Ten years ago, I saw The Social Network for the first time. It changed my life.
Saying something changed your life is a cliché in personal-essay-inflected media criticism: the truth is usually somewhere closer to “it is good and I like it,” exaggerated to something that might drive clicks. Individual pieces of art very rarely change lives, generally. But The Social Network changed mine. It’s the movie that made me love movies.
I’ve always really liked movies: as a kid, I would watch pretty much anything on TV, and in my early teens, Casablanca blew my hair back and I quickly became a big TCM guy. This gave me a somewhat skewed view of film history, where no-one could possibly think Ordinary People was an unworthy Best Picture winner. My mam showed me Kramer vs. Kramer and said I wasn’t allowed watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, before acquiescing a week later. I loved 1980s teen movies and Farrelly Brothers comedies and Steven Spielberg, and thought Fight Club was the most amazing film ever made. Then when I was sixteen, I saw The Social Network.
Written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher, The Social Network tells the story of the founding of Facebook through characters’ testimonials at the depositions for two different lawsuits. It’s a great film: it would have been pretty easy for a film about Facebook in 2010 – only six years after the site’s launch – to be a cheap cash-in on the hot, popular thing, but The Social Network is anything but. Rarely has the phrase “firing on all cylinders” been more appropriate. It’s both a timeless story about loyalty, betrayal, social standing and resentment, and a fiercely modern film about a world where the internet facilitates connection but communication remains messy, ugly, elusive. Though it never makes reference to Mark Zuckerberg’s early “move fast, break things” motto, it saturates the whole thing anyway, guiding the film’s own style even as it forms the basis of its most incendiary critique. I was captivated by its speed and wit and sincerely devastated by the breakdown of Mark and Eduardo’s friendship. I laughed, I cried. I fell head over heels in love.
It’s a sharp dividing line in my relationship to film, essentially transforming the way I thought about what films are and can be. I loved The Social Network so thoroughly that I ended up loving film. I loved The Social Network so thoroughly I ended up becoming a film critic. But it’s also the film that taught me how to watch films, to see all the moving parts and understand how they contribute to the whole. I watched it once a month for about three years, often twice in a period of a few days. I watched it once or twice a year for a while after that. Cumulatively, there was nothing in The Social Network I didn’t take notice of, didn’t think about. It’s almost like until then I’d been watching films half-blind: hadn’t thought about editing or colour palettes or camera angles, had hardly thought about what a director does beyond working with actors. Until then, so much of filmmaking only worked on my subconscious, but I watched The Social Network so much that it pulled all that to my conscious mind. I saw those things in The Social Network, and it made me see those things in every film I watched. I had always loved films, but The Social Network made me love filmmaking.
Particularly in 2011 and 2012, The Social Network had an active, passionate fandom on Tumblr: I can’t prove it, but I will go to my grave believing it was the first fandom to take life primarily on that platform, even though it’s been entirely written out of histories of internet fan communities. This is where I cut my teeth. A lot of fandoms I was involved in then are more than a little embarrassing now – God, how did I live caring so sincerely about Sherlock? – but the TSN fandom was formative in a way I still feel bone-deep. There are very specific fan culture things that I loved about the TSN fandom: it had the most consistently good fanfiction of any fandom ever, for one, being large enough to have a deep well of quality but small enough and skewing old enough not to be weighed down with shite. I fondly remember the Inception/Social Network fan wars, which seemed so good-natured next to Glee ship blood feuds. There’s a whole kaleidoscope of stuff that is inextricably tied to The Social Network for me because of the fandom, from Richard Siken poetry to Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Futile Devices’ to North Face jackets. But mostly, that group of people consistently prompted me to think deeper about this film, and provided an outlet for me to talk about it as much as I wanted to. Which was a lot.
I’ve written dozens of miniature versions of this article over the years – in long-lost tweets and Tumblr posts, in notebooks I tore up and threw away and round and round in my own head – trying to explain my relationship to this film to a world made up of people who maybe saw it, either liked it or didn’t, and then moved on with their lives. There are certain pieces of media where obsessive fannishness is pretty much implied: the image in the public imagination of someone who likes Star Trek or Doctor Who is a cosplaying, convention-attending, merchandise-collecting nerd. The Social Network is emphatically not one of those. And yet: here I am, a decade later and so much older, still insisting on unleashing “Did you know that David Fincher did ninety-nine takes of the opening scene?” on totally unsuspecting conversations.
Before The Social Network, I had rarely thought much about what a film director does, but I thought about David Fincher directing The Social Network constantly. I thought about how he framed his shots, the way the camera moved, where he cut. About how his style made the film look and feel. When I realised he had also directed Fight Club and Se7en, I started calling him my favourite director. Fincher has a reputation for being exacting – hence his penchant for doing a huge number of takes – which made him an excellent case study in learning about directing. I now think whether a film is a certain way on purpose or by accident doesn’t really matter, but believing Fincher had an intensely purposeful attention to detail making The Social Network felt like a license to overthink it, to consider those details as closely as I believed Fincher had.
The opening scene starts when we’re still on the Columbia Pictures logo: “Did you know there are more people with genius IQs living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?” Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) asks his date, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). ‘Ball and Biscuit’ by the White Stripes plays in the bar where they’re sitting, shot in yellows and browns, a pint each on the table between them.
Mark and Erica are on a very bad date. Mark keeps talking about final clubs – elite invite-only societies at Harvard – despite Erica’s obvious disinterest and attempts to change the subject. When he eventually asks if she’d like to talk about something else, she fires back, “No. It’s just since the beginning of the conversation about finals clubs, I think I may have missed a birthday.” He goes right back to talking about final clubs. He then proceeds to take offence at a totally innocuous question, insult her social class and sexual history, and dismiss her education because she goes to Boston University instead of an Ivy League school. Then she breaks up with him.
The whole thing plays out rapid-fire in less than six minutes, even as it squeezes in time for half a dozen diversions. It embodies both the strength of Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay and Fincher’s direction, and the productive tension between them. Sorkin is a fantastic dialogue writer – one of the best in the business, as anyone who’s watched Sports Night can attest – with a very particular and instantly recognisable style: his work has a certain rhythm, almost a musicality, that makes you reach for Shakespeare and Chekov as comparisons. But Fincher’s direction elevates it to something else in so many different ways: it’s less speechy than a lot of Sorkin’s work and more conversational, it’s less sentimental and more hard-edged. Mara and Eisenberg both knock it out of the park. When Erica says, “sometimes you say two things at once and I’m not sure which one I’m supposed to be aiming at,” it could read on the page as her not being able to keep up with Mark’s genius. But on screen, it just feels like an acknowledgement of the reality that she and Mark are having three different conversations at the speed of sound. When she dumps him, it’s a moment of pure catharsis, as she unloads all the things that tomorrow you wish you’d thought to say right in the moment. After a whole scene of being shot over Mark’s shoulder, she gets a close-up on the end of the killer line:
“You are probably going to be a very successful computer person, but you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.”
Erica leaves, her chair scraping against the wooden floor. The camera lingers on Mark for a moment, first in the wide shot, his arms outstretched on the table, then in the shot that used to be over Erica’s shoulder. The sounds of the bar are replaced by the opening notes of ‘Hand Covers Bruise’, from the beautiful score Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross wrote for the film: it’s a piece of music that will recur three times over the next two hours, each fainter than the last. Mark lifts his glass up to take a drink, then aborts the movement halfway through. He gets his backpack and leaves.
Mark is one of my favourite characters in any piece of art. I love him very deeply. (I should distinguish, here, between Mark Zuckerberg, the character in The Social Network, who I love and cherish, and Mark Zuckerberg, the real life founder of Facebook, who I have no positive feelings towards whatsoever. The Social Network is not a documentary and plays fast and loose with the facts, and I do not give two shits.) Mark is such a dick in the opening scene, and right as ‘Hand Covers Bruise’ might have tempted you to feel sorry for him, he opens up his LiveJournal and posts that Erica Albright is a bitch. Mark is so consistently a dick on matters large and small that it shouldn’t come as a surprise when he fucks over his best friend. And yet it does. Eisenberg plays him with such nuance and complexity that it comes as a shock every time.
After he posts that Erica is a bitch, Mark drunkenly makes FaceMash, a website where you can vote on the hotness of female students at Harvard. He hacks college databases for their photos. At 2 AM, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) arrives at Mark’s dorm, dressed in a suit, having read Mark’s blog posts about breaking up with Erica, to ask him if he’s okay. When he confirms the break-up to Eduardo, Mark sighs soundlessly, pursing his lips and dipping his head towards his shoulder, embarrassed, then throws his head back, part-resigned, part-defiant.
“I need you,” Mark says.
Eduardo perches himself on Mark’s desk, a serious look on his face. “I’m here for you.”
“No,” Mark says, “I need the algorithm you use to rank chess players.” Mark’s roommate Dustin (Joseph Mazzello, the kid from Jurassic Park, who kills it in a role that is barely more than a glorified extra), lying on the bed behind them, huffs out a laugh and covers his face with his hand. It is the most Mark shit ever: accidentally saying something nice and then clarifying that he meant something entirely utilitarian. It particularly stings when Eduardo is so sweet and soft and eager to comfort him. And it would seem just that – a practical request awkwardly phrased – if it wasn’t the first of three times we see Mark tells Eduardo he needs him. That’s not to say it’s not a practical request awkwardly phrased, even, but that it lays down a pattern between them that plays out across the movie: how the emotional and practical parts of their conversation are at cross-purposes, so they talk past each other. Mark’s relationship to Eduardo is endlessly fascinating, coloured in a dozen clashing emotions, both the most humane thing about him and, ultimately, the ugliest.
Eduardo gently asks if Mark is sure ranking the hotness of other students is such a good idea, but folds more or less immediately. He writes the algorithm in marker on the dorm room window. (The shot from outside the window is reminiscent of Kane writing his and Leland’s Declaration of Principles against the window pane in Citizen Kane.) That’s Eduardo: one part Mark’s conscience and protector, one part the guy who can’t say no to him, who reacts to Mark with fond exasperation where anger would be more than justified. He’s an economics major, and he made 300,000 dollars in a summer betting on oil futures because he likes meteorology. When Mark starts Facebook, he asks Eduardo to be CFO. Where Mark is cold and hard and cruel, Eduardo is soft and vulnerable and warm, a flurry of nervous movement with Bambi eyes.
Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo, particularly in these early scenes, as a portrait of devotion. When Mark gets called in front of the administrative board, Eduardo waits outside for him. When Mark is late to meet him at nine, he writes “9 you asshole” on the whiteboard on the door of Mark’s dorm, then sits back down and keeps waiting. When he and Mark arrive into the dorm, Eduardo gets two beers out of the fridge, and tries to hand one to Mark, who he gets out his own beer. “I’m the guy who wants to help,” he tells him, and sounds so sincere and good and kind in a film full of cynicism and arrogance and self-centredness.
In the deposition scenes that frame the narrative, Eduardo isn’t like that at all. The whole film cuts between the main narrative when Mark is nineteen, from that terrible date with Erica through the founding of Facebook, and depositions at the lawsuits years later: on one hand, Mark is being sued by the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), who claim he stole their idea for Facebook after they asked him to work on a site they were building. The Winklevosses are future Olympic rowers and practically archetypal old-money WASPs: handsome, tall, and the main characters in the funniest scene of all time when they try to bring their complaints to Larry Summers. Mark says they’re suing him because for the first time in their lives, things didn’t go the way they were supposed to for them, and it’s hard to disagree. On the other, he’s being sued by Eduardo, his best friend who he screwed out of the company. In the depositions for his lawsuit, Eduardo is still, his back ramrod straight, his once fluffy hair gelled in place. He seems impossibly older. Garfield still plays him in perfect contrast to Eisenberg’s Mark – slouched sullen across from him, doodling, like a bored kid – but where he once looked at Mark with such warmth, fondness and even awe, now he hardly looks at him at all. Long before we know what Mark did to ruin their friendship, you can tell it must have been something awful.
The easy thing is to think Eduardo just didn’t see how big a dick Mark was the whole time, that he was too trusting and naive. There’s certainly some truth in that, but it’s also reading the future into a past where it hadn’t happened yet. Mark and Eduardo were best friends, and that’s not any less true because they’re not anymore. All that history hangs in the air between them. Eduardo appears at the Winklevoss depositions as a witness, telling what Mark had said to him about the website the Winklevosses asked him to work on. Eduardo’s eyes briefly meet Mark’s as he trails off mid-sentence, and then he says authoritatively that Facebook “really didn’t have much to do with the Winkelvosses’ dating site.” Still trying to protect him.
What’s more revealing is what comes later, when the Winklevosses’ lawyer asks Mark why he went to Eduardo for the money to launch Facebook, instead of the Winklevosses, since he knew they were wealthy and would be interested in this kind of project. “I went to my friend for the money because that’s who I wanted to be partners with,” Mark says curtly, “Eduardo was the president of the Harvard Investors Association and he was also my best friend.” He looks to where Eduardo had been sitting, but all that’s left is an empty chair.
Back at Harvard, Eduardo gets admitted to one of the final clubs that Mark was so obsessed with getting into. As a salve for Mark’s wounds, he says it was probably just a “diversity thing” (Eduardo is Brazilian) and Mark, like a dick, agrees. Part of Eduardo’s initiation is that he has to keep a chicken with him at all times for a week. He feeds it some of the chicken he was eating at the dining hall, and ends up getting accused of forced cannibalism in the student newspaper. Mark’s lawyer brings it up, and Eduardo freaks out: the steely composure he’s maintained in the depositions melts away, and he seems as young as he really is, for a moment.
Intercut with the deposition scene, we see how Mark reacted to the chicken story at the time: he says this is scathing and could damage Facebook’s reputation, but his tone is teasing and amused, like he just thinks it’s funny to see how riled up he can get Eduardo. “I’m being accused of animal cruelty. It’s better to be accused of necrophilia,” Eduardo says. Mark agrees, smiling. They’re so clearly best friends in that moment, and seeing it used it against him in the depositions is such a cruel thing, like a joke twisted against you.
“You told your lawyers I was torturing animals?” Eduardo says, speaking directly to Mark for the first time.
Mark opens his mouth to answer, but his lawyer jumps in first. “No, he didn’t tell us about it at all. Our litigators are capable of finding a Crimson article. In fact, when we raised the subject with him, he defended you.”
Mark shrugs and says “Oops,” mirroring what Eduardo did after testifying that Mark cheated on his final exam. The whole film, Eduardo’s been assuming the best of Mark. Even when Mark doesn’t deserve it. Even when doing so just highlights the painful gap between who Eduardo thinks Mark is and who Mark is in reality: when he sees Mark go up to Erica in a restaurant, he immediately congratulates him for apologising, when Mark of course did no such thing. Eduardo has spent so much time defending and excusing and protecting, and this one time, he assumes the worst, and he’s wrong in a whole new way.
You wonder why Eduardo spends so much time defending and excusing and protecting. It’s not like Mark’s dickishness was a secret, and it’s not like it’s covering a heart of gold, either. But then you watch the scene where a circle of hackers try out to be Facebook’s intern for the summer, and it makes sense, to me, at least. It’s a hacking challenge-slash-drinking game, and they’re surrounded by cheering onlookers. Eduardo comes in halfway through, and Mark goes up to him smiling when Eduardo calls out to him. Eduardo beams while Mark explains what’s going on, both of them facing forward towards the challenge.
“And may I ask what part of the intern’s job will they need to be able to do drunk?” he asks.
“You’re right. A more relevant test might be seeing if they can keep a chicken alive for a week,” Mark shoots back, all venom. A second after the words are out, he furrows his brow, then cringes. He turns towards Eduardo and says, “That was mean.”
It’s not an apology – not technically, anyway – but it’s about as close as Mark comes to one. Eduardo certainly takes it that way. It’s notable that he says it without seeing Eduardo’s reaction to the chicken comment, so it comes off his own bat, unprompted by Eduardo’s big expressive eyes. But what’s really interesting is Eduardo: as soon as Mark says his catty bullshit, Eduardo’s eyes train on him expectantly, a fond smile tugging on the corner of his lips before Mark even “apologises.” It makes me think this happened all the time, and it makes me understand how Eduardo could love him so much. Not because he’s doing anything particularly good here – but because Mark is so cruel, all the time, and Eduardo is the only person he might be gentle for.
Eduardo slaps an envelope on Mark’s chest and tells him he put 18,000 dollars in a bank account to fund Mark taking Facebook to California for the summer. Before Mark responds, two of the competitors win the challenge, and Mark goes up to shake their hands. Dustin puts some music on, and in the crowd, Mark and Eduardo look at each other across the room. It’s the happiest we ever see either of them, and not coincidentally, the most casual we see Eduardo dressed – a North Face jacket over a white t-shirt instead of his usual suits – and the most colourful we see Mark – a dark blue t-shirt with a yellow diamond on the chest over a long-sleeved white t-shirt, in place of his army of grey hoodies. It feels like a moment frozen in amber, like the last time things were simple and good. The last time they could both be happy at once.
There are a lot of things that push Mark and Eduardo apart, but the loudest, most unavoidable one is Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). I spend so much time being angry about Andrew Garfield not being nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for The Social Network that I sometimes forget that I am also absolutely furious about Justin Timberlake not being nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for The Social Network. I remember Fincher talking about being wary of his film turning into a Justin Timberlake Vehicle, so he brought Timberlake back for audition after audition, waiting for an excuse not to cast him, but he was just too fucking good. In his first scene, he wakes up in bed with a Stanford student named Amy (a blonde, pre-Fifty Shades Dokota Johnson), and you instantly think you know exactly who this guy is. Amy asks if he even remembers her name, and you just know that of course he doesn’t. But then he rattles off just about everything about her: “Amelia Ritter, but you prefer Amy. You’re from Orinda. Your father’s in commercial real estate, and your mother’s ten years sober.”
He admits to forgetting her major (French) but he remembers she plays trombone. It’s a really elegant switcheroo, and Timberlake plays it perfectly, like a quick study intensely interested in people, with just a shade of being a know-it-all proving a point.
Later, full of cocaine and inflated self-worth, Sean is so full of blustering bravado and paranoia that with a lesser performance he’d just seem like a cheap, slimy conman. But Timberlake plays Sean so magnetically charismatic that it takes most of the film to figure out how much of his talk is bullshit. You can understand equally why Mark loves him on sight and Eduardo hates him just as instantly.
The first time he meets them, Sean arrives twenty-five minutes late. Eduardo is pissed off, but Mark is wide-eyed with excitement, reminding Eduardo that Sean founded Napster. Eduardo is obviously bothered by Sean being late because it’s unprofessional and something he would never do, but more than anything, it’s something Mark would do. We’ve seen Eduardo wait for Mark over and over. He wrote “9 you asshole” on that whiteboard and sat right back down to keep waiting. When Sean finally arrives, they spend the night drinking appletinis and listening to him tell story after story, at least one of which involves him miming a comically oversized steering wheel. “He owned Mark, after that dinner,” Eduardo says in the depositions.
Sean is the one who convinces Mark to go to California for the summer. The argument Mark and Eduardo had about advertising – Mark doesn’t want it, Eduardo says it’s time to monetise – changes colour when Sean rows in fully behind Mark, becomes something stickier and sore to the touch. Eduardo insists they don’t need Sean, but Mark finds in Sean a natural ally, someone who understands what he dreams of for Facebook in a way Eduardo can’t. Someone who might even be as smart as he is. “Really [Mark is] hurt by this lack of commitment that Eduardo has had, or, Eduardo has not believed in him as much as he needs Eduardo to believe in him,” David Fincher says in his director’s commentary, “And someone else comes along who does believe in him and sees an even bigger thing than maybe he even imagined, and now it’s come to a head and it’s being done in this incredibly public place and it’s so painful for him.”
But that’s not quite true, either. Eduardo believed in Mark absolutely. He just didn’t really care about Facebook – he admits to his girlfriend that he doesn’t even know how to change his relationship status. At least, he didn’t care about it except as something he and Mark were doing together: “This is our thing,” he told him once. But he didn’t care about it the way Mark did. The way that Sean Parker seemed to.
Mark goes to California and Eduardo takes an internship in New York. When Eduardo comes to visit, Mark takes a nap and forgets to pick him up at the airport. Eduardo waits an hour for him and gets soaked in the rain. (Eduardo likes meteorology, so probably knew rain was forecast – but Mark was picking him up, so why take an umbrella?) When he arrives by taxi at the Facebook house, Sean answers the door. It turns out that Sean has been setting up meetings with investors on behalf of Facebook, without Eduardo’s knowledge as CFO, and this fight they’ve been having versions of forever – about advertising, about Sean, about California, about Eduardo not caring enough about Facebook and Mark not caring enough about Eduardo – explodes in a hallway in Palo Alto.
It’s lit in the dark yellow shade of a dehydrated man’s piss. Mark doesn’t remember things they talked about on the phone – even things as big as Eduardo quitting his internship – and when Eduardo says that he’s sincerely frightened of his girlfriend, Mark says that it’s still nice he has a girlfriend. Mark babbles on about Facebook’s expansion and Eduardo shouts that he’s aware of that, he’s CFO. (People love to call Aaron Sorkin indulgent, but it amazes me to this day that he had the restraint not to have Eduardo tell Mark “don’t talk to me like I’m other people.”)
“I’m afraid if you don’t come out here you’re going to be left behind,” Mark says, “I want – I need you out here. Please don’t tell him I said that.”
“What did you just say?” Eduardo asks. Then, later: “What did you mean, ‘get left behind’?”
Sometimes you say two things at once and I’m not sure which one I’m supposed to be aiming at.
And then they start down the path that leads to the depositions. Frustrated, angry, and desperate to get Mark’s attention – to get Mark to listen to him – Eduardo freezes the bank account he set up for Facebook. Mark calls him in a rage, telling him he jeopardised the entire company and “everything I have been working on” (We have been working on, Eduardo corrects him). But, he says, he’s willing to let bygones be bygones because Peter Thiel is making an angel investment of half a million dollars.
“They want to reincorporate the company, they want to meet you, they need your signature on some documents, so you gotta get your ass on the first flight back to San Francisco. I need my CFO,” Mark says.
Eduardo’s face is full of shock and relief and joy. “I’m on my way.”
Mark, for once, says we. “Wardo. We did it.”
But the documents they want Eduardo to sign are his own death warrant. The lawyers explain that his stock in the newly reincorporated Facebook will be diluted down to allow for new investors – this company that he and Mark own together will soon be part-owned by hedge funds and venture capitalists, and the new shares have to come from somewhere – but not a single alarm bell goes off in Eduardo’s head. The main thing he says on the matter is “Mark doesn’t care about money and he needs to be protected.” At the depositions, he admits it was insanely stupid not to have his own lawyers look at it: “I thought they were my lawyers.”
He gets called back to California for Facebook’s millionth member party – supposedly, at least. It’s here, in a glass office when a lawyer hands him more papers to sign, that he finds out how much his shares have been diluted. Recalling it at the depositions, he turns his swivel chair to look at Mark. He takes deep, shaky breaths, steadying himself enough to maintain his cool composure, expression carefully blank.
“What was Mr. Zuckerberg’s ownership share diluted down to?” his lawyer asks.
“What was Mr. Moskovitz’s ownership share diluted down to?”
“What was Sean Parker’s ownership share diluted down to?”
“What was Peter Thiel’s ownership share diluted down to?”
“What was your ownership share diluted down to?”
Eduardo looks through the glass wall straight at Mark, headphones on, coding. “Mark!” he barks as he bursts through the double doors, in a low-angle shot that dollies forward as he walks. It makes him seem powerful right at the moment power is being wielded against him. This moment – along with the fight in the hallway – is the bridge between the young, soft, vulnerable Eduardo and the battle-hardened, cooled and stilled Eduardo of the depositions. He smashes Mark’s laptop and screams in his face, so full of venom and rage he has to spit it out. Sean is there, rubbing salt in the wound, while Mark pathetically explains that Eduardo signed the papers. ‘Hand Covers Bruise’ plays: the sound of lost innocence, of so many lost things.
“It’s during this confrontation that Eisenberg has one of his best moments in the movie,” Bob Grimm writes, “His Zuckerberg just stares with a look on his face that expresses fear about what he has become, acceptance that he must become evil for the good of Facebook, and sorrow about losing his friend. Yes, Eisenberg manages to get all of this across with one simple look on his face, and it’s a thing of beauty.”
Part of what makes this so painful is that, from a business point of view, Mark is in the right. Mark’s right about not wanting advertising yet – to risk their greatest asset, Facebook’s coolness, for relatively measly reward – and without it, there’s little Eduardo has to offer the company that someone else can’t do better. Eduardo can’t code. He can’t even change his own relationship status. And he put the company in serious jeopardy by freezing the account. So if it’s not personal, just business, there’s no problem. “If you woke him from a dead sleep and shook him by the lapels and said, ‘Why do you fucking hate Eduardo?’” Fincher once said, “He would say, ‘I don’t hate Eduardo.’”
But it is personal. Business is always personal. Screwing over Eduardo might be good business, but it’s a slimy, underhanded, incredibly cruel thing to do. It’s a betrayal. And it’s that personal betrayal that hurts Eduardo the most, much more than the business side of it. The best reason for Eduardo to be Facebook’s CFO is the reason Mark asked him in the first place: he was his best friend. But business isn’t about friends. So Mark sheds them: first Eduardo, then Sean, until he’s left, all these years later, alone, sending a friend request to Erica Albright’s Facebook page. ‘Baby, You’re a Rich Man’ plays as he hits refresh, over and over.
The whole film is told through retrospective testimonials, and so you get accounts that conflict with each other. The first line of the deposition scenes is literally Mark saying, “that’s not what happened.” One of Mark’s lawyers, Marilyn (Rashida Jones), tells him “creation myths need a devil” when explaining that emotional testimony is mostly exaggeration and perjury. The Social Network is itself a creation myth – a fictionalised, dramatised account of an act of creation – but it’s also about creation myths. Everything we see in the film’s main narrative is essentially a mythologising of events, each character telling the story not as it happened but how they’ve chosen to remember it. In the Winklevosses’ myth, Mark’s the devil; in Eduardo’s, Sean is. (And not, no matter how much he deserves it, Mark: “Up until the end, Eduardo’s hoping at some point Mark’s going to go, ‘Look, I’m really, really sorry, man. I really messed up. I love you so much, and I just was jealous of you for this. And I acted out like this. Can we be friends again? I’ll give you back as much money as you want. Let’s move in together and we’ll play basketball every day, and we’ll cuddle at night and watch reality TV,’” Andrew Garfield said, “Part of Eduardo in those depositions is just waiting for that moment.” It never comes.)
The film doesn’t endorse any one of these myths, just presents them in tandem, denying us the comfort of a clear-cut side to take. Creation myths need a devil, but The Social Network doesn’t have any. Just a bunch of people. Kids, really.
“You know, it’s kind of like I made this joke and it’s haunted me now. But I believe that you’re one of the people who will understand what it’s intended to say, which is I wanted to make the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies,” David Fincher said in an interview, “That’s not to say we’re making Citizen Kane. But specifically, the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies. So, yes, it is a coming of age movie. They are kind of dorky teens figuring this shit out between them. And there’s no real intervention on behalf of adult society, you know? It’s kind of like they’re forced to figure it out for themselves.”
That’s my favourite thing anyone has ever said about The Social Network, for the record. It is the Citizen Kane of John Hughes movies. There are visual references to Citizen Kane, like the shot of the algorithm written on the window, and its structure is indebted to Kane’s: the depositions parallel the journalist’s investigation into Kane that structures the film, revealing the facts – or some version of them – but only offering impressions of Mark’s internal life. Like Citizen Kane, it tells a story about America through one man in it, about wealth and power and what principles we’re willing to shed, about lost innocence. But it does that in a form that’s within the tradition of John Hughes’s 1980s teen movies. The Social Network, is, more than anything, the story of a man in his mid-twenties being confronted by the most heinous shit he did when he was nineteen. When I watched it as a sixteen-year-old a decade ago, The Social Network seemed like a film about grown-ups, but now they seem – in the main timeline of the movie, certainly – terribly young. With the exception of Sean, they’re teenagers or maybe just a hair older. They spend most of their time in a dorm room and imagine that college society bullshit matters. They worry out loud about getting carded when they buy alcohol. Of course they do dumb, thoughtless shit. It just so happens they’re doing dumb thoughtless shit in an extremely high stakes environment, because one of them invented a website that might make a lot of money one day.
I saw The Social Network for the first time ten years ago. It changed my life. The easiest shorthand is to say it was my gateway to my love of film, but that doesn’t quite ring true: you pass through a gateway and keep moving forward. It’s more like my love of The Social Network is synonymous with my love of film: they’re just different words for the same thing. I have seen so many films in the last ten years – thousands – and loved so many of them, yet my answer to the question of my favourite film is the same as it was every other day the last decade: The Social Network. It’s my movie. Forever.