“I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.” This statement was spoken by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2018 in front of a committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. To say it was a hard day for one of the richest men in the world would be an understatement. Zuckerberg’s company, founded in a Harvard dorm room, is one of the most recognizable, powerful global businesses. Over the last decade, it’s become a publicly-traded company, and also a highly influential tool to use around the world for good and bad reasons. But within that time, its practices and protocols have been questioned by many. Most of Facebook’s issues stem from the top in Mark Zuckerberg, who capitalized on a stolen idea, made billions, and doesn’t care who he has to cross to keep climbing the financial ladder.
This brassiness shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw David Fincher’s The Social Network, which tells the story about Facebook’s creation and Zuckerberg’s legal battles to keep his company. Pinned by the great Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, we go back and forth through these two timelines to understand how a modern-day Michael Corleone was born in the tech world. Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is not a likable character, but that’s because he’s not a pleasant guy in real life. He’s a robotic being who cares more for computer code and money than the people around him.
Case in point, we start this film with an infuriating conversation between Zuckerberg and his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). They have a discussion going back and forth about things Mark wants to talk about or is interested in. The main point is about Finals clubs, organizations in college where the selected men of Harvard become part of the school’s oldest, most prestigious groups on campus. Thinking mostly about the power of having a Finals club behind him, Mark is obsessed with this. When Erica points this out, he calls out what he thinks her flaws are, leading to the couple breaking up. When he says they should be friends, Erica tells him, “I have no intentions of being friends with you.”
With this sentence of rejection, Mark Zuckerberg built the idea of Facebook off the back of getting drunk and creating a sexist website to get back at an ex-girlfriend. He makes Facesmash, a site indented to compare the looks of every woman at Harvard and put them on a sliding scale. This proved two things, how soulless of a human-being Zuckerberg is, and how many people in the tech community value woman in this country and around the planet.
Past this point, The Social Network portrays Zuckerberg completing the circle, destroying every male relationship he has in his life once the idea of Facebook is incepted. From stealing the concept from Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) to using up Sean Parker’s (Justin Timberlake) advice and connections until Mark throws them away because he’s no longer needed. The worst offense though comes in the form of his best friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) when Mark, Sean, and the rest of the board slowly take away Eduardo’s ownership of Facebook, leaving him with next to nothing. Sure it leads to a settlement for Eduardo in the end, but the only friend Mark had is completely phased out of his life, leaving him the loneliest billionaire in the world.
It’s in the final moments of The Social Network when you truly understand why Fincher and Sorkin wanted to make this project. It focuses on Zuckerberg at his lowest point, when he’s on the verge of settling the two lawsuits. He’s sitting at his laptop, searching for the girl that broke his heart, finds her Facebook page, sends her a request, and continuously refreshes the page till the credits start to roll. Some may find it heartbreaking or relatable, but not for this creative team.
For Fincher, he’s been a director who has always made movies about flawed yet routable characters like in Seven, Fight Club, or Zodiac. But The Social Network allows him to give us a main character that audiences will not like or sympathize with when it’s all over. Fincher knows Zuckerberg isn’t the hero of this story, but rather a modern-day gangster who gets away with what he did with no repercussions. That’s why the ending is very similar to The Godfather Part II, where both Zuckerberg and Michael Corleone may have won, but at a high cost.
As for Sorkin, whose screenplays always dabble into the social, political heartbeat of our world, Zuckerberg is a chance to shine a light on the powerful, and the dangers they possess when getting uncheck control over everyone’s lives. He builds the story of a smart young man who bullies and manipulates everyone till he becomes economically, intellectually strong. But Sorkin doesn’t feel sorry for him, he loathes him. In an op-ed for the New York Times last year, Sorkin wrote about how Facebook was “assaulting truth,” essentially calling Zuckerberg a bully against what is factually correct. His opinions on the Facebook CEO hasn’t changed in a decade, proving he already knew what kind of man Zuckerberg was a long time ago, a disgusting opportunist.
It’s well documented Zuckerberg doesn’t like how he was portrayed in The Social Network, saying the filmmakers “made up stuff that was hurtful.” Whether artistic liberties were taken or not, it’s struck a nerve with a man who has so much power yet gave time to comment on a film he doesn’t agree with. It bugs him that this movie is released, it probably bugs him that this article is being posted. Because he’s not in control of the narrative. When it came out ten years ago today, the world had a favorable view of Zuckerberg and his site. But as the years go on, and more eyes look into the business practices of Facebook, the more this decade-old movie has served as a starting point and warning shot into the dangers Zuckerberg and company have provided.
Sure, we all marvel at the impeccable performances, the fast-paced script, the effortless direction, and the haunting score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, but it’s the societal messages told throughout The Social Network that make it one of the best films of the last decade. The Social Network is much like the website Facebook, it’s highly addictive and leaves you coming back for repeat viewing. Furthermore, it’s aged so well, it’s proclamations on Facebook and Zuckerberg’s future could change dramatically with more time. So, in another ten years, and we are looking back on a twenty-year celebration, we could pick up on things we didn’t even know were possible now based on what we saw on the screen. It’s what makes movies so great, their ability to mold and change meanings over time, and The Social Network is certainly one of those that have and will continue to do so.
Ryan McQuade is a film-obsessed writer located in San Antonio, Texas. Raised on musicals, westerns, and James Bond, his taste in cinema is extremely versatile. He’s extremely fond of independent releases and director’s passion projects. Engrossed with all things Oscars, he hosts the Chasing the Gold podcast at InSessionFilm.com. When he’s not watching movies, he’s rooting on all his favorite sports teams, including his beloved Texas Longhorns. You can follow him on Twitter at @ryanmcquade77.