As I write this (and possibly as you read this), a subtle and slightly nagging urge tugs at my brain and fingers. In lull moments between coherent thoughts, I know all too well that the call of Facebook is ever-present, lurking there invitingly, just a click away. FB lurks more effectively and perhaps insidiously in more peoples’ lives than any other Internet force, reaching around the globe and around the block. And it all began as the prank of Harvard nerd Mark Zuckerberg (played eerily well by Jesse Eisenberg), still stinging from his girlfriend’s rebuff. No doubt, the massive viral success and public reach of Facebook accounts for at least part of the buzz surrounding The Social Network, a film about its idiosyncratic creator, fiendishly well-told by director David (Fight Club) Fincher.
Making what is essentially a nerd’s revenge story cinematic is a considerable challenge, but Fincher pulls it off, working from television writer Aaron Sorkin’s incisive and cleverly structured script. Woven into the chronological back-and-forth, beyond the “aha moments” involving code and marketing ingenuity, is the structure of legal-system intrigue and intellectual-property haggling. Nuts and bolts of the system are stirred into a lively stew of betrayal, ping-ponging lawsuits, and the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle accoutrements—especially when Sean “Napster” Parker, played by Justin Timberlake, enters the picture.
Facebook is an amazing resource, and a personalizable tool for building connections over groups and sub-groups of people we know, people we’d like to know, and people we’re too polite to “unfriend.” It is also a nasty time suck and an addictive distraction. It is both the machinery and the metaphor for fragmentation of consciousness, and the fragmentary thinking and Internet rapaciousness are at the core of Zuckerberg’s invention.
We get that sense from the film’s very first scene—more important than we realize on impact. In that encoded encounter with a girlfriend in a Cambridge bar, we sense Zuckerberg’s strange mix of passion, hyper-hacker intelligence, disconnect from social norms, restless thinking, and blind ambition. He comes off as a half-genius, half-mad cyber-Wizard of Oz, lusting for hits and members rather than dollars. And I can’t wait for the sequel.