In the opening minutes of The Social Network, David Fincher’s new film about the founding of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) breaks up with him in a Cambridge bar. “You’re going to be successful and rich,” she tells him as she gets up to leave. “But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a tech geek. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) spends most of the rest of the film proving her right, selling out his only friends as he builds Facebook, a network paradoxically designed to help people connect. After running back to his dorm room from the bar, Zuckerberg, Heineken in hand, vents his anger at Erica by creating a website, facemash.com, on which users can rank the attractiveness of their female classmates.
The stunt crashes the university’s network and lands Zuckerberg on academic probation, but it also attracts the attention of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, a pair of tall, obnoxiously good-looking twins trying to develop a dating site called Harvard Connect. Recognizing the idea’s potential, Zuckerberg strings the twins along, pretending to work on their site while developing what he calls thefacebook.com.
Fincher often juxtaposes scenes to highlight Zuckerberg’s social awkwardness and inability to connect with real people. On the night Zuckerberg and his friends launch facemash.com, Fincher quickly cuts between scenes of Zuckerberg writing algorithms on his dorm room window, with shots of girls dancing in lingerie at party at Phoenix—one of the elite Harvard finals clubs he is desperate to get into.
The entire film is set against the background of two civil suits brought against Zuckerberg several years after Facebook’s launch—one by the Winklevoss twins, who allege Zuckerberg stole their idea, and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who co-founded the site with Zuckerberg. Fincher fluidly cuts between the Harvard scenes and the plaintiffs’ later depositions against Zuckerberg in a corporate boardroom, sometimes switching mid-sentence.
Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg is sullen and robotic, barely cracking a smile in the two-hour film. He is carelessly, almost casually cruel, even to Saverin, his only friend at Harvard, dismissing his acceptance into one of the finals clubs. Zuckerberg’s fantastic arrogance makes even his friendly gestures seem unfeeling. When he lists Saverin as co-founder and CFO on the prototype of thefacebook.com, Saverin tells Zuckerberg he has no idea what this will mean to his father. “Sure I do,” Zuckerberg deadpans.
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue crackles throughout the film, with his fast-paced banter defining some of The Social Network’s best scenes. The back-and-forth shines, especially during a scene in which Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), a co-founder of Napster, wakes up in the bed of a Stanford co-ed and tries to convince her that he is who he says he is.
For a complex film, The Social Network rarely stumbles. Fincher’s camerawork and Sorkin’s script (along with a Trent Reznor pulsating soundtrack), move the film along at a fast clip. Some the dialogue can feel a bit forced—such as when Parker tells Zuckerberg to drop the “the” and call the site Facebook—but this is a minor quibble.
The more pressing concern for audiences may be how much of the movie is true. The film is based on The Accidental Billionaires, a book about Facebook’s founding whose author, Ben Mezrich, did not interview Zuckerberg. Mezrich based much of his book on interviews with Saverin, who, perhaps not coincidentally, comes across as the closest thing to a hero in Fincher’s film.
The Social Network, however, is not a documentary. As a work of fiction, the film succeeds brilliantly, merging the dialogue of Sorkin’s The West Wing with the events that made Mark Zuckerberg the world’s youngest billionaire and forever changed how we socialize.