Make 'Friends' with 'The Social Network'

Bruce Dancis
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

The characterization of Mark Zuckerberg doesn't seem unfair. But then again, I'm not one of his friends.

The Social Network

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield
Distributor: Sony
Rated: PG-13
Release date: 2011-01-11

You don't need to be one of Facebook's 500 million subscribers to appreciate The Social Network. Directed by David Fincher, this intelligent and compelling movie tells the story of Harvard computer whiz Mark Zuckerberg, his creation of the world's most popular social networking website and the enemies he made while building Facebook into the international behemoth it has become.

But it's also about, according to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, "friendship, loyalty, jealousy, class, power, betrayal." To this reviewer, the film is more about understanding the vagaries of genius than deciding who to "friend" or not. One of the most critically honored films of 2009, it is sure to be a major Oscar contender.

But the film has also inspired much criticism about its veracity from publications and online sites ranging from the New York Times and the New Republic to Slate and the Daily Beast. These criticisms have questioned the accuracy of Sorkin's script and Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Zuckerberg as a socially awkward, resentful young man with a misogynistic attitude towards women.

Sorkin's screenplay was based on Ben Mezrich's book, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook — A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, which most closely expresses the views of Facebook cofounder Eduardo Saverin (portrayed by Andrew Garfield). Saverin, Zuckerberg's closest friend at Harvard and Facebook's first financial officer, was later pushed out of the company. He eventually filed a successful lawsuit against Zuckerberg, receiving a settlement reported at more than $1 billion.

On the other hand, Eisenberg's take on Zuckerberg certainly captures the description of the Facebook founder by one of the few writers who has been permitted significant access to him. As Jose Antonio Vargas wrote in his profile of Zuckerberg for The New Yorker last September, "His affect can be distant and disorienting, a strange mixture of shy and cocky." In the DVD documentary How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?, Eisenberg himself describes the man he portrays as "very bright, very introverted, which often appears as disinterested or kind of dismissive of those he's with."

No one has challenged key elements of the film — depositions involving suits against Zuckerberg, one by Saverin and another by three other Harvard students, the twin brothers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (portrayed by Armie Hammer and Josh Pence) and their partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) — which were based on the actual transcripts of the proceedings.

The new DVD won't settle any of these disputes, though Fincher is careful on his audio commentary to refer to "the character of Mark Zuckerberg" and to admit that some characters and scenes were created for dramatic purposes. But the DVD will offer viewers an abundance of special features about how The Social Network was made.

The best of these is the aforementioned feature-length documentary, a model of what a behind-the-scenes DVD doc should be. It includes fascinating footage detailing the near-obsessive perfectionism of Fincher, whose directorial credits include Fight Club, Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Viewers get to watch early read-throughs and fine-tuning of the script involving the director, Sorkin, Eisenberg and Garfield; the making of the now-famous opening scene where the Boston University student (played by Rooney Mara) who had been going out with Zuckerberg breaks up with him, which required 99 takes before Fincher was satisfied, and other scenes where we see Fincher working closely with his young actors. There's also some informative stuff about the film's use of "face replacement" technology for the scenes involving the actors portraying the identical Winklevoss twins.

In addition, shorter features examine various aspects of the filmmaking process, including the cinematography and how Fincher and his crew dealt with Harvard's very limited cooperation; the editing, which is particularly crucial for a director who records as many takes as Fincher; the composition of the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and two interactive segments in which viewers can watch particular scenes from different angles and with different music.

The Social Network DVD comes with two audio commentaries. Fincher's remarks are quite interesting throughout. He notes that Sorkin's incredibly fast-moving dialogue in the opening scene establishes the pace and style of the entire movie that follows, and describes being knocked out by Eisenberg's audition tape of this very scene. He's expansive in discussing Reznor and Ross' score, the subbing of Johns Hopkins University for Harvard in several scenes and how he chose to depict Zuckerberg's computer hacking ("he's more of a graffiti artist than a seditious terrorist"). Fincher also explains his casting decisions, takes on critics of his portrayal of Harvard and its social milieu and praises the "effortlessness" of Justin Timberlake's performance as Sean Parker, the cofounder of Napster and a key influence on Zuckerberg's decision to move Facebook to Palo Alto, Calif., and obtain outside financing from venture capitalists.

One oddity of Fincher's commentary is that Sony has elected to bleep out every f-bomb the director drops in normal conversation; Sony even bleeps Fincher's jocular citation of Aaron Sorkin's e-mail address. I have no problem with Fincher's language — his use of profanity seems both natural and appropriate — and Sony's censorship of it is heavy handed.

The second commentary combines the thoughts of Sorkin with cast members Eisenberg, Garfield, Hammer, Pence and Timberlake. Eisenberg is particularly interesting here, revealing his deep understanding of the character he is portraying and noting the irony of a young man who couldn't relate to his social world creating an online social world in which he fit right in.

Some of the criticisms of The Social Network do raise interesting questions as to how an actual living person should be portrayed in a movie. This is not a documentary on Mark Zuckerberg, after all, and Sorkin and Fincher have made some departures with the facts of Zuckerberg's life in order to tell a dramatic story. For me, the perspective and tone of The Social Network does not come across as inappropriate, nor does the characterization of Zuckerberg seem unfair. But then again, I'm not one of Mark Zuckerberg's friends.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.