How Mark Zuckerberg made “friend” a verb

Ross Dickie reports on David Fincher’s The Social Network and the origins of Facebook.

Based on The Accidental Billionaires, Ben Mezrich’s book on the conception of Facebook, and adapted for the screen by David Fincher (Fight Club) and Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), The Social Network tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the birth of an internet phenomenon.

The film begins in a Harvard bar, the Thirsty Scholar Pub, with Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) sitting opposite a beautiful girl, halfway through a cringingly awkward date. Dejected and rejected, Zuckerberg returns to his dorm room alone and commences work on the site which would eventually become Facebook. Initially conceived as a way for male students to rate their female counterparts – is she hot or is she not? – “Facemash” went viral within hours of going live and ultimately caused the University’s network to crash.

Outcast as a social pariah for having created the site, Mark quickly finds himself at the bottom of the Harvard pecking order, especially when it comes to girls. But he got what he wanted. He now had the attention of the social elite. The jockish Winklevoss twins soon approach him, pitching an idea for a Harvard based dating site; an idea which Mark subsequently refines to launch Facebook with the financial backing of his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). The site’s instantaneous success catches the eye of Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), whose lavish lifestyle opens Zuckerberg’s eyes to a world which previously, he could only have imagined.

David Fincher’s latest film is a tale of ambition, betrayal, lawsuits and above all, a desire to be socially accepted. As such, it makes a far more poignant statement about society today than the return of Gordon Gekko ever could. Indeed, Mark’s motivation throughout the film seems to stem from jealousy and resentment of the “cool kids”: all part of a club he wasn’t invited to join. Although the Facebook founder is portrayed in a far from flattering light, those looking for new dirt on Zuckerberg will be disappointed, as Fincher and Sorkin reveal nothing which has not already been well documented in the media. The emphasis is placed rather more on the way in which social interaction has been changed by the advent of Facebook, and not necessarily for the better.

On a technical level, The Social Network is the best film Fincher has made since Fight Club. The dark tones of his earlier movies return in the cinematography of Jeff Cronenweth and contribute an almost sinister aspect to the halls of America’s most prestigious university. The acting – even that of Justin Timberlake – is of a consistently high standard, with Eisenberg and Garfield standing out as two of cinema’s rising stars. The true show-stealer, however, is Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay which holds everything together and keeps the action ticking along at an impressive pace. No mean feat when you remember this is a film about computer programmers. The script is as sharp and edgy as anything Sorkin wrote for The West Wing, even if nobody is really that witty in real life.

Whether or not this film will have any impact on Zuckerberg’s number of friends remains to be seen, but one thing is clear. As Justin Timberlake’s character puts it – “This is our time!” This is the era of the geek and long may it last!

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