Sometimes bad ideas make for good movies. Such is the case with The Social Network (2010), which had me rolling my eyes when I first heard about it. Of course, it helps if you have Aaron Sorkin writing and David Fincher directing: this one is a fascinating, if rather depressing, look at the birth of the 900-pound gorilla of social media websites.
It’s the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a misanthropic Harvard student with mad computer skills. In a post-breakup, drunken frenzy, Zuckerberg spontaneously sets up a misogynistic website, posting photos of girls hacked from various sororities. This gets him noticed by a trio of wealthy students looking to set up an exclusive Harvard social site; they hire Zuckerberg to program it. But Zuckerberg sees a bigger opportunity, and brings in his best and only friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), to finance his idea: The Facebook, the earliest incarnation of today’s social media giant. The genesis of Facebook leads to contentious litigation from his Harvard employers, who feel their idea has been stolen. But when Zuckerberg and Saverin reach different conclusions about which direction to take their project, the legal situation gets even more thorny and combative.
Powered by Sorkin’s clever, rapid-fire dialogue and Fincher’s striking direction, The Social Network is a much better film than it has any right to be: a story of greed, jealousy, business, class divides, and broken trust. It’s truly a bleak glimpse into the high-rolling business culture powering our lopsided economy, which hit me all the harder in light of the current, tangled political climate. Even as it filled me with disgust at its injustices, I found it an engrossing character piece, superbly played by Eisenberg and Garfield and well produced on every level.