The Social Network

Posted on January 10, 2011 at 8:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations and charges of betrayal
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: October 1, 2010
Date Released to DVD: January 11, 2011 ASIN: B0034G4P7G

Change is not polite. The bigger the change, the more likely that it is messy and painful and ugly. Even its beginnings are often disturbingly uninspired and uninspiring. Despite what Hollywood and history books tell us, change is less often sparked by a passion for justice or a vision of a better world. More often, even the most beneficial change is inspired by ambition, competition, revenge, spite, wanting to seem cool, or the most frequently compelling reason of all — some romantic companionship or a reasonable approximation thereof or at least to appear cool in front of whichever gender you are hoping to attract.
And it is change that is the subject of this movie. Don’t call it “The Facebook Movie.” It’s about a small group of college students who almost accidentally create a product that almost accidentally becomes a phenomenon. As screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has said repeatedly in interviews, it could just as well have been the invention of a toaster that he was writing about. Sorkin, whose past work includes “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The West Wing,” and a Broadway play about the invention of television, uses the origin of Facebook as a way to engage with classic themes of loyalty, innovation, greed, class, and the challenges of relationships of all kinds.
In a meta-touch, the movie’s shifting points of view effectively crowd-source the storyline and its own willingness to bend the facts acknowledges that there is no one way to tell the story. However, even with the inevitable scenes of pale dudes staring intently into computer screens while they furiously bang away at the keyboards, the story is grounded in the same emotions depicted in ancient Greek drama — ambition, rebellion, anger, betrayal. It depicts the contrast between the arrogant brash and very young upstart who starts a spite project because he can’t be accepted by girls or clubs and the arrogant smug club members who assume that all they need to do is cite the school handbook to the university president (probably once brash, now smug, perpetually arrogant). Is there an underdog in all of this that we’re supposed to root for?
No one is better at writing dialogue for smart people than Sorkin. In the opening scene Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg of “Zombieland” and “The Squid and the Whale”) and his girlfriend are on a date. They have a blisteringly fast exchange about status that shows he has some issues when it comes to navigating contact with other humans. She dumps him. Frustrated, bitter, and a little drunk, he goes back to his dorm room and impulsively does two small things that will have seismic consequences. In olden days, someone in that situation might go back to the dorm and trash the now-ex to his friends. But this was 2002, so instead he wrote something nasty about her on his blog. And then he decided to create a mean “hot or not” website by posting student directory photos online. This gets him into trouble with the school. And it brings him to the attention of three upperclassmen, in both senses of the word. They have the dazzlingly casual arrogance of members of the most exclusive of the final clubs. Two of them are gigantic twins who are on the Olympic crew team and look like they walked out of a J.C. Leyendecker ad for Arrow shirts.
They ask Zuckerberg to do the programming for a website that will post and connect all of the students at the school. He brings on his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield of “Never Let Me Go” and the upcoming Spider-Man reboot), as chief financial officer — meaning that he provides the initial $1000 in start-up money.
A few months later, “” is up and running and growing exponentially. Zuckerberg combined the appeal of a blog (students can express their feelings or describe their activities) and the connectivity of a computer network. When a classmate awkwardly asks Zuckerberg whether a girl in their class is dating anyone, Zuckerberg adds a function to the site that lets participants state their availability and interest.
There is change that comes because people want something. And then there is the more profound change that comes about because of something people didn’t even know they wanted. Facebook did not exist ten years ago. Today it has more than 500 million members around the world.
Zuckerberg meets Napster co-founder Sean Parker (a seductive Justin Timberlake), who entices him with a combination of glamour and venture capital. He plays the role in this movie that Lampwick does in “Pinnochio;” taking him to the fun place that turns little boys into donkeys. But he is right about some important decisions, including dropping the “the” and raising money from backers rather than advertisers. And it turns out there are two ways to become a cool guy; you can be accepted by the guys who are cool or you can be the one to redefine what cool is.
But who created Facebook? Zuckerberg is sued by the upperclassmen, who never participated after proposing the initial idea and by Saverin, who is pushed out after Parker comes on board. The movie allows us to make up our own mind. And then it ends with a reminder that even an enormous innovation in making human connections cannot substitute for the real thing.
The performances are all top-notch. Eisenberg is superb, playing not the real Mark Zuckerberg but the character created by Sorkin, hyper-alert and obtuse, his voice both taut and tremulous. Armie Hammer is outstanding as both of the towering twin brothers and Rooney Mara (soon to play Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) makes a strong impression in her brief appearance as the girl who starts the whole thing by dumping Zuckerberg. Sorkin perfectly captures the cadences of the Harvard community, including a gem of a cameo by Douglas Urbanski as Harvard president Larry Summers. Director David Fincher minimizes the scenes of people staring intently at computer screens while madly banging away on a keyboard to keep this movie about the power, the lure, the fragility, and the importance of the social network of the analog world. It might inspire the next Facebook, but it is more likely to inspire people to log off.

Parents should know that this movie includes college-style behavior including sexual references, some crude, and non-explicit situations, strong language, and drug and alcohol use.
Family discussion: Who “invented” Facebook? What made it so popular?
If you like this, try: the documentaries “Catfish” and “” — and listen to this interview from Creative Screenwriting with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin about his work on the film.

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12 Replies to “The Social Network”

  1. I went into this with high expectations, as a Fincher fan, a Sorkin fan and a Facebook fan. It did not disappoint for a second. Definitely among the best films I’ve seen in a cinema this year, along with Inception, Toy Story 3 and Tomorrow When the War Began.

  2. I saw the movie this weekend. It was terrific. Armie Hammer’s portrayal of the wealthy twin brothers was sympathetic and realistic, when they could have easily been played as boilerplate yuppie/rich kids. And Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg were simply superb. Justin Timberlake was good, too. This is definitely going to be an Oscar-contender this year.

  3. We too liked the movie. I was troubled though that the jumping off point was a breakup, when my understanding is that isn’t true. Esp since they came back to it at the end of the movie. It’s my understanding that Zuckerberg started dating someone around that time who he’s engaged to now.
    Of course, I know and expect many things need to be defined in a way that moves the story forward in an appealing way, but I am concerned about the jumping off point being antithetical to real life.
    Does anyone else have this concern (about this movie and movies in general)?

  4. Hi, Connie! The events of the opening scenes are documented and undisputed — he did respond to a break-up by writing a bitter and nasty blog post and then creating “facemash.”
    But you are right that the struggle to be true to the facts, fair to the real people, and compelling to the audience is never an easy one.

  5. I’m one of those rare birds who is not a fan of Facebook, and I couldn’t care less who screwed whom out of billions of dollars in the real life version of Zuckerberg’s life. That said, I did enjoy the movie for its quality acting and entertainment value, and for the fact that it was a refreshing change from the usual movie fare. Definitely worth renting.

  6. Thanks, Shary! This is not a movie about Facebook — it’s a movie about people and about loyalty, ambition, betrayal, and imagination, and that’s what makes it so fascinating.

  7. Hi Nell. I disagree with your comment that the movie isn’t about Facebook. Indirectly, it is very much about Facebook, its inception, its evolution and the phenomenon it has become. Look at it this way: If there were no Facebook, there would be no fascinating story of betrayal and greed; there would be no movie because nobody makes a movie about the invention of a toaster; and Zuckerberg would be just another anonymous geek working at Micro Center instead of the billionaire he has become.

  8. I hear you, Shary, but it’s a movie about Facebook the same way “Rocky” is a movie about boxing — both are just the mechanism and the metaphor for the underlying human story.

  9. Can anyone tell me what Nell rated this movie? (I’m guessing “A”) I cannot find her rating, or her recommended age for seeing it, anywhere. My daughter is wanting to see it, as am I, but I always check with Nell before letting my kids see a film. Wish I could find her rating…

  10. Thanks for letting me know about the formatting error — I’ll have the tech folks look into it right away, Mr. Linson. I did give the movie an A- and recommend it for high school and up. As noted in the review, the movie includes college-style behavior including sexual references, some crude, and non-explicit situations, strong language, and drug and alcohol use.

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