"The only people on earth who understand the brilliant simplicity of the idea are under 21 years old."

The Social Network

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            The writer is Aaron Sorkin; the director is David Fincher; and that should tell you to expect a very good movie. That is exactly what you will get. The Social Network is a searing study of the arrogance and success of the company that sprouted and grew in the mind of a kid in Harvard Square. Is Facebook a contribution to progress or an unnecessary frivolity? With a company valuation of 25 billion dollars and a membership of 500 million, it no longer seems frivolous.
            As the movie opens, Mark Zuckerberg is a Harvard sophomore and a computer genius. He is also a socially maladroit outsider who wants to be in but fails to see that his own arrogance is his undoing among his peers. In the fall of 2003, it occurs to Zuckerberg that he could post online pictures of Harvard girls and encourage beer soaked students to rate their looks. He calls it Face Mash. It catches, it soars, and it gives outsider Zuckerberg a gift far more important to him than money: the power of exclusion. Only those with a <harvard.edu> address can access his site. But then he quickly realizes he can "take the entire social experience of college and put it on line."

            The crucial piece to that puzzle is to get there first. He accepts as partners his friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) and two members of the varsity crew who were sniffing around the same concept. Zuckerberg absorbs their ideas and cuts them out. When the rowers complain of the theft to Larry Summers, the Harvard president tells them to get lost. The only people on earth who understand the brilliant simplicity of the idea are under twenty-one years old.

            Surely one of the entertaining aspects of the computer revolution is watching lawyers, bankers, and professors stare blankly as students make millions. But suddenly these kids run into the big life decisions of honor, ethics, and morals in the face of their enormous gains. Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) of Napster is presented as a weasel; Andrew Garfield is excellent as Zuckerberg's loyal, abandoned partner, CFO, and man with a conscience; Zuckerberg himself seems to have no moral compass at all. In a superb performance, Jesse Eisenberg literally inhabits the arrogant game changer who can't understand why his obsessive knowledge about everything is so offensive to those who suffer it. His principled girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) - in a story where all women are objects - says as she breaks up with him: "I'm exhausted; dating you is like dating a Stairmaster." Aaron Sorkin's crackling dialogue is a gift to them all.

            Director Fincher devises an inspired structure by alternating scenes of lawsuit depositions (of those pesky fellows left as Zuckerberg road kill) with flashbacks of what led to the testimony. This is a remarkable movie that asks the classically chilling question: when there is enough for everyone, does big money always lead to betrayal, theft, and self-delusion? Apparently so.

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