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A (Not-so) Socially-Distant Network: A Retrospective

Dir. David Fincher — 5 Stars

Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mark E. Zuckerberg in "The Social Network" (2010), directed by David Fincher.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mark E. Zuckerberg in "The Social Network" (2010), directed by David Fincher. By Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
By Lance R. He, Contributing Writer

Since its release in 2010, David Fincher’s “The Social Network” has developed into a cornerstone of the public perception of entrepreneurship and a unique look into the founding of Facebook. Through the eyes of Facebook’s co-founders Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), “The Social Network” also explores many aspects of traditional masculinity: competition rooted in pride, the role of sex in business, and blow-out parties surrounding success.

On a basic level, the film appears to offer little more than an over-simplified glorification of the start-up scene. In the first half, Mark Zuckerberg begins developing Facebook without any hitches. His suspension frees his time to develop code. The Winklevoss twins’ (Armie Hammer) cease-and-desist letter spawns a heartwarming moment between Mark and his buddy Eduardo Saverin — not the expected ensuing conundrum. In the second half of the film, business partner Sean Parker's (Justin Timberlake) wild character and untethered behaviors infect the company's style. The intern zip-line fiasco is marked off as rent deposit. Sean's arrest for using cocaine is shrugged off as a quip on asthma and allergies. Mark turns his legal proceedings into a joke by giving the “minimum amount” of attention. But this ignorance stands in stark contrast to remarkable achievement. Facebook pulls out half a million dollars from investments like a magic trick. Sean gets the last laugh with Case Equity. In short, Fincher packages high-tech life with a pretty bowtie: Work hard, play harder.

However, beneath its glossy surface “The Social Network” reveals a more complex case about the human condition — about inclusion, love, and social acceptance. Fincher sets up Mark as an unabashed prick. Mark’s personal growth is akin to the development of a child, and we see it play out through his friendship with Eduardo over three key shifts.

It’s clear that the two start off great friends. Eduardo is the yin to Mark’s yang: He’s cautious and righteous, which juxtaposes with Mark's loose, callous drive for success. In this period, Mark is like a child, one who takes decisive action, often ignorantly, so Eduardo must step in to check and rein him back.

The first shift occurs when Eduardo punches for the Phoenix, a final club (an exclusive social club at Harvard). At the Jewish Caribbean party, Eduardo excitedly informs Mark of his initiation, but having been treated as inferior and uncouth at the bike room of the Porcellian (another final club), Mark is in no mood to share his happiness. With each step toward full membership, Eduardo's success begins to slowly drive a thorny wedge between them. Despite conciliatory efforts from Eduardo, Mark begins to retaliate. He buys a Linux box before Eduardo agrees, abuses Eduardo's connections through the Phoenix club mailing list, and plants a story in The Harvard Crimson accusing Eduardo of animal cruelty.

As Mark figuratively grows older, he relies less on Eduardo's support and advice, a change that Fincher manifests through staging. During the beginning, at the peak of their friendship, Eduardo stands firmly besides Mark, often looking off together, united in the same direction. As problems arise, Eduardo and Mark start to oppose each other; they don't face the same way but mirror each other in confrontational staredown.

The second shift occurs when Sean enters the fray with big ideas for Facebook. Sean embodies the exact opposite qualities of Eduardo. While Eduardo is cautious and conservative, Sean is bombastic and risk-loving. When Eduardo vouches for Facebook to stay on the east coast, Sean screams for the west. When Eduardo proposes new advertisers, Sean argues for venture capitalists instead.

This shift embodies the rebellious phase of a teenager. Mark no longer seeks comfort in Eduardo’s steady decision making, but rather sees that caution as a liability to the success of his business. So teetering on the cusp of independence, it’s no surprise that Mark gladly trades in his old friend for a gaudy replacement and the unchecked debaucheries that come with it, such as sex, alcohol, wealth, and fame.

When Eduardo commits his full attention back to Facebook after splitting his time between the company and an internship, the film's third and final shift occurs. While Mark and Sean are living their wildest dreams, Eduardo is at a nadir. When he does return, he is unwelcome. Yet while he's escorted out of the office, Mark awakens from Sean's siren song. Having reached the limits of wealth and fame, Mark finally realizes what he has missed the most: friendship. Finally, we see Mark mature into adulthood. He now sees through Sean's rotten personality and acknowledges Eduardo's true worth, even if it may be too late.

Although “The Social Network” was released around the time that the first iPhone came out — a noticeably different world of personal interaction and social media than what we live in today — Fincher tells universal themes that are, if anything, even more applicable 10 years on.

Deep down, this is not a film about Mark Zuckerberg or Eduardo Saverin, the co-founders of Facebook. It’s a film about Mark and Eduardo as friends. When we see Mark and Sean and Eduardo struggle and come out of the film as different men, we don't feel that they are so different from ourselves. When Eduardo's life is upturned, or Sean is arrested, or Mark finds himself alone, we see an essence of our own lives in theirs. In “The Social Network,” we see what wealth and success fail to bring. In 2020, more than ever, we can learn a little from Mark Zuckerberg — not from his successes, but from his failures.

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