Hell hath no fury like a nerd scorned.
That’s essentially what you’re left with at the end of The Social Network, a fascinating, speculative depiction of the sort of psyche it might take to build Facebook.
Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin zero in on Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the twentysomething billionaire who turned Facebook into a staggeringly popular online social network. The film opens on Zuckerberg at a Harvard pub, engaged in a rat-a-tat back and forth with a girlfriend who decides, at the end of his exhausting, condescending, insecure rant, to break up with him. It’s clear this guy is a social disaster.
But he’s not a recluse. Eisenberg, in a scarily caffeinated performance, gives Zuckerberg equal doses of neediness and arrogance. He’s smarter than most kids on campus, including the WASP twins (given a comic Aryan glow by Armie Hammer) who plant the seed for Facebook in his head and eventually sue him for stealing the idea.
Yet despite his patronizing attitude, he still wants to be admired by such types. This Zuckerberg has an intricate understanding of social ambition — the desperation with which people want to fit in — precisely because he desires to be included. He wants to connect, but he can’t in person because he’s a hopeless jerk.
The Social Network also suggests it’s this jerkiness that may have been crucial to transforming Facebook into the global company that it is. Along the way, Zuckerberg callously cuts loose various friends and acquaintances — co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), brief mentor and Napster mastermind Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) — as soon as they’re no longer useful to him.
This is all interesting as a contemporary character study, yet The Social Network is hardly a generational statement. It doesn’t make any profound revelations about, well, social networking, nor does it capture the culture that led to its birth (for that, see 2010’s Catfish). The Social Network is a portrait of a genius inventor — expertly dramatized, but narrow in focus.