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The Social Network PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
01 11 2010

ImageDirected by David Fincher

How on earth David Fincher, and Ben Mezrich who wrote the book The Accidental Billionaires on which the film is based, have escaped lawsuits over this delicious hatchet job I don't know, but praised be rashness for it. It's the highly entertaining but essentially tragic tale of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Set only seven years ago, social history in film has rarely been so close to home. It frames this recent past in flashback format from two simultaneous lawsuit enquiries, both by aggrieved parties who feel they have been taken advantage of, one financially, one, more interestingly, morally and emotionally - thus the tragi- and comic halves of the story flow along side by side

We come upon Harvard student Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) holed up in a campus bar with his girlfriend, in full flow on the subject of his desire for popularity and success. The bubble of self-regard in which he exists is so teflon-tough that when she dumps him, after several patronising and sexist put-downs, he really has no idea what he has done wrong. Later she tells him ‘You're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a tech geek, and I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that that won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole.' Eisenberg's performance is so subtle that we still aren't quite sure by the end which of those things he really is.

Raging with hurt he seeks sanctuary with his geeky friends and his laptop, where he blogs vile things about the girlfriend, and initiates a snide website comparing the attractiveness of girls on campus by hacking into the college membership lists. Its instant popularity gives birth to the rudimentary notion of what is to become Facebook, born thus out of resentment and sexism, and with a finger on the pulse of what students, even the sophisticates of Harvard, enjoy. Zuckerberg, perpetual outsider, sets up an alternative to the exclusivity of Ivy League clubbiness which he yearns for but seems destined never to attain, taking the idea of online social connection from the posh Winklevoss twins (hilariously both played by Armie Hammer), with their snobby fraternity selection and initiations, and making it more open to all - far more so than he ever realises as it moves beyond the elite universities, beyond the US, and finally to anyone on the end of a computer link. As ‘The Facebook' becomes crazily successful, Zuckerberg meets and is beguiled by worldly-wise chancer Sean Parker, founder of Napster, who climbs with silky smoothness onto the bandwagon, his chief contribution, besides instilling confidence, being ‘Drop the "The"!' So ‘Facebook' it is. The polished wood-panelled halls, dim rooms, sombre classical architecture of the old money East Coast, usually shown in cosy night-time darkness, give way to California, open plan offices, sun drenched vistas, crazy money, and fun fun fun. Zuckerberg is an increasingly enigmatic figure, on the fringes of the party world, fulfilled in his dreams of fame and success but essentially unconcerned about the money and big finance deals that are going on, and uncaring that the loyalty of his friend Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield), who put money into the original venture, is being spurned.

Eisenberg makes Zuckerberg so much more than a sociopathic nerd. Against the social and sporty perfection of the establishment embodied in the WASPish ‘Winkelvi' we can't help but support this guerrilla attack of the last-to-be-picked-for-games little guy, yet his apparent uncaring treatment of friends is chilling and alienating. And yet, our last sight of him, curled foetally over his laptop, still pathetically seeking the love he lost, like Kane and his Rosebud, invokes an exasperated mixture of distaste and sympathy. Andrew Garfield gets it just right as the slightly soppy but well-intentioned Savarin, but it's Justin Timberlake who produces the most impressive, and fun, performance as the self-regarding, repellently charismatic Parker. The rapid fire dialogue by Andrew Sorkin is perfectly matched by Fincher's wham-bam camera work, presenting the joyous, giddy keyboard-skimming speed of the internet world

But this is neither merely a biopic nor a dark comedy, and it certainly isn't just for computer geeks. It's about what its title says it is, social connections - how we make them, the obligations they come with, and how it is that some people can make them and others not. If we now rate as ‘friends' people we have not met and cannot be sure of the identity of, and our response to others and their ideas can merely be indicated by a ‘like' or ‘don't like', then it's not a development to be too cheerful about. Outsiders are still outsiders, however wealthy or clever, and in the end, how many sad laptop huggers are there out there, alone, wanting to be invited in, to be loved, to belong.

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Seen at Vue Cinema, Reading, 25 October 2010

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