|It's like there's a book on his face... Oh.|
Obviously, I can't comment on the real people involved or the actual events themselves: I don't know Mark Zuckerberg, I wasn't around at the beginning of facebook and I haven't read The Accidental Billionaires, the book on which the film is based. This is an adaptation of real events, so when I am talking of Zuckerberg or Sean Parker or Eduardo Saverin I am speaking of the characters in the film, not their real life influences and so on and so forth.
Interestingly, they haven't made Zuckerberg the out-and-out villain of the piece (which is what a lot of people thought was going to happen, what with his and facebook's various legal battles and privacy issues) but nor is he the hero. He is the creator of this amazing undefinable thing; sure he can be arrogant and distant and a bit of a dick but he's no schemer or planner. As Jesse Eisenberg brilliantly plays him, Zuckerberg is someone who's brain is operating on a different level; he doesn't process things (like social interactions, conversations and relationships) the way other people do. This is all layed out brilliantly by Sorkin and Fincher in the opening scene between Zuckerberg and girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). The dialogue is fantastic and the conversation leaps around and you have to get involved and pay attention right there and then. It's a fantastic way to introduce the character. Eisenberg is written off too often as a Michael Cera-alike and while there are similarities to be sure, they are two distinct performers. I, for one, cannot imagine Michael Cera as Zuckerberg (or Eisenberg as Scott Pilgrim).
The hero of the film or, at least, the character who gains the most sympathy is that of Zuckerberg's best (and only) friend Eduardo Saverin. Eduardo, played by future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield, stumps up the initial capital for Zuckerberg's site and ends up getting screwed out of everything. He even has to contend with a crazy girlfriend! Eduardo and Zuckerberg start to become distanced as Eduardo, being a Business Major and the CFO of the fledgling endeavour, wants to get some advertising dollars in (there's also the petty jealousy Zuckerberg harbours towards Eduardo getting into one of the Harvard "first" clubs). They are approaching facebook from entirely different standpoints: Zuckerberg is the creative side, the driving force behind it. He's not sure what it is or could be, just that it's exciting and new. Eduardo approaches it from a more traditional business model; other websites make money from advertising, hence he schleps up and down Manhattan in the search for advertisers. That business model just won't work for this and Zuckerberg isn't interested in it (somewhat ironic now given the targeted advertising now practised on facebook). Garfield is a gifted performer and I'm looking forward to what he does with old Webhead. I would recommend you check out his quietly intense performance in Boy A.
The real villain of the piece comes in the form of Justin Timberlake's Napster founder Sean Parker. He's everything Zuckerberg wants to be but he's also the cautionary tale. Parker is cool and suave: he's a rock-star of the nerd world. But he's also a Machiavellian loser douchebag who eggs Zuckerberg on with talk of billions not millions, actively works to distance the two friends and is paranoid, petty and sleep with young (teen) girls. He's creepy and gross and Timberlake brings the right mixture of charm and sleaze to him.
At its heart the film is about creation, ideas, ego and conflict. Its about who can claim ownership to an idea (structured as it is, with the creation of facebook told in flashback during two separate depositions), especially when said idea starts to involve large sums of money. Its about a socially awkward computer genius with one real friend in the world creating and defining the social experience in digital form. True or not, this makes delicious dramatic sense. I'll also quickly mention here Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins: good looking blue-blood "gentlemen of Harvard" rowers. They're the antithesis of Zuckerberg and he leads them on a jolly merry-go-round of procrastination, prevarication and provocation. Hammer perfectly conveys the sense of entitlement and outrage of the Winklevoss', twins who are used to having everything run their way, with their prize deflation coming in the office of the President of Harvard.
It is also serves (rather unnervingly so) as a timely reminder of just how young facebook is. This website/social-networking site/whatever has changed the face of digital life, and indeed the social experience. I’ve been signed up since 2006, not long after it was first created apparently. It is, in this world of information, unusual to find someone, certainly of a particular age bracket, not on facebook. Whether you're an avid, addicted facebook user, an occasional poster and updater or if you've never used this newfangled social media thing before, you should be getting to The Social Network. It's a fascinating portrait of an individual and a time and all the things that can go wrong with a good idea.