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I can be pretty confident in saying that The Social Network is one of the best movies of the year. Virtually everything here from cast to music to David Fincher’s unusually restrained directing not only works but sings.

The film is about Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his circle of associates, partners, and possible victims (but never friends) as he creates and then ruthlessly maintains what will become the biggest social networking site in the world and the launching pad of a truly global-culture phenomenon.

While the film avoids picking sides over who really created Facebook, we are made to understand Zuckerberg’s motives in first resisting the people who want their cut and then finally his decision to pay them off. Of course, the reality probably wasn’t as cut and dried as it is in the film (a lawyer advises him to pay them, saying it’ll be like a speeding ticket in the long run), we get the point that Zuckerberg doesn’t really need to be fighting these people when he can just make them go away like he intended to in the first place. And really, the guy is protecting something only he seems to properly understand, or at least has the patience to try to understand, without molding it into something else.

He gets rid of Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) because he never manages to get past his conventional economics model of what Facebook should be. Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) gets it, but he’s a liability on a personal level due to his irresponsible rockstar behavior and narcissistic paranoia. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t have these weaknesses, he doesn’t care about money or economics or about being famous. At first he seemed to care about getting laid and being popular, but really what he desires is connectivity, to be part of a community larger than himself. Only he has some serious social shortcomings and personality issues but because he’s a guy with a big ego and a big mind, he creates his own community and it becomes the biggest one around.

I’m sure the real Mark Zuckerberg was never as cut off and lonely as he is presented in the film, but for dramatic reasons there has to be some kind of theme and the one Aaron Sorkin settled on was the irony of being the creator and paying the price of creation, which in Zuckerberg’s case is the loneliness and isolation of having to cull everyone close to him and therefore close to his baby. Zuckerberg is thus shaped as tragic; he’s a hero for some reasons and a villain for others, but ultimately he’s still the guy who is refreshing his ex-girlfriend’s profile every few seconds to see what she’s up to and whether she’ll accept his friend request.

In watching the film, I tried to find some evidence of an old-timer’s agenda. I believed that the movie would make some high-handed statement about the effect that Facebook has had on the quality of human interaction. Thankfully Sorkin was smart enough to avoid this because it would have sunk the movie for me, all the great performances and brilliant story structure be damned. I don’t want to hear old people talk about how it was in their day and warning us against the dangers of our newfangled paradigms. And I doubt most people in my age group and more specifically of my persuasion would either.

The Social Network is a movie for the youth. It’s about us, it’s of us, and it takes our perspective in a way that few films trying to do so ever manage. Even though Parker is a bit of a scumbag, some of the stuff he said to Zuckerberg in the film rang true. Institutions are naturally conservative and will try to subvert the truly new into maintaining rather than changing the status quo. There is definitely room for debate on whether or not Facebook has been co-opted, but Mark Zuckerberg’s heroism, if we can agree that he has some, is in his staunch refusal to dilute the purity of his intentions with what he has created.

It’s difficult to talk about this movie without referring to the reality of things, but I’m not sure it should be attempted to just review the movie in itself. It is, after all,  about something that is happening right now even if the events depicted are a few years in the past. In addition, Facebook isn’t some far away war or culturally specific event for a different time or place. It’s global and it’s something nearly everyone who will see this film contributes to and is part of. That is the world that Zuckerberg and co. have created. What does he care about how the film portrays him when there are people in the audience checking their Facebook on their cell phones? The guy just plain won.

If it sounds like I admire him a bit, that isn’t something I’m trying to hide. I do admire Mark Zuckerberg. Not only because he’s accomplished something so massive at such a young age, but because I am sympathetic to his philosophy about privacy and honesty. He really believes that the world would be a better place if people were more open, and so do I. The film doesn’t dwell on this because it would probably seem naive of him, but it’s got more to do with what Facebook is than trying to be in everybody’s business because he felt left out of the college experience.

Anyway, enough about the themes and real world implications. There are performances and characterizations to praise!

First of all, this is the film where Jesse Eisenberg will shrug off the weird “He’s JUST LIKE MICHAEL CERA!” persona that is sometimes attributed to him. This attitude comes from seeing him in his two more mainstream movies (Zombieland and Adventureland) and missing his excellent earlier work in The Squid and the Whale, The Hunting Party, and stuff I’m sure I haven’t seen. He’s endlessly watchable in this film, and his scathing rapid-fire speech is extremely quotable. He demonstrates a wit and “fuck you, authority” attitude that most twenty-somethings are going to admire. He is also like an avatar of all nerdkind. In terms of the performance itself, you might say it’s powerfully restrained. Eisenberg is able to get a lot across with barely any expression and it’s quite a feat.

Andrew Garfield is an actor I like, if you couldn’t tell by my Spider-man commentary. For a lot of people, this is going to be their first experience of him and I think it will add some confidence to Marc Webb’s upcoming Spidey reboot that it deserves. After Easy A, Emma Stone being cast as Gwen Stacy is like the second punch in that combination. Anyway, in this film, Eduardo is kind of the heart. He’s a nice guy and he genuinely cares about Zuckerberg in spite of his faults. He gets the heartbreaking lines, but he also gets to be funny. I’m used to seeing Garfield more subdued, especially in the excellent Boy A. Here he brings some much needed likability to the proceedings, enough that you really hate Mark Zuckerberg for fucking him over so hard.

Justin Timberlake has already proven himself as a capable actor and it’s awesome that he keeps showing up in solid roles that tend to be supporting. Of course, he is going to be in Yogi Bear right away but that $$$ kids’ movie bullshit happens with the best of ’em.

Sean Parker made Napster and almost single-handedly changed how people interact with the music industry. I think Parker’s a bit of a cultural hero too, but I think history is judging him far harsher than Zuckerberg. In another movie, Parker would be a far older guy as he is in the kind of mentor role that reminds me of Wall Street with its Gordan Gekko/Bud Fox dynamic. This is The Social Network though and Parker’s barely older than Zuckerberg. The mentoring is still there, and it turns out that Parker’s philosophy and grasp of the changing dynamics of the post-internet world are in tune with Zuckerberg’s. Right from his introduction, you can see that Timberlake is having fun playing this guy and that probably has a lot to do with his own personal stake in what Napster cost the industry. Even though I may disagree about Parker, it’s hard to knock the performance which is as slimy and awesome as you never thought a silver spoon boy bander like Timberlake could pull off.

Other performances were seamless but a special shout out has to be done for the unlikely named Armie Hammer. He plays the Winklevoss twins, yes both of them. And unless you know already, you’ll believe it’s two guys. It’s an old trick but I’ve rarely seen it work this well. The performance itself is great, as Hammer gets to play two fun characters who are as similar as they are different and bounce off of each other in unexpectedly hilarious ways. I’m thinking of the scene where they talk to the head of Harvard in particular. Some great delivery there, Mr. Hammer. Good job, hope to see you again soon.

One of the most interesting elements of the film is its narrative structure, and this is probably what makes it work so well without following the tired, awful 3-act structure of most movies of this type. Deftly handled, the film is told through the two major depositions against Zuckerberg, one from the Winklevoss twins and their friend and one from Eduardo Saverin. In the midst of these courtroom style scenes, which give us an angry and electrifying Eisenberg, the genesis of Facebook is recounted. In one particularly great exchange, Eisenberg lets a lawyer have it and though he’s playing into his hands a bit, the snarky but witty retorts leveled at the lawyer are some of the best in the film.

Somehow, a film that is 99% dialogue feels like it has some incredible momentum and even menace. It’s almost a thriller, and you kind of feel like a lot more is at stake than a few million dollars from a billionaire. Some people will think this is pretentious, that the filmmakers really do think that Zuckerberg’s lawsuits are a BIG OLD DEAL. The thing is, on the one hand there is fun being poked at these kids and their sense of entitlement. On the other, the origins of Facebook are massively important. Not only because it’s something so many people use, but also because of what Facebook represents and implies about our future. Zuckerberg changed the world and has potentially started an avalanche of change that will reverberate for years.

In the landscape of film, The Social Network has a small echo of that power. It will certainly change the lives of the young actors involved. It will certainly prove influential on the cultural discussion of Facebook. A lot of people will ignorantly base their disposition toward these events and these people on the film version as opposed to facts which are readily available. It may even reduce some of the negativity surrounding Mark Zuckerberg, which may seem counter-intuitive but the film humanizes him and makes the point that the guy doesn’t care about money. He isn’t sharing our information for profit, that’s incidental… so why has he done these things that blatantly disregard our precious sense of privacy? The film, and a bit of research into the guy, offer another explanation.

I wanted to end this review by making some clever joke or reference about Facebook. Oh well.

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