A Facebook in the Crowd
With back-to-back showings for its world premičre, The Social Network is New York Film Festival Opening Night and arrives to so much anticipation that a roll-over screening was needed to accommodate lines of media people at an earlier screening. This buzz makes it easy to raise eyebrows about the timing of its boy billionaire’s nine-figure donation to Newark, New Jersey, schools, a face-saving face-life to counter his rumored onscreen trashing.
Yet the actual cinema portrait of Mark Zuckerberg is less unfavorable to its subject than was that in Shattered Glass, to which it bears a certain resemblance. Jean-Paul Sartre dismissed “youth, so vivid on the surface, but no feeling inside it,” and the new film’s un-hero (Jesse Eisenberg) seems all surface, too, with no background -- parents, siblings, hometown? -- no clue to others’ feelings, and no emotion beyond a childish beery revenge on a coed ex-girlfriend.
Tale and technique treat recent past and immediate present as attention deficit deficiency blips for shallow young men and women whose blinkered awareness is limited to the Now moment. For the first of two hours on the dot, shifts are frequent and rapid, bewildering for older, slower viewers. Taking off from Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, Aaron Sorkin’s script is not, however, about the technology or terminology but about the three twenty-somethings who for better or worse accelerated modern communication and relationships.
Post-screening, the writer, director David Fincher, and the three leads disclaimed any great knowledge of or addiction to this global phenomenon, although Andrew Garfield did admit that he had kicked the habit only recently. Those who see the film, particularly those endangered species who are even less savvy, would be well advised to ignore the newspeak technobabble flung around by the collegians, for it will only confuse issues and is of no importance alongside the however shallow characters.
Unsmiling, unhumorous, unathletic and socially ungraceful, Zuckerberg is deservedly told off by his girl in the opening Cambridge’s Thirsty Scholar Pub. What Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) ever saw in him is a mystery, but, since he tries to reconnect mid-film in another bar and end-film online, her purpose is to indicate the ironic aloneness of the nineteen-year-old who facilitates mass social connectedness. In hoodie and flip-flops, he is an unlovable arrogant nerd, even if it may be his sensed-but-not-shown ethnic, religious and economic background that bars him from the Crimson’s old-money Waspish clubbiness which he may or may not secretly covet.
The petulant blog directed against the girl grows into a campus fad Facemash vote on “hot” coeds and then spreads to other Ivies and to West Coast institutions of higher learning. Success leads to recruitment by upperclassmen jock brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer, Josh Pence), to setting up Facebook financed by best and only friend Eduardo Saverin (Garfield), and to enticement out to Palo Alto by paranoid, arrogant, sued-and-broke Napster creator Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake).
The tale is true, “non-fiction,” it was stressed in the Q&A, or at least the details are so in a Rashomon pattern. In the legal confrontation depositions of the parties involved, and at a hearing at the university, “facts” are presented from one side or another: the Winklevoss’ version that their idea was stolen, Eduardo’s that he was tricked out of his fair share of glory and fortune, the school’s that rules of student conduct were violated; and, of course, Zuckerberg’s. Motivations are not so much brought out, although it should be said in Parker’s defense that pure greed seems among the least of his shortcomings.
Shenanigans and hollowness among students are not exaggerated, and “there is less sex than in two minutes of Gossip Girl.” The staggering profits involved, the fame, the success or failure, and the little sex, even the social networking per se, are secondary to the fly-on-the-wall objective look at a personality who is at once public and unknowable, in metaphor for the age’s instantaneous non-face-to-face madness.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "PG-13" for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language.)