Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Social Network

Year:  2010
Director:  David Fincher
Screenplay:  Aaron Sorkin, based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
Starring:  Jesse Eiseberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Brenda Song, Rashida Jones, Rooney Mara
Running Time:  121 minutes
Genre:  Drama

This film charts the rise of the social networking site Facebook.  At Harvard University in 2003, student Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) is dumped by his girlfirend Erica Albright (Mara).  Drunk, depressed and bitter, Zuckerberg takes revenge by bad-mouthing Erica on his blog and setting up a site called Facemash, for which he steals the photographs of female undergraduates from the university's "facebooks" (on-line directories of the students photographs and details) and allows users to vote on which girl they think is the hottest.  The site is so instantly popular that it crashes Harvard's servers and makes Zuckerberg notorious on campus, while doing nothing to improve his popularity with the femalle students.  The site brings him to the attention of identical twin rowing champions Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer and Armie Hammer) and their friend and business partner Divya Narender (Minghella) who are planning to set up a  social networking site called "The Harvard Connection".  Zuckerberg does not think much of either the Winkelvoss twins and Narender or their site, but he is intrigued by the idea of a social network and so he and his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Garfield) set up their own site called "The Facebook" which soon becomes a Harvard sensation.  However as the site goes from strength to strength, friendships and partnerships go sour and implode and Zuckerberg finds himself mired in litigation.

At first glance a movie about a guy who sets up a web site may seem like the most boring idea for a movie ever.  Who really wants to see a guy typing on a computer for two hours?  (Coming Soon:  Permanently Weird:  The Movie.  Five hours long, in black and white).  However the film is fascinating because it is not really a film about Facebook but about the people who developed it.  It's about how, despite all the money and fame, the success of the site left a legacy of destroyed friendships and lawsuits.  Mark Zuckerberg does not come across as a particularly likeable character at all however, it is to the credit of the film-makers and Eisenberg's performance in particular, that Zuckerberg is never entirely unsympathetic.  He treats people really badly in the movie, but he often doesn't seem to realise how what he's doing affects people, and seems genuinely bewildered when people react badly to his scheming and ruthlessness.

The film is full of great performances from Eisenberg onwards, with Armie Hammer being particularly notable in the dual role of the Winklevoss twins, and also singer Justin Timberlake who ironically is cast as Sean Parker, the founder of free music sharing site Napster.  The film is elegantly made, from the stately dimly lit corridors of Harvard to the cold, bright law firm offices, and the script is compelling and shot through with plenty of unexpected humour.

There are many opinions about Facebook and similar sites, some people love them while others hate everything about them.  Personally I think that the internet has changed human social interaction for the better.  The importance of sites like Facebook is huge and, I think, only being glimpsed.  Whether you love or hate Facebook, or even if you don't know the first thing about it, this is a fascinating and powerful film.  However it is important to remember, as with all films that are "based on a true story", this is just a work of fiction.  It is a drama, intended to entertain, based on someone's idea of what happened, and not a historical document.

"You have part of my attention, you have the minimum amount.  The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook where my colleagues and I are doing things that no-one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capapable of doing.  Did I adequately answer your condescending question?"
- Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) shows how not to win friends in court.

Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in The Social Network         

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