BitDepth 753 - October 19

A review of David Fincher's movie about the creation of Facebook, The Social Network.
The face behind Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg’s profile on Facebook.

Who is Mark Zuckerberg? You’d think that after two full hours of The Social Network, you might have some idea. Jesse Eisenberg, the young actor who plays the Facebook founder, so deftly assays the character as a reflection of the chaos and desperate ambition that surround him during the early days of the project that we see the creation of Facebook not through his eyes, but reflected in them.

Eisenberg’s cool, beady interpretation of the character makes Zuckerberg seem like a lizard with a laptop, coolly tapping away at code while the world around him swings wildly from ignoring him contemptuously to genuflecting at his door.
This isn’t
the story of Facebook, but it certainly is one story of the founding of the genre changing social network. While the film takes liberal dramatic license with the few facts that are known for certain about the project’s conception and execution, it does so with such style and panache that absolute truth takes a backseat to riveting storytelling.

It is one of the astonishing things about David Fincher’s film that it doesn’t seem to have a plot or a story arc. Despite the obvious craft at work in the film’s script, cinematography and direction, The Social Network has the feel of a spectacularly capable documentary, the dramatic narrative intercut with documentary style retelling of the pretrial depositions between Zuckerberg and ousted business partner Eduardo Saverin and another case brought by Harvard students Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (twins played by the same actor, Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra, who accused Zuckerberg of stealing their idea for a Harvard social network.

Fincher, whose character driven direction buoyed Seven, Fight Club and Benjamin Button, draws remarkable performances from his ensemble cast, painting the people who interact with the lead with bold, dramatic strokes while leaving Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg a pallid grey, virtually a non-character in the middle of all the turbulent, passionate action that rages all around him.
In one pivotal moment early in the film, Zuckerberg is dumped by Rooney Mara, an attractive but otherwise ordinary young student played with self-effacing charm by Erica Albright.

The character, clearly a narrative invention, is meant to represent the world of real human interaction that constantly eludes the talented coder. 
His response to her termination of their relationship is a marathon programming session seasoned with ill-advised blogging about the girl. Between beers and insulting posts, Zuckerberg invents Facemash, a project inspired by the once popular Hot or Not website.
Mara becomes Zuckerberg’s Rosebud, a sounding board for his unspoken personal passions that find expression in the Facebook project.

The Social Network is not specifically unkind to Mark Zuckerberg, but it chooses to make no clear comment on him. As portrayed by Eisenberg, the Facebook founder becomes a cipher, driven by unknown passions and demons, finding fulfilment in his code as it loads on the screen in front of him. 
At least part of the reason is the film’s source, Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, widely believed to have been told from Saverin’s perspective using information that he provided. In striving for some kind of balance, Fincher settles for neutrality, but still crafts a smart, unsettling film.

This is history so recent, it still qualifies as current affairs, but under the director’s sure hand, the story juggles facts and dramatic fiction with assurance and delivers an experience that shares, with a richness that’s rare in modern filmmaking, a contemporaneous and riveting look at what entrepreneurship means in a digital age.

Ten most glaring things The Social Network got wrong.
Gawker’s story about Saverin and Facebook.

Author's note: Twitter lit up quickly to point out that the Erica Albright character is based on a real person (thanks @Trinigourmet ). You can read her perspective on the movie
here. Or you may not, as it turns out. It's quite likely that website is fake. So let's assume that the person and the character in the film led two different lives and the one that's relevant here is the screenwriter's creation.
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