If you search for Mark Zuckerberg’s profile on Faccebook, one of his listed favourite television shows is The West Wing. Given the unsympathetic treatment that the show’s writer Aaron Sorkin gives Zuckerberg in his screenplay for The Social Network, the Facebook founder’s admiration for Sorkin’s work seems mildly amusing. Perhaps though, even Zuckerberg himself is able to appreciate the fast-paced genius contained within The Social Network’s thoroughly modern morality tale.
I confess that, prior to the film, I knew very little about the origins of one of the largest and most popular social networking sites in the world, and had assumed that its founding was much like the site itself: straightforward. The truth however, is a far more complex mix of questions of intellectual and commercial property, as well of social structures and how one might traverse them. The rapid dialogue and frenetic scene-changes reflect this, switching between (relatively recent) past and present in the course of a sentence. From dorm-rooms to depositions, there is never a dull moment, even when explaining the algorithms used to compare pictures of the girls on campus at Harvard.
Despite the chaos, one constant throughout the film is the character of Mark Zuckerberg himself, played with a sad-puppy-faced determination by Jesse Eisenberg. I counted, he only smiles once in the entire film, and that one smile actually comprises two half-smiles, released from the corner of his mouth only when the going is really good. Brilliantly intelligent yet lacking charm, and with an antisocial attitude verging on a personality disorder, Eisenberg creates a complex character that, despite his visible flaws, one still ends up feeling sorry for. The spiralling success of his creation leaves Zuckerberg behind, as socially isolated as he ever was. Amongst many lessons that one might draw from a film like The Social Network, perhaps the most valuable one is that being the brains behind a site with over 500 million members won’t necessarily make you that many friends.