If the various reports bouncing around the Web are to be believed, he no longer considers The West Wing his favorite show (Wing mastermind Aaron Sorkin wrote the bitingly witty screenplay for The Social Network and should clear off space on his mantle for a season’s worth of hardware in recognition of his achievement of making a dialogue-driven story zip and zing along with such verve as to approximate the sense of a written roller coaster) and he has made a generous $100 million donation to New Jersey’s failing school system as an attempt to rehabilitate his image.
Why the social re-engineering you might ask?
Well, apparently the wunderkind who has become the youngest billionaire (Jesse Eisenberg) in history made a few enemies in the development of his friend-centric social engine, most notably Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), his best friend and the initial investor in what would become Facebook and a trio of Harvard undergraduates (Max Minghella and Armie Hammer in an amusing double role of genetically engineered twins) who enticed Zuckerberg to help them produce an ultra-exclusive club-like social network.
From beginning to end though, it is all about connections — the making and breaking and exploitation of social bonds — and the great irony is that Zuckerberg’s Achilles heel is his ability to maintain lasting and meaningful connections with people.
Director David Fincher and Sorkin (who was working from the Ben Mezrich best seller The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal) insert their own diabolical piece of code into the program here in the form of Erika Albright (Rooney Mara), a Boston University undergraduate and would-be girlfriend of Zuckerberg’s who, by chance, becomes the instrument of fate that inspires him to set his beautiful mind to the task of creating a Harvard University server-busting tool for students (primarily male) to rate female undergrads based on their freshman or residential house photo profiles. Despite the inevitable trouble that results from this trial run, it only takes a about a month’s worth of foundation code and less than $20,000 to push forth this network from Zuckerberg’s imagination.
It is a mythic game changer, even for someone like myself (full disclosure: I am not on Facebook, nor do I see myself joining in the foreseeable future), in an age when paradigm shifts seem to occur between celebrity Twitter posts. But what Fincher and Sorkin have been able to do is take us inside the mind and ego of Zuckerberg as he creates a world. The film, in no uncertain terms, is about a young cyber-god, one that only man could imagine — a petty loner in search of a place in the world of men who cannot see that none of what he believes he desires really matters.
Call it the Geek Tragedy, and as the actor who becomes the face of it all, Eisenberg is perfect. He hones every nerdish tendency he has ever displayed onscreen into a highly concentrated dose that would be lethal in any other case, but every drop of it is necessary to give life to this version of Zuckerberg. It's an embodiment that never feels like an act or a series of tics, but after this it means that Eisenberg might have nowhere else to go without completely transforming himself into George Clooney or Brad Pitt.
But, for all the marvelous invention, in performance and Fincher’s execution — an astounding technical feat that further differentiates him from a host of talented peers like P.T. Anderson, Darren Aronofsky and David O. Russell — there’s something missing in this Network that prevents it from achieving greatness. While it makes genius accessible and thoroughly watchable — The Social Network sure looks like it will have tons of friends during its theatrical run — and it even provides fodder for critical discourse, the film is ultimately as limited as its socially impaired subject.
It is a film event that is unlikely to have lasting impression beyond the moment it so creatively documents. Grade: A-