Review: The Social Network
Like many millions of people, I use Facebook as well as Twitter, but my knowledge of Facebook’s main founder Mark Zuckerberg was somewhat limited. The Facebook IPO was hard to ignore but the story of Facebook’s founding was unknown to me until Mrs B insisted I give The Social Network a try.
The film opens in 2003 at Harvard University where Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) splits up with his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). The break-up prompts him to not only drunkenly blog about her but during one intense night of programming, Mark creates Facemash which is so popular it crashes Harvard’s network. Faced with disciplinary for hacking, Mark’s fortunes seem on the up when he is approached to build a dating website exclusive to Harvard. Soon after, Mark comes up with the idea of Thefacebook and from humble beginnings the network grows. The film cuts between the founding and growth of Facebook in the past and two difficult lawsuits Mark faces in the present – one from brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), and another from Mark’s former best friend and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).
The break-up between Mark and Erica at the outset is pivotal to what follows. Mark comes across as arrogant and condescending, believing his own inevitable success as a Harvard student will allow Erica to see places she would never have been able to based on her own efforts! Mark is a real charmer and Erica understandably dumps him. Mark gets drunk that same night and blogs about Erica, his ramblings about her personality and bra size are picked up by many students much to her humiliation. Mark also chronicles his development of Facemash, a program that takes photos of students from university networks Mark hacks into and puts them side by side so users can pick which one is the most attractive. Having pilfered images from several universities and made the website live, the Harvard network crashes as thousands of students go online to use Facemash. Six months academic probation is Mark’s reward but his achievement has not gone unnoticed. Rowing enthusiasts and brothers Cameron and Tyler, along with their friend Divya approach Mark to build a dating website for them known as Harvard Connection and one that is exclusive to the university. Mark agrees to the work but following his experience of Facemash he has an idea of his own.
Mark pitches the idea of Thefacebook to his best friend Eduardo who agrees to fund the venture. Over the next few months, Mark builds the website, creating thousands of lines of code while rebuffing any attempts from Cameron and Tyler to meet up and discuss their project. One day they get an email from Mark saying he doesn’t believe their website is worth pursuing. Mark is launching Thefacebook so he no longer has time to work with the brothers. The website builds slowly but when Cameron and Tyler learn about it they disagree on what to do. Cameron refuses to sue but Tyler is adamant they should as Mark has clearly stolen their idea. Their efforts to get the university to intervene fall on deaf ears and Mark continues seemingly unopposed. Gradually the film builds up to the two lawsuits Marks faces for his actions but what will the outcomes be for him.
I wasn’t interested in seeing The Social Network when it was first released but now I’m glad I have. Eisenberg is great in the lead portraying Zuckerberg as both a brilliant programmer but also self-serving, especially in his treatment of his friend Eduardo which leads to the two men falling out and Eduardo suing Mark for actions which are simply appalling. For all Mark’s business ruthlessness he is depicted as somewhat fragile at times, especially when it comes to Erica. Though they split up at the start, Mark doesn’t forget her and even though she moves on with her life he still thinks of her at the end. Zuckerberg’s recent dealings in the media will not have changed many people’s perceptions of him that this film will give. He recently sold some of his shares before the price dropped and the day before he married which safeguarded his latest fortune and meant his wife would have no claim on the money should they ever divorce. The Social Network offers a fascinating debate when it comes to the lawsuits. I personally agree with the outcome of both but felt Cameron and Tyler’s lawsuit was a fragile one at times.
The Social Network is a fascinating look into the origins of Facebook and an attempt at getting to the heart of Mark Zuckerberg. While his motivations and loyalties are highly questionable, there is no doubting that he is a very talented man and has made a huge contribution to the world of communication in the last ten years.
(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)