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Film Review

The Social Network

No matter what the truth about William Randolph Hearst's life, Citizen Kane forever defined him. And The Social Network will forever define Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, and show us the astonishing similarities between the film versions of the two men. Aaron Sorkin (West Wing and Charlie Wilson's War) has written and David Fincher (Zodiac and Curious Case of Benjamin Button) directs this amazing, high speed story about genius, creation, loneliness, and betrayal. The story is taken largely from the book, The Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mazrich, but Sorkin did additional research. His rewrite and dialogue are inspired.

Zuckerberg, a brilliant computer science student at Harvard in 2003, is brilliantly played by Jesse Eisenberg, familiar from The Squid and the Whale. Zuckerberg is portrayed as a computer genius, but anti-social, cold, arrogant, lonely, and willing to betray anyone to have it all. His closest, and in fact, only friend, is Eduardo Saverin, a fellow student who helps Zuckerberg with his creation. Saverin, very well played by Andrew Garfield, is enlisted by Zuckerberg at the very beginning to be his business manager and given a 30% share of what ultimately becomes Facebook, now a 25 billion (!!) dollar business with 500 million subscribers (!!). Zuckerberg is first shown on a date with his girl friend, Erica, played by Rooney Mara (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). He relentlessly demeans her, and she says that "dating you is like dating a Stair Master". She refuses to put up with his putdowns, calls him an "asshole", and leaves. Their dialogue is so fast paced that it isn't easy to follow, and this sets the rhythm for the rest of the film, which can only be called frenzied. Zuckerberg is hurt and angry, retreats to his room for online revenge, and blogs nasty things about her. He hacks into Harvard's student data base, then sets up a program to rate coeds, which becomes wildly popular. Meanwhile, his exploits have attracted the attention of two smart rowing crew members and their friend who have an interesting idea. They want to create a program that Harvard students can use to connect with one another online. They try to enlist Zuckerberg in their effort, Zuckerberg agrees, but stalls for time while he perfects his own system, taking their ideas. Weeks later, when the three discover what Zuckerberg has done, they are outraged but determined to use Harvard's honor code to remedy Zuckerberg's theft of their ideas. They end up in a riveting session with Harvard's then president, Lawrence Summers, who is depicted as arrogant, cynical, and uncaring. The boys are stunned and finally decide to sue.

The film proceeds on two parallel tracks: the events as they unfold, and the retelling, through depositions, in conference rooms. The questioning is brutal, but Zuckerberg is barely engaged and condescending. It soon becomes clear that he was willing to do anything for his vision of his system, which he had named The Facebook. Enter the creator of Napster, Sean Parker (in a great performance by Justin Timberlake), which has been sued out of existence by the record companies. He is also a brilliant entrepreneur, but with a drug problem, and in a memorable scene in a Japanese restaurant, tells Zuckerberg that "a million dollars isn't cool. What's cool is a billion". Zuckerberg is captivated and soon invites him into the firm, with some predictable results, including a betrayal, that in many ways, is at the heart of the film.

The party scenes at Harvard are really over the top, filled with drugs and sex, but probably realistic. Here women are looked at (literally and figuratively) as ornaments. Zuckerberg was desperate to be accepted, and jealous that others were selected for "final clubs", those elite organizations as desired as fraternities. He could never understand that he was his own worst enemy. And in the film, as Facebook grew, he became even colder and more alienated, just as in Orson Well's portrayal of Hearst. Although Zuckerberg seems to be a monster, his craving for acceptance is poignant. The last scene is sad and memorable, underscoring the powerful irony of a lonely, friendless person creating a revolutionary system for communication among friends. Fincher has made a fantastic film here, with a pace that never lets up, with constant tension and excitement. The dialogue is the most complex that I have ever heard, but always clever and riveting. The acting could not be better, and the cinematography outstanding as well. For me, The Social Network is nearly a perfect film, and should sweep the Oscars. Don't miss this on the big screen. Just opened at the Vogue and the Kabuki.

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