By Hannah Garner
David Fincher’s buzzing and buzzed-about new film "The Social Network" is truly a film for our generation.
The film follows the rapid boom of Facebook, created by nerd-genius Mark Zuckerberg during his sophomore year at Harvard. And two lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg reveal dishonesties and disloyalties implicated in the site’s launch in 2004. The two legal battles provide the skeleton for Fincher’s epic creation story, beginning with Zuckerberg getting dumped by his girlfriend, and ending with Zuckerberg requesting her friendship on his own Facebook. In the two hours in between, he becomes the world’s youngest lonely billionaire.
The first suit is filed by the Winklevoss twins (enormous New-England-handsome future Olympic rowers played with brilliant humor by Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra. Zuckerberg had been hired by these three “men of Harvard” (as one twin proudly calls them) to design a Harvard social networking site before he abandoned their project to launch his own version of the site.
The second, more sinister, lawsuit is filed by co-founder of Facebook Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield. Saverin was edged out of the company after Zuckerberg left Harvard to set up a Facebook office in California. Under the influence of the reckless and paranoiac Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), Zuckerberg reduced Saverin’s share of the company from 30% to 0.3%, essentially kicking him out.
The movie is not a biopic, but it’s all about Mark. His name is bounced back and forth between business partners and enemies with a Biblical resonance of forewarning. “Mark!…Mark!…Mark!” Eduardo crescendos at the emotional climax of the film, as he stands up to Mark’s disloyalty and wakes him up to his own morbid greed.
Mark, the faux-apathetic, antisocial, anarchic genius, played by Jesse Eisenberg in what will surely become a legendary portrayal, may just be the poster child for our generation of college students and 20-somethings.
Ambitious, insecure, and tech-savvy, he is the next Bill Gates. And for a generation of students headed toward unemployment post-graduation, genius college dropouts like Gates, Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs are the new (impossible) ideal of success. This success story—and the social-clawing that it requires—is a poignant portrayal of our increasingly competitive collegiate and professional environments.
According to "The Social Network," Facebook was inspired by Harvard’s notoriously hierarchical and exclusive final clubs—invitation-only social clubs privileging the rich and powerful. And Mark uses exclusivity as a founding principle for the site, which he in turn creates to get the attention of the final clubs which he dreams of belonging to.
Here is where Sorkin’s brilliant script and Fincher’s thrilling director get the best of them. Haverford and Bryn Mawr students will find the film either completely un-relatable or extremely poignant for the reason that our social structures have little in common with Harvard’s final clubs. But the film’s immaculate cinematography, mise-en-scène, and editing make this fictionalized social-climbing world of spoiled geniuses deviously desirable, even to those of us who’ve renounced the hierarchy and competition traditional to Ivy League-style education. "The Social Network" does for social-climbing, old-boys-club ambition what Fincher’s 1999 Fight Club does for macho violence: it makes it beautiful, and cool.
"The Social Network" is full of power extremes: the most prestigious university in the world, the world’s youngest billionaire, and a fair amount of legal threats like “I will sue you in Federal Court!” The result, I’m slightly embarrassed to say, is that all this misogynistic, conniving, money-making and self-aggrandizement becomes incredibly enticing precisely because it is unrealistically extreme. "The Social Network" left me feeling torn between wanting to be Mark Zuckerberg and wanting to sleep with Mark Zuckerberg. And I suspect I’m not the only person who left the theater feeling surreally detached from our real lives and moral conviction, and completely submerged in this falsified epic of beautifully corrupt young billionaires.
Because no matter how immoral and greedy, when a story is epic (and well-crafted), it becomes desirable. So that Fincher’s "The Social Network" may be our generation’s Wall Street (Oliver Stone’s 1987 film), whose anti-hero Gordon Gekko, the big-bucks-big-balls corporate raider, became an inadvertent hero to young financiers even as the film was meant as a morality tale. Though I can see Fincher trying to articulate a similar caveat against greed and ambition, Facebook and the nerd-hero are two legends-in-the making which overpower "The Social Network"’s efforts at composing a cautionary tale.
To today’s college students who have found themselves caught between the social-climbing maze of ambition and a desperate desire to maintain a sense of freedom and individuality, Mark may become the accidental antisocial nerd-hero of the 2010s.