The Social Network

Despite the massive amounts of information that Facebook users have offered willingly to the site over the years, little is known about founder Mark Zuckerberg. This would seem to be a calculated move to keep the corporate brand clean, but the hypothesis offered by The Social Network is that there is nothing calculated about it. Zuckerberg was too busy making the site to care about how people perceived his actions.

Granted, much of the story that follows in this movie is fiction, threaded with fragments of fact. There are some true elements like the well-known creation of Facemash, a crude, local version of “Hot or Not?” site made up of private photos from Harvard servers that Zuckerberg hacked into.

At the same time, there are entire characters that never existed, such as the girlfriend that dumps Zuckerberg at the beginning of the movie due to his obsession to be accepted into Harvard’s elite, a desire that propels Zuckerberg’s need to create a new social sphere.

Jesse Eisenberg portrays Zuckerberg in what seems to be a role tailor-made for him. He is able to convey Zuckerberg’s genius through his quick analytical thinking and bored, almost condescending speech, most clearly displayed in the scene where his girlfriend, played by newcomer Rooney Mara, dumps him.

It is this early scene that produces the vast majority of Zuckerberg’s dialogue. For most of the film he remains mute, speaking only when the words are demanded of him. When he does speak, though, it is very intelligent and succinct, instantly driving his point home.

After creating Facemash, Zuckerberg is reprimanded and put on academic probation by the school and simultaneously earns the hatred of Harvard’s female community. All of this attention causes the wealthy Winklevoss twins, both played by Armie Hammer, to take notice and approach him. They are looking for a computer programmer to help them with their new idea for a social website that would only cater to Harvard students.

Zuckerberg agrees to help but instead goes and expands on their idea, creating his own website called “The Facebook.” He recruits the help of his friend Eduardo, played by Andrew Garfield. The Winklevoss twins are angered and eventually sue him for stealing what they claim to be their intellectual property, even though Zuckerberg’s final product is almost unrecognizable to what they had first planned out.

Despite the immoral action of stealing the idea of a “social network,” this movie is not completely critical of Zuckerberg. After all, it takes someone who is willing to act without seeking permission to build a site with the reach of Facebook, and it was undeniably him who did most of the work. Even with this determination, the idea still propagates much faster than any of the creators ever dreamed, and the film expertly evokes the ensuing panic and excitement.

Much of the credit goes to David Fincher’s direction and Aaron Sorkin’s script. There are many details that may ring false to students at a technical university, but each re-imagination of events is done carefully to build an impenetrable wall around Zuckerberg, with no social ladder that he can easily obtain to scale it.

It creates a sense of claustrophobia that Zuckerberg can only escape by tunneling beneath it using his coding skills, to limited success even as he becomes wealthy beyond measure.

For those who have winced at the on-screen depictions of hacking in past films, let this one be your new benchmark. There are still disconnect between on-screen keystrokes and the resulting programming, but it is no worse than a body double for the lead actor when they are playing piano. What matters is the on-screen content of the code being executed, with one brief narration featuring Zuckerberg as he describes exactly how he is able to break the security on a variety of servers.

Also of note is the cinematography. The Social Network is one of the first feature films to extensively use the new RED camera, which records a high resolution image digitally instead of on film. Rather than the plastic image of past digitally recorded movies, which were recorded at a lower resolution, the RED’s sensor manages to pick up streaks of light that would go unregistered on film.

It is remarkably organic and allows for more naturalistic lighting than would be possible with film. Even as the realism of the movie is in flux to serve the stories narrative, the image grounds this in a recognizable truth.

Despite the deviations from real life, these changes all serve the story well, touching on the transformation of the world around us due to the permeation of Facebook.

What strikes Zuckerberg above all things is how willing people are to share their information on the site. While it is a variation on social blogs (such as Livejournal, which receives a cameo in the film) that were once common, the privacy controls create an insider feeling that is irresistible.

Among the many well-honed observations is the once believed disposability of words written on the Internet. In a short exchange, Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend remarks that an earlier blog post disparaging her was not written in pencil; it was written in ink. So too are these words you are reading, as well as any words you willingly share online. For anyone who engages in such social sites, this film is mandatory viewing.