"Why the hell do I want to see a movie about Facebook?" a friend said about The Social Network, the new film about the geeky young entrepreneur who created Facebook. "Don't I get enough of it everywhere else?"
That might be the best reason not to see the movie, but it's quite a film, and possibly even a future classic (I bet it will get nominated for a few Academy Awards too). It's a serious movie that revolves around a moral question: what does it mean that everybody's favorite social network was built by an awkward, alienated college student who had lots of trouble making friends?
Those who resent Facebook's intrusion into our common privacy can enjoy some zuckerfreude here, because young Mark Zuckerberg's personality is splayed out in the most unflattering poses -- and yet he remains, in Jesse Eisenberg's deft impersonation, mostly charming and lovable. Unlike many of his fellow nerds who haunt the social circles around Harvard University during the movie's early scenes, skinny nervous Zuckerberg is naive but never quite shy. He has strange reservoirs of confidence, rooted perhaps in his mastery of Linux and Apache. He tries boldly to puzzle out the social codes -- attitude, style -- that lead to popularity on campus. But these are puzzles he can't seem to solve, and he is forced to face this uncomfortable truth repeatedly. The long journey of coding that ends with the creation of Facebook begins in a desultory dorm-room cloud of romantic misery after Zuckerberg's semi-girlfriend unceremoniously dumps him. Thus was Facebook born.
I like this film for its immediacy and straightforward, casual realism. Director David Fincher (who directed the excellent film version of Pahlaniuk's Fight Club) and writer Aaron Sorkin wisely yoke the movie's plot close to the book it's based on, Ben Mezrich's Accidental Billionaires (a review of this book ran on Litkicks last year). There are histrionic moments -- does a Harvard student really have to interrupt a choral concert just to prove that he's upset about something? -- but not many, and the film is most exciting when it hews most closely to the banal rhythms of everyday modern life.
When I reviewed Accidental Billionaires last year, I questioned whether Mark Zuckerberg would have ever used the unlikely phrase "a little wget magic" (wget is a command-line HTTP request tool, very useful but rarely considered magical). The book's author corrected me on Twitter, stating that these exact words had been found on Zuckerberg's blog. The line about "a little wget magic" is spoken in the movie version too, and the phrase is starting to grow on me.
The Keith Gessen-esque social psychodrama at Harvard occupies only the first half of The Social Network's storyline, and in the second half a hilarious Justin Timberlake shows up as a savvy Silicon Valley rounder ready to coach Zuckerberg into the stratosphere of venture capital financing.
By the film's end, Zuckerberg has prevailed over all his enemies, friends and frenemies. He stands alone at the top of the Facebook empire (as he still does today). He's a nerd with cojones. When Bill Gates shows up for a cameo about halfway through the film (and occasions some of the film's funnier dialogue), the message and the lineage is clear.
But even Bill Gates has never been the subject of a major dramatic film. There's something Shakespearean about the character of Mark Zuckerberg, and that's why this film works. A boardroom scene calls to mind Henry V, but at the film's bleak end he stands as lonely and tragic as Richard III or Iago. Not bad for wget magic.