J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

The Social Network

Posted by J on January 21, 2011

The Blu-ray and DVD covers for The Social Network aren’t typical covers, since their focal points are critics’ blurbs about how great this movie is. “An American Landmark!”  “A Brilliant Film.”  “Mammoth and Exhilarating.”  This all seems a little too boastful, and the curmudgeons in us, upon seeing this cover, immediately wanted to dislike this movie.

Well, we were entertained enough, though there were no exhilarating mammoths. But The Social Network ultimately fails in number of ways and it might be quickly forgotten.  As is well known, the movie is about the creation of Facebook.  500 million people use Facebook, and so the movie has a ready-made audience.  The story is told through a legal deposition in which Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is sued by his former business partner, Eduardo Saverin, who put up $19,000 to in start-up cash, and an identical twin pair, the Winklevosses. The movie is almost as much about the failures of Saverin and the Winklevosses as it is about Zuckerberg’s successes.

The movie cuts between flashbacks to Facebook’s formation at Harvard and California in 2003-2004, and the 2008 testimony at the deposition.  This structure works well, but it assumes that viewers know what Facebook is and why this deposition matters.  Yes, most people know this well today, but they may not tomorrow.  The problem with giving an Oscar to this movie is the looming threat of irrelevance.  How much would people today care about a 2004 movie about the founding of Myspace?  A 1995 movie about the founding of Microsoft or Apple would still be relevant; a similar movie about AOL or Sega would not be.  And we all would be bored to death now by a movie about Atari, Netscape, and Gateway. (A list of failed tech companies from the 1970s would be too obscure.) Obviously, powerful tech companies can vanish very quickly.

The Social Network sharply contrasts modern entrepreneurial spirit with the narcissism and arrogance of those same entrepreneurs.  In the opening scene, Zuckerberg has a conversation in a bar with his girlfriend, Erica. How Zuckerberg ever got a girlfriend, and one as patient as her, is a plot hole that is ignored.  Zuckerberg is a narcissist and an exacting logician, so Erica dumps him.  Angered, Zuckerberg returns to his dormroom to create a website called Facemash, in which users choose who the hottest girls at Harvard are.  Zuckerberg is best when programming at his computer — a phenomenon termed “wired in” in the movie — but worst when he’s talking to others.  This is the Nerd that you’ve seen a thousand times in movies, only this Nerd is annoyingly arrogant, not shy.

The Winklevoss twins hear of the success of Zuckerberg’s Facemash website, and so they ask him to work on a “Harvard Connection” website.  Zuckerberg agrees, but then never does anything for them.    This leads the Winklevosses to believe that Zuckerberg, once Facebook’s success is obvious, stole their ideas.  They are rich, handsome and athletic, and the movie makes them out to be spurned, prideful, gentleman jocks.  Once again, the Nerd defeats the Preppy Jock at the movies.

The Social Network makes it clear that Zuckerberg’s only good friend is Saverin.  It is supposed to be ironic that Zuckerberg, who creates a website where you could find 500 million friends, abandons his own friend to create a billion-dollar company.  Repeatedly, Saverin claims that Zuckerberg is not interested in money.  He may not be, but he seems interested in the power that money brings, a temptation offered to him by Sean Parker, founder of Napster.  The film’s last act shows how Saverin was pushed aside and how Parker stepped in to own 6% of Facebook.  Parker is a successful entrepreneur who seemingly has no friends, but he does have money and women.

So Saverin sues Zuckerberg because he, Saverin, put up the initial capital for Facebook and was CFO. It seems that he was tricked into signing a bad contract that, eventually, made his share of the company drop from 34% to .03%.  Since that company is supposedly worth $25 billion, Saverin is just a little peeved.

This is a movie that misunderstands what its major themes should be.  It focuses on the irony of the lack of friendship between its characters, who nevertheless are creating a website about finding friends.  But Facebook is not a website about finding friends, which is so easy to do that it makes the term “friend” meaningless.  Facebook is about proclaiming yourself to the world, about showing the triumph of you and your likes and dislikes, of trying to tell everybody that you matter.  Given who these characters are, it makes complete sense that they would create such a website.

The final scene — spoiler alert — shows Zuckerberg as desiring the thing he couldn’t have.  He sends a friend request on Facebook to Erica, the girlfriend who broke up with him and whom he mistreated.  Then he refreshes the page over and over to see if she will “accept his friend request.”  This is ridiculous.  Would Zuckerberg, a 25-year old billionaire and head of a global company that 10% of the world’s population uses, care about something so insignificant?  The movie has spent so much time trying to show Zuckerberg’s arrogance and narcissism, and he is clearly at the point in life where the abundance of money and power that he has would feed those qualities.  And yet the ending of the movie tries to figure him as a man longing for the past, a quality that usually manifests itself in much older people. Remember Charles Foster Kane uttering “Rosebud”?  It’s as if Kane were long for his Rosebud as a young newspaper owner, not as an old man on his deathbed. Reader, if I were a 25-year old billionaire, the last thing I would ever think about is the girlfriend I barely knew who dumped me five years ago.  Try me when I’m 75, maybe.

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