by Tony Dayoub
Midway through The Social Network, wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) calls his estranged partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) from California to inform him that their new partner, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake)—the smooth creator of Napster—has just succeeded in getting a venture capitalist group to invest half a million dollars in Zuckerberg and Saverin's Facebook. It is a crucial scene loaded with mixed emotions between the two partners. Saverin had just rescinded access to Facebook's $19,000 line of credit after discovering Parker has supplanted him as Zuckerberg's financial idea man; Saverin's clingy girlfriend almost burned down his apartment demanding to know why Saverin hasn't updated his Relationship Status from "single;" and Parker has proven his value by securing meetings with big money men while Saverin was going door-to-door in New York selling advertising to small-fish establishments like a tuxedo rental company. It is the most overt display of the rupture developing between Zuckerberg and Saverin. But for just a moment, Zuckerberg is big enough to congratulate Saverin for their success despite his anger over having the monetary rug pulled out from under him. For just a moment, Saverin is equally gracious even though his instincts tell him he is being shut out from his own company. Party boy Parker is inside their house/office with employees and female hangers-on as he pops open a bottle of champagne. And Zuckerberg is just outside, viewing the celebration through a sliding glass door, privy to—but separated from—the festivities inside.
It is not the first time, director David Fincher (Fight Club) uses a barrier to separate Zuckerberg from the rest of humanity. Throughout the film, we see Zuckerberg keeps running up against barriers both real and imaginary, both forced on him and self-imposed. Whether it's the misogynistic game he invents by hacking onto Harvard's network and stealing female students' photos to allow male students to rate each of them against the other; the intellectual one upmanship he delights in subjecting a girlfriend (Rooney Mara) to before she dumps him; or his perceived physical inadequacies when he compares himself to the bigger, stronger Winklevoss brothers (both played by Armie Hammer) of the rowing crew, it becomes clear the incredibly gifted Zuckerberg is a failure at one thing: connecting to people.
The irony will be lost on no one then that it is this social misfit who comes up with Facebook, a popular website designed to connect people to each other. And though the story of The Social Network looks at first glance to be about Zuckerberg's questionable ethics in developing code for a site whose idea was initially pitched by the dunderheaded "Winklevii," as he likes to call them—it is really about the effects bringing down societal barriers of class, gender, and privacy can have on the human psyche. Increasingly, the film makes clear that too much of Facebook creates an illusion of intimate knowledge where none exists.
As the fast-paced film progresses it becomes clear that these barriers never really come down, they just become frustratingly transparent, allowing those who are "out" to get a look in without ever actually making it "in." Like the crucial sliding glass door I described earlier, the barriers become almost invisible, sneaking up on the characters and the viewer. The Social Network's climax, in which Saverin finally discovers how far out of the loop he is at Facebook just as the company signs up its millionth user, mostly plays out with Saverin and a lawyer behind a closed office with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall which allows us to see, not hear, a loyal old friend get stabbed in the back by Zuckerberg. By the time Saverin comes out and causes a scene, we are witnessing the aftermath, not the incident.
In fact, the only glass partition we do get past is the one in a law office which surrounds the two now-squabbling partners as they are being deposed for a case brought against Zuckerberg by Saverin. With this deposition framing device, writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) cooks up a device which frees him from misrepresenting any of the true events which inspired the screenplay; it allows him to tell the story from multiple points of view using narrators with conflicting motivations which motivate obvious discrepancies between one storyteller and the next. It is an ingenious method for Sorkin to absolve himself from any blame if he errs. But even more significantly, it gets to the point which Fincher is trying to make about Facebook in The Social Network: no matter how much you may think you know about a person, there's always a wall which prevents you from reaching the truth.
The Social Network is the Opening Night film for the 48th New York Film Festival, and is playing at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. tonight, at the Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, 1941 Broadway (at 65th Street), New York, NY 10023.
Director David Fincher will discuss his film as part of the HBO Films Directors' Dialogues series at 11 a.m. tomorrow, at the Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam), upper level, New York, NY 10023.
For more ticket information go online here, or call (212) 875-5050
The Social Network opens nationwide on Friday, October 1st.