Where does reality end and mythmaking begin in the Facebook creation-myth movie “The Social Network,” opening Friday? That Facebook fable has been debated ever since the movie’s source — the Ben Mezrich bestseller “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal” — was published in 2009 amid the author’s admissions of making up scenes and dialogue and calling his own work “a best guess.”
And for director David Fincher, all of that is about as relevant as CompuServe.
“I don’t know how much the movie really is about Facebook,” Fincher, 48, muses over the phone from Stockholm, where he’s shooting the U.S. remake of the 2009 Swedish film “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” based on Stieg Larsson’s novel. “Let’s hope it’s about a lot more than that.”
“Fundamentally, it’s about a very big American theme, which is loneliness and reinvention,” the movie’s producer, Scott Rudin, 52, says in Manhattan. “It’s Gatsby,” he adds simply.
Not that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s studiedly urbane Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island — the reinvented Jimmy Gatz of nowhere North Dakota — was anything like Facebook prime mover Mark Zuckerberg, a less-than-ideal avatar of the American dream. A brusque, dismissive tech geek who labels himself “awkward” and whom Fincher says people call “borderline Asperger’s,” Zuckerberg comes across in lawsuit testimony and elsewhere as a bitter, alienating and vindictive jerk reinvented as a CEO superstar after creating a social-media phenomenon with his Harvard-dorm roommates. Now, as one character says in disbelief and delight, “We’ve got groupies!”
Zuckerberg’s saving grace as a movie character, at least, is getting to deliver some of the choicest Aaron Sorkin dialogue since “The West Wing” or “Sports Night,” in a script where words and ideas volley like a Pro Penn ball at the U.S. Open, top-spinning with delicious sarcasm, sophomoric grandiosity and, somehow, an empathetic humanity.
That humanity, to much extent, comes via star Jesse Eisenberg, who despite accolades for films like “Roger Dodger” (2002), “The Squid and the Whale” (2005), “Adventureland” and “Zombieland” (both 2009), says self-effacingly over the phone, “I actually do feel very uncomfortable in settings that might also make my character uncomfortable. When I was preparing for the movie, I watched every interview that was available with the real guy, and I noticed he seemed pretty uncomfortable in interviews, and that’s something I immediately understood. Oftentimes when my character feels uncomfortable, he tends to invert and almost appear stoic, and I kind of have a similar reaction.”
That visceral identification with one aspect of the real Zuckerberg — who did not cooperate with the making of either the book or the film — helped Eisenberg, 26, do what he calls his “job, which was defend my character.” The challenge, he says, “was finding the quality that makes him enigmatic and kind of detached but which is coming from a real place filled with feelings of loneliness and social insecurities and wanting to connect with others, and just not having the emotional wherewithal to know how to do that in the best way.”
In the movie, that awkwardness manifests itself as patronizing patter toward Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), who fancies himself Zuckerberg’s best, indeed only friend. But as the movie paints it, the relationship was simply expedient for Zuckerberg. Saverin was the money guy Zuckerberg needed until it was time to drop him in a gratuitously humiliating way.
“I don’t know what (Zuckerberg is) like in real life,” Fincher says, “but I think it’s fun that as a character he’s somebody who doesn’t suffer fools” — which is an interesting comment, since the character isn’t so much suffering fools as he is putting down people with perfectly valid reasons to castigate, break up with or sue him. The movie’s spine is a deposition in a lawsuit by golden-boy twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer in a dual role) and their business partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who contended that Zuckerberg stole their idea after agreeing to work with them, and then sabotaged them.
As for what really happened, Fincher says, “I wasn’t there, and the people who were there disagree.” His concerns were more simply logistical after getting the script and agreeing to do the movie — which, Rudin says, discrediting Internet rumors, cost “substantially under $40 million” to make.
“My first response,” Fincher recalls, “was, ‘You’ve got to do it right away, because I can see this not being the most interesting thing three years from now, and secondly, you’ve got to vet the script and have it go through (the studio) legal, because I don’t have time to get involved in a war of words.”“
Fincher himself doesn’t have a Facebook page, he says. Neither does Eisenberg, nor does Rudin, who explains, “I’m fundamentally an addictive personality and would probably spend all my time on it.” But as Fincher reiterates, the movie isn’t just about Facebook.
“I was sort of drawn to the notion of how friendships are tested when people succeed early and have to move out of the group,” he says, “and there are people who are left in the dust and people who have the ability to change the landscape around them and people who can adapt to it. And I thought,” he says, unwilling to speak of whom he’d left behind himself, and how he’d done it, “that could be a really human tale.”
‘NETWORK’ CAST MEMBERS ARE LINKED IN TO FAMILY
The cast of “The Social Network” is a who’s who of both established and up-and-coming 20- and 30-somethings, including Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield (the next Spider-Man in the movie series’ reboot) and Disney Channel franchise Brenda Song. Eisenberg and four other members of the cast, in particular, have notable family connections:
Armie Hammer (twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss) — Great-grandson of oil tycoon Armand Hammer, the son of industrialist and philanthropist Michael Armand Hammer.
Rashida Jones (law-firm associate Marylin Delpy) — Daughter of composer and media mogul Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton; younger sister of model Kidada Jones
Rooney Mara (Zuckerberg ex-girlfriend Erica Albright) — Great-granddaughter of New York Giants founder Tim Mara, granddaughter of Giants co-owner Wellington Mara, niece of current Giants co-owner John Mara, and daughter of Chris Mara, the Giants’ vice president of player evaluation. On her mother’s side, granddaughter of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney. Younger sister of actress Kate Mara.
Max Minghella (Winklevoss business partner Divya Narendra) — Son of Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella (“The English Patient”), nephew of British TV screenwriter Dominic Minghella.
Jesse Eisenberg is the older brother of former child actress Hallie Kate Eisenberg, the ubiquitous “Pepsi girl” of 1990s TV commercials, and of films including “Paulie” (1998) and “Bicentennial Man” (1999).