As a devotee of the landmark American serial drama The West Wing which ran for 7 years and focused on the day to day activities of the Oval Office and the loyal support staff who serve at the pleasure of fictional President Josiah Bartlet played effortlessly by the ever charismatic Martin Sheen, when I learnt that the show’s creator and chief writer Aaron Sorkin had adapted Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires which charted the founding of the now ubiquitous social website Facebook, despite my scepticism of the cinematic scope of the subject matter I knew that the quality of Sorkin’s writing would make this compelling viewing.
The opening scene of The Social Network is textbook Sorkin, fast-paced, exceptionally literate dialogue punctuated with witty barbs leading to an increasing amount of tension as the disquieting banter between cerebral computer geek Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) ends with her dumping him and delivering the shattering coup de grace “You’ll go through life thinking girls hate you because you’re a geek, but it’ll be because you’re an asshole!”. If nothing else the rest of the movie is an examination of whether Zuckerberg is actually an asshole or if his dubious actions are the direct result of a massive inferiority complex.
True to the book the film is preoccupied with the explosion of the social networking phenomenon which was born in the college campuses of America and spread around the world like wildfire at the turn of the millennium. Whilst at Harvard Mark Zuckerberg manages to crash the network in 4 hours by creating the Facemash website which hacked into all the college databases raiding pictures of the female fraternally, randomly pitting two of them against each other asking the visitor to determine which was “hotter”. This notoriety lead him to be approached by two Varsity rowing athletes, the twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss through the marvels of digital technology both played by Armie Hammer, asking him to program the code for their website idea the Harvard Connection which took the principle of MySpace but added the exclusivity of requiring an @harvard.edu email address to sign up. Zuckerberg agrees to help and then stalls them indefinitely whilst he rushes to launch his own take on the concept, the fledgling version of Facebook.
The Winklevoss twins provide a lot of the movie’s trademark Sorkin humour as they deliberate between themselves whether it’s sportsmanlike behaviour for two gentleman of Harvard to take Zuckerberg to court. Facebook is taken up nationally by the big college campuses, including Stanford which brings it to the attention of Napster founder Sean Parker an impressive star turn by Justin Timberlake, who decides he wants a piece of the action and seduces Zuckerberg to relocate to California providing the movie’s second act, should Mark let ambition overtake his loyalty to his best friend and founding partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) who so far has invested $19,000 in setting up the site. Whilst at the Henley Regatta the Winklevoss twins learn that Facebook is now being used by Oxbridge students and this last straw determines them to proceed with litigation.
The Social Network as with all of Sorkin’s work is ultimately a rather theatrical talk piece but despite that director David Fincher, who elected to shoot on HD video as opposed to celluloid, has crafted a taut and visually impressive feature which manages to grip the audience right from the start. When it was first released there were comparisons drawn to Orson Welles’ classic Citizen Kane largely due to the similarities between print and online media monopolisation and the notion of selling one’s soul in order to prosper. The problem is, unlike Charles Foster Kane, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t depicted as the out and out villain of the piece and if the script has one serious flaw it’s that it lacks a clearly defined antagonist, however as a character study and an essay on the frailty of the human condition it scores highly.
As it was shot in HD it looks superb on Blu-ray and the picture is crisp and vibrant in full 1080p. The incredibly clear DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack ensures you never miss a word of Sorkin’s famously fast-paced dialogue and showcases the original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The exclusive extras include a feature-length making of documentary entitled “How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?” sporting in-depth interviews with all the key personnel. I would challenge anybody to try and claim after seeing this film that celluloid is superior to digital processing when playing back on high definition equipment.
The beautiful irony of The Social Network is that the man who created Facebook appears to have lost his only friend battling over its financial success. In the final scene after Zuckerberg has been ordered to award the Winklevoss twins $65 million compensation his junior council concludes “You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be one.” leaving him alone with his laptop, in desperation he sends a request to ex-girlfriend Erica Albright hoping she’ll accept him as a friend, he sits there repeatedly hitting the refresh key. Final Curtain.