrancy, and attention to detail and pacing as David Fincher’s last movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Again the director has been fortunate to have a top-drawer screenplay, this time by Aaron Sorkin based on Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires.
This film takes us on a rollercoaster ride from Mark’s computer prank at Harvard to his creation of a social networking site and its swift and surprising rise to empire status. One of the many ironies in this story of a computer genius is that his own inability to connect with people is the impetus behind the development of a digital vehicle for the social interactions of more than 500 million users around the world. Today, if Facebook were a country it would now be more than 1.5 times as populous as the United States and would be the third largest country in the world. The company, though privately held, has been estimated to be worth $25 billion.
As someone noted, "It’s lonely to get to the future first." Mark’s genius and work ethic separate him from other people. His yearning for control and total power, though not a unique quality in entrepreneurs, alienates him from those who should be his closest friends. The rise of Facebook is told through flashbacks from a disposition room where Mark is fighting off multiple lawsuits brought against him by his close friend Eduardo Saverin and competitors Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss. Anger fuels a lot of these characters and the actions they take. Another irony of Facebook is that it can become a vehicle for both creative and destructive impulses. We recently had to remove posts from our Facebook page by a person who was using it to spew venom against Muslims. And yet on the same day we saw many posts expressing understanding, tolerance, and even love for others.
The Social Network does an excellent job depicting the shadow side of creativity, the loneliness of those scouting the new territory ahead, and the ways in which anger fuels ambition and the quest for control in our times. Technology now plays a major role in minute-by-minute unfolding of our days. This movie raises a lot of questions about it while acknowledging that bane or gift, social media is here to stay.
Special features on the 2-disc collectors' edition of the DVD include: Disc 1: an audio commentary with director David Fincher; an audio commentary with Aaron Sorkin and the cast; Disc 2: "How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?": a feature-length documentary in four parts; David Fincher and Jeff Cronenweth on the visuals; Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter, and Ren Klyce on post; Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and David Fincher on the score; Ruby Skye VIP room: a multi-angle scene breakdown; "In the Hall of the Mountain King": Reznor's first draft; and Swarmatron.