A Citizen Kane for the start-up generation, The Social Network explores the complex psyche of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man who is burdened by a genius that would bring him outlandish wealth – but not the love that he craved.
Aaron Sorkin’s script, which is based on an early, 14-page outline of Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Billionaires, flits between the dingy dorm room in which 19-year-old Zuckerberg created the site and the courtrooms where Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) are suing him – separately – for a portion of the spoils of the most successful tech company in the world.
Sorkin and director David Fincher shut themselves in a room for days to calculate the pace and tone of the film, finding their way around what Fincher described as ‘[an] absolute total tonnage of words.’ Normally, each page of a screenplay lasts one minute on-screen. 162 pages were written for The Social Network, and the lines were delivered at such pace that the film clocks in at just two hours.
This material is the perfect fit for Sorkin’s fast-talking style, and he homes in with astonishing clarity on what might make Zuckerberg – surely one of the 21st century’s greatest ciphers – tick.
Mezrich had spoken to Saverin and the Winklevoss twins, but never to Zuckerberg, and largely avoided describing him for this reason. So the version of him shown in the film was invented almost whole cloth by the film-makers. As Sorkin told New York magazine in 2010, ‘I don’t want my fidelity to be the truth; I want it to be storytelling.’
Eisenberg and Sorkin paint Zuckerberg as a lonely man at the edge of things, a genius who holds himself above his peers while also desperately craving their acceptance. At Harvard, he is rejected by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) – an invention for the film – and from the social circles that he believes will give him access to a better life. This jealous, angry young man then loops in his small group of friends and creates a site with one goal only: to reproduce the college experience online.
Perhaps back in 2010 this characterisation of Zuckerberg seemed a little mean-spirited – after he and Eisenberg finally met, on the Saturday Night Live stage no less, Eisenberg described him as ‘sweet and generous’. But now, more than a decade later, when it appears that the social-media giants exist merely to farm their users for data, this view seems rather naive.
There’s certainly more to be said. As Sorkin told Associated Press, ‘I knew a lot more about Facebook in 2005 than I do in 2018, but I know enough to know that there should be a sequel. A lot of very interesting, dramatic stuff has happened since the movie ends.’