The Social Network breaks from tradition of nerds in cinema
From Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles to McLovin, Hollywood loves nerds. Typically, nerds in movies are portrayed as people who have been wrongly rejected by their school society, but are really great human beings underneath their acne, glasses and knowledge of all things Star Trek. The Social Network is different in that billionaire nerd and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (played to perfection by Jesse Eisenberg) seems to be a social outcast for a very good reason: he’s a jerk.
The opening scene perfectly sets up the film. Zuckerberg’s girlfriend (Rooney Mara) delivers a breakup speech saying that he may believe people don’t like him because he’s a computer nerd, but in fact, people don’t like him because he’s an asshole. This sentence rings true as we watch him dupe wealthy, handsome twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) into believing he’s creating their social networking site, Harvard Connection, while he’s actually taking their idea and expanding it into the site we all know and love, Facebook. While screwing a couple of entitled future Olympians might not be so bad, we see how deceitful Zuckerberg can be as he teams up with sleazy Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) and ousts his former best friend and true Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) out of the growing company.
While the true story of the social networking giant is incredibly intriguing, what struck me most is the way this film completely flips the typical geek rags-to-riches story. The movie could be about a brilliant nerd who outsmarts the exclusive elite and becomes the world’s youngest billionaire, living proof of the American Dream. Instead, we are given a hero that is truly unlikeable and our sympathies lie unexpectedly with the privileged Harvard kids that Zuckerberg swindles along his path to fame and fortune. Usually it’s the opposite: everybody is The Geek, but no one is Jake Ryan.
Getting completely wrapped up in a story is a testament to good actors and there are definitely some outstanding performances in The Social Network. Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as an intellectual who alienates his friends and colleagues by talking down to them and believing he is always the smartest person in the room. There are times when you despise him, when you feel sorry for him, and even a few where you appreciate his quick humor. Hammer’s Winklevoss twins are the snooty rich kids you’d normally loathe, but he brings a certain vulnerability that makes them more than just upper-crust caricatures. It’s hard to get an audience to hate Timberlake, but he manages to play Parker with the perfect level of Hollywood douchebaggery normally reserved for the cast of Entourage.
The standout is Garfield, who is the true hero of the film. He is the one who takes audiences on an emotional journey. We’re with him from his initial excitement at creating a site that takes off like a runaway train to his pain when his former best friend betrays him. Though Zuckerberg is the subject, we see the world through Saverin’s eyes and Garfield does an amazing job of bringing us there.
Inevitably, the film carries with it a bias against Zuckerberg and paints him less as a shrewd businessman and more as a deceitful know-it-all. Saverin consulted on the original source material, author Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal, so it can only be assumed that the film would side with him. Still, Facebook has been riddled with controversy since it’s infancy and the story certainly makes you think twice about Zuckerberg’s motives and methods in building the site.
I joined Facebook in it’s early days in 2004 and seeing The Social Network made me wonder if I was part of the problem, part of the masses who gave Zuckerberg his possibly undeserved power. Still, I just can’t not use the social networking site. In that sense, Zuckerberg is like a drug dealer who makes a profit off the addiction of his customers, but we don’t care because we just can’t live without that sweet sweet Facebook.