Facebook face-off

Film review: The Social Network

I’ve just been reading Andrew Marr on the pimply, unhappy and very drunk males who – in his view – make up the blogging community. What I didn’t realize was that this was how Facebook was invented – a drunk, unhappy, inadequate, single guy (Mark Zuckerberg, played with deadpan callousness by Jesse Eisenberg) decided to do some ranting on his blog about his ex-girlfriend, and then set up a website which allowed Harvard students to ‘rate’ female students according to their hotness. Harvard being a place devoted to scholarly inquiry and mature deliberation, Mark No-Mates immediately manages to crash the server with his new site. 

This attracts the attention of magnificent twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the natural children of Arnold Schwarzenegger out of Ivy League. These absolutely beautiful, god-like sons of privilege (did I mention they are remarkably easy on the eye? and there are two of them) want to make their lives just a little bit more privileged by setting up a Harvard dating site. This will be similar to what’s already been going on at Harvard in real life – girls being bussed in to sleep with Harvard guys at exclusive club parties – but online, presumably to save the transport expenses. 

But of course Mark is so much smarter than everyone else in the world (in Mark’s own teeny-tiny world, that is), and he strings the Winklevosses along while creating his own version of their idea. The nice thing about Mark’s teeny-tiny world is that this does not constitute theft or plagiarism – it’s just that he is so much cleverer than everyone else that a really good idea just naturally belongs to him, came out of him, and can’t possibly have been thought of by anyone else. 

Zuckerberg is presented as an utter dork; a nekulturny nebbish who yearns to get into the Phoenix Club at Harvard because he imagines that all his social problems will then be solved. Jealous, childish, spiteful and sneaky, he is obsessed with the idea that if he can just find the magic key, all doors will open to him; that the loss of his girlfriend and lack of social ability is someone else’s problem, and that other people out there will fix it for him. He’s just as trapped in his own ideas of privilege as the Winklevoss twins, but with not a single grain of insight to slow him down. 

But the standout performance in this film is Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker. Unlike the real Sean Parker, who looks like Art Garfunkel, the movie version looks like a young Joaquin Phoenix, and plays the part of Mephistopheles in Zuckerberg’s increasingly Faustian story. When he and Mark meet, it’s true love. Parker is brilliant, but also a consummate liar, paranoid, elusive, delusional, and obsessed with projecting an image of drug-addled hipsterism that is simply not there in real life – the part at the end where the police frisk him but find nothing but his asthma inhaler and epi-pen should really have appeared in TV series The Big Bang

What’s the story out in the real world? Zuckerberg is not pleased with his portrayal in this film, which should come as a surprise to no-one. On the other hand, the Winklevosses say that The Social Network is spot-on, even though they also maintain that they had nothing to do with its making, what with having received a hefty payout in return for a non-disclosure agreement. What makes this more convincing is that the Winklevosses don’t come out of this film looking all that bright either – one of the funniest scenes in the movie, when they go to see the Harvard president, is worthy of the Coen brothers. 

If Zuckerberg is the person he is presented as in this film – a man with no respect for anyone’s privacy or boundaries; who does not listen; who is convinced of his own superiority to the rest of humanity because he can write programming code; who is such a textbook case of the negative symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome that there should be disability groups picketing the theatres and demanding the film’s withdrawal – then yes, Facebook does make sense. Facebook is a world where you can ‘interact’ with people without communicating with them in real life. It is a world without consequences, without privacy, and where everything you want to know about a person is available to you, as long as you’re their ‘friend’, without the embarrassing part where you have to ask them things. 

And that was what Mark Zuckerberg seems to have wanted above all else – a short cut; an easy way to the social network he has been unable to establish in reality because he struggled under a distorted understanding of what human relationships actually involve. Zuckerberg can’t get friendship right, so it’s no surprise he’s a dud with chicks: I don’t need to say anything about the portrayal of women in this movie, either, because anyone with half a brain can work it out for themselves by watching it. What Zuckerberg thinks is the normal course of a human relationship is actually just that ol’ devil called power, and stories like that have a way of ending very badly.

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