The Social Network: Genius, A@#holes, and Genius A#@holes

I remember when Facebook used to annoy me. When I heard my friends talking about it and rolled my eyes, because I thought it was just a college fad that would go the way of Friendster. I didn’t think it’d have any practical application for grown-ups. When I finally succumbed and created a profile, I didn’t expect to utilize it for long. There was too much stuff going on. Too many stupid games, too many applications. It was a mess. Now, of course, I realize how silly that was. Facebook is not only a part of life, but has—for better or worse—changed our lives in the way we communicate, in the way we digest information, and in the way we keep in touch with our friends and families.

However, I never thought I’d see the day when my Facebook status message would read:

Just saw The Social Network, and it was more amazing than she even expected. Also, she’s proud to be on Facebookbecause it really was a great fucking idea.

Yet, that’s exactly what it read the night I saw it. Maybe I’m an a#@hole, but The Social Network inspired me! In addition to that, it was a finely-crafted film.

The Social Network stars the fantastic Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland) as Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who created Facebook. If you’re seeing this movie expecting it to be a factual representation of how Facebook was created, don’t. No film will tell a story like that accurately, because every film needs a point of view, and the second you start telling a story from one person’s point of view, that point of view becomes skewed. The names and dates are correct, of course, but after that all bets are off. A film like this must be seen on its own terms.

I saw the film after opening weekend, because every show I wanted to attend then was sold out. A complaint I heard in early reviews was that the film treats Zuckerberg like a villain. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Zuckerberg I encountered in the film was definitely the hero of the story. He wasn’t “likeable,” but who needs likeable? Instead, he was was sympathetic; a subtle, yet important distinction. You don’t exactly like him, but you understand him. And there are moments in which you like him; moments when Aaron Sorkin gives him brilliant retorts and quips as he deals with lawyers or naysayers. When he says to the guys suing him, “If Facebook was your idea…you would’ve invented Facebook,” you believe that. You’re in his corner, because it’s then that you realize the genius of his idea. Anyone can come up with the idea of a networking site—networking sites had existed before—but genius happens when someone improves on an idea to such an extent that it becomes a separate entity. Thus “Facebook” becoming a verb (ie: I’ll Facebook you when I get home) and part of the popular lexicon.

The performances in the film were solid all around, but special kudos have go to Eisenberg, who plays Mark Zuckerberg as a bit of a sociopath. This isn’t a bad thing. 1 in 10 people on the planet are sociopaths. I’m not talking Dexter-level sociopath, but in Eisenberg’s portrayal, I saw a young man who geniuinely has no idea why people react to him the way they do. He can’t process why people get angry with him, and while for the most part it doesn’t seem to affect him, there are moments when the armor cracks, like when his girlfriend breaks up with him, or when Shawn Parker (played with surprising skill by Justin Timberlake) is overly harsh in dismissing his business partner, and his eyes get moist. He never cries, which I think is very true to character, but you get the sense that he would if he knew how. And you believe it when one of his lawyers tells Mark at the end, “You’re not an a#@hole. You just try so hard to be.” It’s a coping mechanism, the only one he knows. No one understands him, and he doesn’t understand anyone, so being an a#@hole is all he has to help him deal.

Aaron Sorkin’s script is amazing. I’ve missed his dialogue, and this film was like watching The West Wing starring nerds instead of political figures. Between his words and David Fincher’s crisp direction, it was like listening to a great conductor conducting a renowned orchestra. From the opening scene, where we’re dumped smack in the middle of a scene between Zuckerberg and his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara), we’re off at full throttle, watching this couple’s relationship crash and burn within a matter of moments. And speaking as a geek, I found this line of Erica’s really interesting. As she breaks up with Mark, she says:

“You will go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd, but I’m telling you from the bottom of my heart that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an a#@hole.”

How many of us use our geekiness as an excuse, because it’s easier than examining ourselves more deeply? Food for thought.

And this is where I thought the film excelled—making Zuckerberg human. Every film titan needs a Rosebud, and for the Mark Zuckerberg of this film, that Rosebud was a girl named Erica. Did Facebook really come about because Mark got dumped? Was he so jealous of his best friend getting accepted to an exclusive club that he sabotaged his involvement in Facebook? Who cares? What’s important is that this film uses the story of Mark Zuckerberg to examine genius and how it affects both the genius him/herself and the people in the genius’s life. In the case of a movie like The Social Network, emotional truth is more important than factual truth. You want a history lesson? Read a book.

The Social Network is brillilantly written, carefully directed, and blessed with a fine cast. I will be very surprised if this film doesn’t make a strong showing at the Oscars this year.

Teresa Jusino was born the same day Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. She is a freelance writer in New York City who is a regular contributor to websites like ChinaShop Magazine, Pink Raygun, and Newsarama. In addition to her geeky online scribblings, she also writes prose fiction and screenplays. Teresa is the author of a chapbook of short stories called On the Ground Floor, and she is working on a webseries called The Pack, coming in 2011. She is also the last member of WilPower: The Official Wil Wheaton Fan Club. Get Twitterpated with Teresa, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.


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