dir: David Fincher
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It’s a fascinating story, and a terrific film, despite being about something so inherently banal. It’s not even really an origin story, along the lines of a biographical tale like the ones regarding the Manhattan Project, or the moon landing, or, you know, something important that was invented or achieved. It’s more concerned with (fictionally) illuminating the thinking of one of the main people involved in the creation of this online behemoth known as Facebook.
Written with an ear towards crackling dialogue, Aaron Sorkin, known for penning the scripts to such immediately familiar fare such as A Few Good Men and many an episode of The West Wing, has crafted a screenplay that tells us less about what was involved in programming up from scratch this most pervasive of online networks, and more about how someone with a genius level IQ, a resentment towards the privileged, no knowledge of how to treat people as people, and a complete inability to forgive perceived slights conjured up something adopted universally across the tubes of the internets that made him a billionaire, all before finishing college.
He didn’t just become rich. To borrow from a Chris Rock routine, there’s being rich, and then there’s wealth. Oprah is rich, Bill Gates is wealthy. Bill Gates would kill himself if he woke up with Oprah’s money.
Well, now Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) would kill himself if he woke up with Bill Gate’s money. And for what? Facebook? An online vanity site where you become inundated with vital info like what people had for breakfast, what their cats are up to, what tv cooking or renovation programs they like watching, or how much time they spent on Mafia Wars or Farmville or something equally life-affirming over the course of any given day? A place where you can reconnect with people you haven’t heard from or thought about in decades, and, once you find and friend them, lose interest in almost immediately?
It’s easy to be scathing, and fun too, but in the interests of disclosure, it would be remiss of me not to admit that I, too, am a Facebook user. By ‘user’ I mean I log in about once a week, perhaps update something to do with a movie I’ve seen (as when I wrote a quick review of The Social Network, on Facebook, no less, where the meta-irony didn’t escape me), perhaps update what book I’ve just finished and what I’m reading, and that’s about it. I’ll check out a few friends’ updates, and that’s the sum and total.
To my knowledge, I’ve never clicked on an ad whilst logged in, I’ve never used my credit card to purchase anything for any of the online games or little virtual knickknacks as gifts that are on offer, so my known contribution to the company’s coffers is nil. I would suspect, though I’ve got little apart from general human apathy to base this on, that many if not most of Facebook’s users are in the same boat.
So why are these people billionaires again?
The film doesn’t try to answer that, and that’s fair enough, because it’s far more interested in dramatising a heap of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that went into its creation instead. A film about how artificial the notion of value and worth have become in contemporary late-stage capitalism is a completely different kettle of diamond encrusted fish, and probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting to the legions of people who went to see this flick.
No, they want to see a far more compelling portrayal of a socially-indifferent programmer who becomes a billionaire spurred on essentially by revenge. Sure, they say he wants to be liked, but, really, he just wants to rub his ex-girlfriend’s nose in his success.
They say that living well is the best revenge, so surely becoming a billionaire must be like the ne plus ultra of getting revenge. After Mark gets dumped by Erica, who has finally decided that his exhausting verbal exchanges, permanent condescension and persnickety searching for offence in every word spoken, he tries to take revenge by elaborately creating a ranking site called Facemash, where Harvard students get to rank girls based on their perceived hotness.
Worse than that is his blog post insulting the poor girl for having the temerity to see him as he really is: a purely self-centred arsehole. He insults her the way men, whether geniuses or morons, have been insulting women for millennia: by posting that she’s a bitch, and that her breasts aren’t as large as her bras might imply.
From this spiteful act of revenge grows both his reputation as a programmer, and his desire to get revenge on the other privileged students at Harvard. When a few of the privileged students of Harvard approach him with an idea for a site marked by its exclusivity, reeking of privileged entitlement, he thinks “great idea”, and completely fails to help them in their endeavour.
There isn’t as much time spent with the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer) and their business partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), but there’s more than enough to get a handle on these people are characters and as people screwed over by Mark Zuckerberg. These twins are the very definition of old money elites who row competitively and for whom there are no doors that remain closed when their hallowed surnames are mentioned. Winklevoss… it’s such a euphonious name. Try it out, take it for a drive, just mutter ‘Winklevoss’ under your breath the next time you’re in a slow-moving queue, or when your computer gets the blue screen of death.
The film rightly doesn’t demonise the Winklevosses or Narendra, who were perfectly entitled to feel aggrieved at Zuckerberg’s perceived theft of their idea. They did have the idea first, and they did seemingly hire Zuckerberg as an employee in order to further their ambitions. What they didn’t realise is that their appeal to Mark’s sense of placement within the hierarchy of privilege at Harvard would backfire so tremendously. When they suggest to Mark that working on their version of the site could restore his public image at Harvard (when what they really mean is that rubbing shoulders and probably buttocks with the Winklevosses and their ilk should be almost enough recompense for him, since he’s otherwise excluded from the moving and shaking of the movers and shakers who inhabit the so-called Final Clubs such as the Phoenix and Porcellian clubs. These are exclusive clubs Mark is excluded from seemingly for two reasons: he’s an arsehole who doesn’t see people as anything but what he needs from them, and he’s not wealthy or popular. Oh, and he’s Jewish, as well.
I came away thinking that this is what one of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ubermensch characters would actually be like if they existed in the contemporary world. This is what one of the sociopathic egotists from Atlas Shrugged would be like dealing with mere mortals in the present day if such fantasies ever conflicted with reality.
I don’t know how much his resentment of these silver spoon Social Register Mayflower-lickers was a motivating factor, but, at the very least, it gave him a starting point. Once this canny little sociopathic programmer is off and away, the Winklevosses shit themselves, realising that their great idea is already out there, and they’ve got no stake in it as it crosses the campuses and then the world like wildfire.
Reinforcing this concept of themselves as men who get what they want when they want it, the twins even try to strongarm the dean of Harvard, being Larry Summers (Douglas Urbanski) into stopping Zuckerberg somehow. This results in a tremendous scene in a film replete with strong scenes, but watching a prickly and entitled prick like Summers take down a pair of entitled pricks like the Winklevosses is about as good as cinema gets this year.
The orphan called failure dines alone, but success has many fathers, and the more successful Zuckerberg’s creation becomes, the more people both want a piece of the pie, and, considering how he achieves what he achieves (which is, with absolutely no regard for the feelings or rights of other people), rightful recognition for their efforts. At the top of this list is his former best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who bankrolled the start-up, and used his business savvy to get the ball rolling. Of course, considering how Mark resents him for the fact that the Phoenix Club give him the nod, a nod that would never come Mark’s way, theirs is a friendship just waiting to explode once Zuckerberg finds the right moment and way to get revenge, despite and because of the fact that he’s Mark’s only friend.
I can’t vouch for the veracity of everything that’s said and done during the flick, despite the fact that everything from the legal perspective arises from actual depositions and transcripts. In other words, though the sequence of events, and the statements made by various people, and what happens to them, of because of them, is incontrovertible because it’s on the public record, much of what the film is about devolves to elements we can’t take for granted. The director and the screenwriter’s intention is to give a broader psychological reading of Mark Zuckerberg, and they’re not doing this because there’s any definitive study of the man or his motives, or some autobiography setting things out. They’re guessing, but they’re guessing in ways that are to out benefit, in terms of enjoying a film about something that would seem to be a deathly dull subject.
The film, for me, proves to be anything but deathly dull. It’s fascinating, and has a propulsive energy to it that belies the subject matter. Apart from a honking, strangely loud soundtrack by Trent Reznor, virtually everything else this flick tries to achieve is superbly done, including the ending. The performances are excellent across the board, not least of which is Jesse Eisenberg playing a very different take on the same kind of character he’s been playing all his career. Gone is the insecure, querulous nebbish, and in his place is the brilliant, arrogant, monstrously selfish and craven passive aggressive creator of a billion dollar social networking empire founded on bitterness, resentment and loneliness.
You can’t ask for irony to be spread any thicker or juicier than that.
9 times there’s never apparently a good time to snort coke off a teenager’s breasts out of 10
“I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.” – humble and handsome, Mr Zuckerberg – The Social Network.