The Social Network is not a mere chronicle of the beginnings of Facebook; it is the site’s foundational myth. Spun into existence by two master craftsmen, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War) and director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club), this film is a myth of classic, tragic proportions. Distilled to its essence as the story of a scorned soul, The Social Network sees 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) retreat to his room after an abrupt break up. He downs a few beers, and enact his revenge by creating a watershed, misogynistic and instantly viral website, Facemash, which asked fellow Harvard students to rate their female classmates’ photos.
Taking the bit in his teeth after this fateful evening, Zuckerberg acquires funding from his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and the two develop The Facebook (later to drop the ‘The’), an idea which may or may not have been ‘appropriated’ from a set of strapping Harvard twins, the Winklevosses (both played by Armie Hammer). Ludicrous success and lengthy depositions ensue, as The Social Network pivots around the two separate legal battles Zuckerberg was forced to tackle: one against the entitled Winklevosses and the other, facing down his erstwhile best friend, Saverin.
And herein lies the rub, for Sorkin’s Rashomon-esque screenplay juggles these conflicting points of view with such an ingenious, entertaining ease that his three sets of narrators equally unreliable. Sorkin’s trademark, dizzying dialogue makes a meal of these vying truths, while Fincher captures all with a murky, ominous sensibility.
Remarkably, the cast takes this intricate verbal and visual detail in their stride. Eisenberg is a revelation. Purportedly the one man who can ‘do Sorkin better than Sorkin,’ his delivery of the rapid-fire lines is a sight to see. His quick-witted, though largely inscrutable performance is played against Garfield’s more emotive role, and rounded out by Justin Timberlake’s impressive (and wryly reflexive) turn as the party-boy founder of Napster, Sean Parker. Rooney Mara is also striking in her brilliant opening scene as girl who kicked off all the fuss, Erica Albright.
As a study of the trappings of exclusivity, entitlement and embitterment, The Social Network is a potent, jawdropping success. “Every creation myth needs a devil,” intones one of Zuckerberg’s lawyers (Rashida Jones). Well, Sorkin and Fincher have given us at least one that is guaranteed to go down in history.
4 ½ stars
Published in The Big Issue #366
The Social Network is in Australia cinemas now