The Social Network. Starring, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer. Directed by David Fincher. Rated M (coarse language). 120 mins.
I am not on Facebook, I am not a Friendster and I do not occupy MySpace. Neither have I ever Twittered (Tweeted?). Yes, I am antediluvian.
I disclose this terrible fact just to show that one needn’t be up with all that internet jazz in order to thoroughly enjoy David Fincher’s intriguing account of the genesis of Facebook.
Based on Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires, the slick, witty and fast-moving screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (Charlie Wilson’s War, TV’s The West Wing) is a rollicking account of how 19-year-old archetypal geek Mark Zuckerberg (played with total distracted conviction by Jesse Eisenberg) stumbled on the idea for Facebook when looking for a way to embarrass a girl, a fellow Harvard student, who had dumped him.
Zuckerberg started out merely by mischievously hacking the Harvard student database, but this gave him the idea for a social network he called TheFacebook to enable students to communicate with each other. Its swift acceptance by the student body encouraged him to extend it to other American universities, then their European counterparts, then the world. Somehow (it’s the antediluvian speaking) he has become the world’s youngest billionaire as a result.
Fortunately in terms of the screenplay, it was not that simple. Zuckerberg’s success at hacking the Harvard site had caught the attention of the rich, snobbish Winkelvoss twins, Cameron and Tyler (both played cleverly by Armie Hammer). They had a half-baked idea for a student-to-student link, but lacked the technical prowess to execute it, so had approached Zuckerberg to develop it. And because Zuckerberg the geek, though brilliant at writing computer programs, had little head for practicalities, he had approached his “only friend” at Harvard, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), to put up some money to get TheFacebook going and become its business manager.
After Facebook took off — the ‘the’ dropped on the advice of Napster’s inventor Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who came on board with his entrepreneurial flair — the Winkelvossi and Saverin sued Zuckerberg for billions of dollars over what they claimed was their contribution to its success. The legal argument to and fro, with Zuckerberg in the middle of hostilities, adrift in his geeky dream world but still capable of a pungent, witty retort, is what makes The Social Network such a universally entertaining and thought-provoking drama.
The film, incisively directed by Fincher, raises questions of friendship, loyalty and honesty but doesn’t really have any clear-cut answers. It shows how, in the dizzy headlong plunge into new technology, naivete, mendacity, virtuosity, jealousy and revenge can all get jumbled up in a confusing way. Somewhere in there is the truth of what happened, but the movie leaves you free to find the version that suits you best.
Meanwhile, if someone wants to explain the point of Facebook ...
Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out October 28 2010.