Film Review: The Social Network

16/10/10 | Posted by MattPage

It’s a sign of the explosive growth of Facebook that less than three years after I first heard about it, I’m sitting in a cinema watching a major movie about its creation.
The Social Network is a semi-fictional telling of how Mark Zuckerberg (in a great performance by Jesse Eisenberg) and his friends invented the world’s most popular website.

 Zuckerberg (2nd from the right) and his friends create Facebook

The film begins with Zuckerberg on a date, and it’s not going well; largely due to Zuckerberg’s social awkwardness and thinly veiled superiority complex. When his girlfriend eventually decides that she’s had enough, she dumps him, leaving him heading back to his dorm seeking drink and revenge. The result is Facemash, a website which juxtaposes random images of Harvard students and gets people to vote on which of any given two is “hotter”. Facemash gets Zuckerberg into hot water with the university officials but it also gives him the inspiration for something bigger.

Or did it? Shortly after launches, three of Zuckerberg’s fellow students decide to sue him stealing their idea. And they’re not alone. Zuckerberg is also being sued by his ex-best friend, and site co-founder, Eduardo Saverin who has lost his stake in the company. In fact it’s scenes from these legal cases that make up the film’s “present” with the story of Facebook’s creation and launch being told in flashback.

Whilst much of the storyline is based on fact, with parts adapted from the actual legal transcripts, the film’s primary concern is Zuckerburg’s motivation and relationships. The pain Zuckerberg feels at being rejected by his date not only motivates him to create the site, but also to expand its reach (following a chance meeting with her). Yet even the site’s incredible success fails to dispel his sense of rejection, both at the hands of the girl in question and the Harvard elite in general.

But Aaron Sorkin’s razor sharp screenplay is also fascinated by the breakdown in relationship between Zuckerberg and his ex-best friend. At times during the depositions Saverin cannot even face Zuckerberg, and whilst Zuckerberg clearly feels a smidgen of remorse at how things have turned out, there’s no apparent attempt at reconciliation.

Jesus once asked “and how do you profit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36). For a long time, films such as Citizen Kane and, more recently, There Will Be Blood, have posed the same question depicting hugely successful businessmen who have nevertheless end up isolated and unhappy. What makes The Social Network all the more powerful is that it’s not just the story of a man who has got rich by selling newspapers or oil, but by enabling others to connect and build friendships. Zuckerberg understands how humans relate to one another brilliantly, he’s just incapable of doing it himself.

Yet whilst others concerned themselves with technical questions of who was “in” or “out” of one particular club or another, Jesus concentrated on building an open community where the lowest in society were as welcome as the high flyers. And critically he seems to have participated in it as much as anyone else. Whilst the charge of being a glutton and a drunkard was no doubt an exaggeration, it certainly didn’t come about because he hung around in pious isolation watching everyone else enjoy themselves.

One of the biggest criticisms that is levelled at the real Facebook is that people often spend so long on it that they have no longer have any time left to invest in genuine friendships. The Social Network may push that argument to an extreme, but we could all do a lot worse than learn from Jesus’ example.

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