In 2003, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) was at a bar with his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) and the conversation was not going well, with him jealously defending himself against the type of man who he was coming to believe that she preferred, ie. not him. In spite of her protests, his sense of inferiority compared to the higher class students at the university scuppered their relationship right there and then, and she broke it off with him. Seething with anger, Mark immediately stormed back to his room where he began criticising her on his blog - and a billion dollar idea was born...
Facebook being that idea, a website whose feelings of inclusion are part of its success, and therefore, this film tells us, the reason that the man who felt so excluded wished to set it up. This was based on the true account of the building of that business, drawn from the book by Ben Mezrich and adapted by one of the most intelligent screenwriters around, Aaron Sorkin, that attempted to get under the skin of what drives Zuckerberg and all those who entered into his orbit as they created one of the success stories of the internet age, and managed to fall out in a tale of bitterness and greed that nobody emerged from looking very good.
Whether it really happened this way was debatable, but considering nobody who made the movie got sued then that was an acheivement in itself, such was the litigious nature of all we see here. What Zuckerberg did that fateful night was an act of revenge, and the movie in its cinematic manner presented the whole of the social website he authored as stemming from those ill feelings. Was Facebook intended to strike back at all those girls who turned down all those nerds? It was if you accepted this version of the truth, that sex was the force behind the whole idea, and not getting it could fashion empires designed to reverse that trend: the lightbulb above the head moment being when Zuckerberg realises that putting a relationship status on each user's page is the ideal way of telling who is available.
In practice, it reduces the whole business to the level of petty, surly teenagers, though as the people who built it were barely out of their teens when it took off, maybe that's not so much of a stretch. Except that in the hands of director David Fincher, the whole tale takes on a strangely sinister quality, with low lighting, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's menacing score throughout, and performances that suggest a bunch of characters who have more going on beneath their surfaces than they cared to admit. The Social Network was not a thriller based on true events like his Zodiac was, but Fincher adopted the same approach, as if these highs that Zuckerberg and company hit are in some way corrosive to their souls.
So it's no wonder that their story dissolves into infighting and legal action, with Zuckerberg's partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), his best friend lest we forget, subjected to unfair behaviour thanks to Justin Timberlake's charismatic entrepreneur, and looking to be the only one of the leads who might actually have had some moral centre to him other than getting ahead at all costs. Then there are the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer and Hammer's head on Josh Pence's body) who claimed that the networking site for Harvard they recruited Zuckerberg to make was lifted for Facebook: this privileged pair are not used to losing and we can take some glee in seeing Zuckerberg get one over on them, if indeed that's what he was doing. In effect, though, this might be very well rendered, but the relentless quality does become exhausting before the end, and its sour view of humanity doesn't exactly operate as a ray of sunshine knowing that so many people's lives are tied in with a project that may not have meant to bring so many together entirely beneficially. Though it is one of the few Hollywood movies to get the internet right.