I expected it to be difficult to separate my personal experiences on Facebook as well as what I have read about Mark Zuckerberg from the film experience. It wasn’t. I almost never thought about myself or my FB friends while watching this very engaging story. David Fincher (director) and Aaron Sorkin (writer) have made a compelling and entertaining drama in The Social Network. It’s beautifully framed with an active camera and a luscious palette. The filmmakers capture the moment perfectly.
The story has been repeated many times. Ideas are shared. People go off and do things on their own, having been inspired by these ideas, and create something that becomes successful. There is conflict as the original idea generators think their intellectual property has been stolen and are now entitled to compensation by those who have taken an idea and acted on it. Of course the thing that makes this stand out is that the something created is now the largest web site on the planet and has a market cap of $25 billion.
The story is about who should get the credit and the fortune for inventing Facebook. One thing to remember is there is no longer such a thing as an original idea. I’m defining original as a completely unique thought conceived by a single person alone without regard to time or place. In a vacuum if you will. In today’s converged and connected societies nothing exists in a vacuum. Whatever idea one has, whether it’s in the boardroom, the studio, or even on the field of battle, there are a thousand people (probably more) who are having a parallel thought at the same time. The idea is the easy thing. Executing it is significantly more difficult. I argue that bringing it to life should weigh much more heavily when it comes to granting ownership.
Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), recently spurned by his girlfriend (his ineptness), gets a payback idea to post photos of girls from Harvard on a web site and ask students to vote on who is hotter. He enlists his friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) to provide the algorithm he used for a prior project and sends out a link to the site to the student body. So many people voted that the school’s servers crashed. The seeds of Facebook are born and although the code was written by Mark, the decision engine was provided by Mr. Saverin.
Twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) read about this event in the school paper and think they may have found the code jockey they’ve been looking for to help them manifest a student connection web site idea. They meet with Mark and he agrees to help.
While working (supposedly) on the Winklevoss project Mark nurtures his own idea, coding day and night and leading to the moment where he makes the request to Network Solutions to purchase thefacebook.com domain. Whenever the project needs money, Eduardo writes a check, so Mark anoints him CFO to his CEO of The Facebook. The twins are not consulted or informed.
The site grows quickly and expands to other colleges and universities across the country. Enter Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), founder of Napster. He wakes up in the bed of a Stanford coed and discovers the site on her laptop. He is intrigued enough to find out who’s behind it and persuades Mark and Eduardo to visit California. Sean uses slick moves and start-up talk to convince Mark that CA is the place to be. Mark bites. Meanwhile Eudardo feels it’s time to monetize the site and takes the Facebook story door to door to major advertising firms in New York, but cannot convince anyone to get on board in any meaningful way. Meanwhile, Sean connects Mark to VC money and the financing has now officially shifted from Eduardo’s modest trust fund to big league start-up funding. Game over on so many levels.
I saw The Social Network and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps a few short weeks apart and have been thinking about the financial chasm that exists between the two coasts ever since. The west coast machine searches for something new, feeds it and watches to see if it will grow. They are the angel investors. But if it doesn’t meet their strict financial hurdles, you can bet they will drop the idea like third period French. Yes billions of dollars vanished during the dot com bust of the late 1990’s, but much was learned and that knowledge and skill was adapted and reused, benefiting companies and government programs. In contrast, the east coast, the more established machine, works to harden their already storied institutions by looking for ways to siphon money from existing systems. When their bubble burst there was not much benefit to anyone. I often read about how Wall Street continues to attract our best and brightest, but fails to return anything of substantial value to the ecosystem. Certainly New York gets a lot of the talent, but there are plenty of brilliant people in the west working just as hard. The west however, does turn out a product, even if it’s code. It’s easy to criticize either side, and we definitely need more transparency.
Mr. Fincher is a craftsman of high order. I go back and watch Fight Club every year. No chases, explosions or reliance on special effects here. It’s acting, dialogue and pacing all the way. A couple of times I felt I was watching a documentary about Facebook. Finally, somebody giving Oliver Stone some competition.
We all know Aaron Sorkin is a genius with words; A Few Good Men, The West Wing and soon, Moneyball. This picture would not be on nearly as many critic’s best 10 lists without Mr. Sorkin’s contributions. At first I felt Trent Reznor was a peculiar choice to compose the soundtrack, but it works. He starts off cold and electronic, perfect coding music. Then bridges to a richer, more intense sound as the story unpacks Mr. Zuckerberg’s quirks and immaturity.
Mark is the central figure here without a doubt. It’s sometimes painful to watch him, almost Asperger’s Syndrome like, in the deposition scenes as he defends his ownership of Facebook. He’s a loner that wants to have friends. Unquestionably brilliant, but not necessarily wise. In the film he is portrayed as someone who puts design and experience ahead of the temptation to sell out his web property, which caused him to lose his friendship with Eduardo. Keeping Facebook pure was more important than the people in his life. Mr. Eisenberg turns in a wonderful performance and is sure to be nominated by the Academy for his effort. For the record, The Winkelvoss twins as well as Mr. Saverin settled for a substantial amount of money to walk away. Eduardo managed to keep his name on the corporate masthead. Appropriate I think.
I highly recommend The Social Network as a movie. For those couple of people who are not yet on Facebook, go on, buy a ticket to the movie. You’ll enjoy yourself. The official movie web site is more interesting than most. Visit it here. Special thanks to my friend Augie Ray who noted that Mr. Zuckerberg could have a pervasive disorder called Asperger’s Syndrome. His review of The Social Network can be read here. I have a son with Asperger’s and can say that there are some striking similarities in the behavior that both young men exhibit.
Photos from The Social Network courtesy of Columbia Pictures.