Unreliable narrators in films are fascinating because they leave you wondering whether anything that you are seeing is real. The reason why audiences are captivated with yarns strung by characters like this, is that they allow the viewer to decide on his or her own where the truth exists in the story.
“The Social Network,” directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, uses a similar device. Except instead of one untrustworthy character, we are subject to three unreliable perspectives. Each one has their own idea about how the social networking website Facebook was founded. What is so great about this film though, is that each point of view is represented fairly and thoroughly enough to let you decide for yourself what really happened.
The movie opens in 2003 on the campus of Harvard University, where sophomore Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) has just been dumped by his girlfriend. In a fit of anger Mark hacks into Harvard computer systems to create the viral site Facemash, which quickly attracts the attention of the entire campus.
Among those impressed by Mark’s skills are Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss (Armie Hammer), twins who are looking to start a Harvard dating website. They enlist Mark to help with the development of their website, but they quickly find that Mark has no actual interest in their idea.
Mark convinces his friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), to become his partner on a website venture of his own: a social networking site called Facebook, which will set itself apart by its exclusivity to college students. Facebook explodes from the moment it’s revealed to the public, catapulting Zuckerberg into superstardom.
In an effort to find additional capital for his business Zuckerberg seeks the aid of Napster founder Sean Young (Justin Timberlake). Mark’s success and his plans to expand the website are held back though by legal struggles he soon finds himself embroiled in with his co-founder Eduardo Saverin who accuses Mark of locking him out of the company, as well as the Winkelvoss twins, who claim that Mark stole their idea.
Writer Aaron Sorkin’s trademark quick wit and brilliant ability to write dialogue is present in this film, most noticeably in Mark Zuckerberg’s stinging sarcasm toward his critics. Exchanges between the characters in the movie carry the same high energy rhythm of that made Sorkin’s creation “The West Wing” so popular.
While it’s widely acknowledged, that the film is based on Ben Mesrick’s book about Facebook called “The Accidental Billionaires,” Sorkin wrote his screenplay concurrently to when Mesrick wrote his book, doing his own research and interviewing first person sources that witnessed the events depicted in the movie.
Sorkin found that none of the accounts matched up, so he decided to embrace the idea, using court depositions as a chance to dispute the accuracy of various interactions between the characters. The drama created by the depositions effectively drives the plot forward, while casting a shadow of doubt on the events as we witness them from the audience.
As a director, David Fincher’s commanding presence is felt in the strong visual flair this film exudes. It is buttressed by the haunting score created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross which adds a sense of urgency right from the start. Fincher’s careful direction of the actors and his insistence on having them perform up to 80 or 90 takes in some scenes, pays off, allowing him to select from the perfect delivery of dialogue by the central players Armie Hammer, Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, and Andrew Garfield.
Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Mark Zuckerberg is powerful. The frequently shy Eisenberg plays Mark with an uncharacteristic arrogance and swagger. As a person he portrays Mark as someone who can’t relate to others, and since he can’t get them to respect him, he just annihilates his competition so that they fear him. As Zuckerberg’s twisted mentor, Napster founder Sean Young, Justin Timberlake is equally arresting. Timberlake’s paranoid rendition of Young shows that he can play complex characters as well.
Whether or not you know the story behind Facebook is not entirely central to your appreciation of the film “The Social Network”. The themes present in the film of friendship, betrayal, loyalty, and power are as old as our most well known dramas. You can find yourself relating to any of these characters throughout the story. Its combination of David Fincher’s visual prowess, Aaron Sorkin’s well researched screenplay, Ross and Reznor’s exciting score, and the performances of its actors make this film a strong Oscar competitor.