Sex, drugs, and… intellectual property lawsuits? While the latter may seem wildly out of place in this combination, director David Fincher (“Seven,” “Fight Club,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin combine all three in “The Social Network,” a fictionalized account of the creation of Facebook. Amid an onslaught of mediocre comedies and gimmicky 3D flicks, “The Social Network” stands out as one the smartest and indeed one of the better movies of this year.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mark Zuckerberg, an ironically socially inept sophomore at Harvard University who creates the website that will change the way a generation socializes.
The opening scene takes place in a dingy pub frequented by college students and pits Zuckerberg in an argument with his girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara. This argument is just one example of the sharp, biting dialogue that becomes one of the driving forces of the film. One of the surprises about “The Social Network” is that it doesn’t try to get the audience to sympathize with Zuckerberg, and in fact it does the opposite. Zuckerberg is portrayed as arrogant, selfish, calculating, and exceedingly smart. Eisenberg fills the role well and in this first scene he delivers his lines with condescension and cruel wit.
After a break-up with his girlfriend, Zuckerberg drunkenly insults her in his blog and proceeds to hack Harvard’s internet servers to create a website which uses an algorithm to rank all the university’s women on a basis of attractiveness. The website crashes Harvard’s server almost instantaneously, and consequently Zuckerberg rises to infamy on the campus, becomes hated by all female students, and finds himself in a hearing before a university judiciary committee.
Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s only real friend, and Eduardo’s generally likable and conscientious character balances out Zuckerberg’s coldness. Zuckerberg talks Eduardo into co-founding and putting up the money for a second website which will become Facebook. It is also instantly popular, and improves Zuckerberg’s reputation to the point that he becomes a campus celebrity. Despite his new status, however, Zuckerberg is already making enemies in the Winklevoss twins, members of the social elite, who believe he stole their idea.
Soon, Zuckerberg and Eduardo are meeting with corporate investors, expanding Facebook, hiring interns, and Justin Timberlake even appears midway through the film as Sean Parker, the rebellious and stylish founder of Napster who joins the quickly rising company.
Stylistically, Fincher uses a palette which includes a lot of dark colors that compliment the dark humor of the film while a brooding, electronic score by Trent Reznor furthers the mood. At times, “The Social Network” is even slightly reminiscent of Fincher’s cult classic “Fight Club.” Particularly, in one scene, Eduardo enters a room lit only by computer screens where Zuckerberg is having intern candidates play a complex drinking game in which they must write code while doing shots as a crowd of observers cheers them on.
Structurally, the film jumps back and forth between flashback scenes of the events surrounding the creation of Facebook and “real time” scenes of two legal depositions in which Zuckerberg is being sued separately by the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo over ownership of the idea that is Facebook and the billions of dollars that it is worth. The jumps are a little jarring at first, and there can be some confusion in keeping track of the separate depositions, but it is easy enough to get used to the pattern. As boring as intellectual property lawsuits might sound, “The Social Network” is based on age-old themes of jealousy, power, revenge, and betrayal, and the fast pace and high tension will keep the audience engaged until the end.