“The Social Network” is worth making Facebook official

Originally published in the October 8, 2010 issue

When you start a movie with a White Stripes song, it tends to get my attention and high expectations follow. (I won’t go into detail how “Napoleon Dynamite” fooled me with similar pretenses…)

Last Saturday, my date and I barely made it to our seats when “Ball and a Biscuit” began rumbling and the Columbia lady popped up on the screen. The first scene of “The Social Network” immediately set the film’s tone and cleared up any confusion that may have occurred from watching the trailers.

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder/CEO) is a big fat jerk.

The opening scene of “The Social Network” has Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) narcissistically ranting about joining Harvard’s exclusive clubs at rapid fire pace at his then-girlfriend, all while demeaning her intelligence. He is mechanical, unrelenting and completely self-absorbed, and it leads to his girlfriend dumping him and calling him a … well … a big fat jerk.

Thus begins Zuckerberg’s maniacal quest to get recognition. He does it all with relative ease, and his genius never comes into question. After hacking into Harvard’s computer network to create a Hot-or-Not type website, he is approached by some fellow students to program a site to connect every Harvard student with pictures and personal information. Zuckerberg agrees and then doesn’t talk to those guys for a while.

In the meantime, he goes to his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), with an idea for a college social site. Eduardo becomes part of the new company, and invests all the initial startup money. Later on, Zuckerberg produces “The Facebook,” ignores that first project for Harvard students and leaves everyone else in the dust.

The movie weaves in and out of the chronological narrative of the startup of Facebook, and two different trials in which Zuckerberg’s former friends and business partners are suing him.

The film artfully unfolds by telling the story from the perspectives of Zukerberg, Eduardo and the Harvard guys who asked for the original website. Eisenberg plays the prodigy-hacker Zuckerberg with the perfect mix of a little bit of vulnerability and a lot of social personality disorders.

Sometimes I caught myself liking his “stick it to the man” attitude, but then I was quickly reminded that he’s not being rebellious for any good reason other than furthering his little computer empire.

Garfield offers the most dynamic performance as the once-loyal and only real friend of Zuckerberg. Justin Timberlake also excels as the charismatic and wild card personality of Sean Parker, founder of Napster.

The film functions excellently as a character study of the strange habits, motivations and intricacies of friendships and business partners of our time.

The actual soundtrack differs from the widely distributed trailer featuring a choir covering Radiohead’s “Creep,” with an awe-inspiring yet melancholy feel. It differs for good reason – Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails scored the movie with a characteristic industrial-noise background that adds a dark and foreboding undertone throughout the movie.

Fitting soundtrack aside, the whole movie feels wonderfully tense as it goes back and forth with accusations, lies and excuses and leaves the audience grasping for truth. The message of the film is vague enough to force a slight double-take before you actually declare him a jealous and misunderstood tragic hero who just needed to belong.

I was only really disappointed with social commentary that was only hinted at with Timberlake’s character. Instead of examining how Facebook changed business, social networking and the Internet itself, the zeitgeistal shift is overshadowed by a story of ambition and greed. While still valid topics, I cannot get over how this particular big fat jerk conquered our culture to become the CEO of a $25 billion company.

See the movie to understand the history of that little part of your life that you utilize every single day.

GRADE: A-