Friday, October 08, 2010

‘The Social Network’: Defending Mark Zuckerberg

It’s been six days since I saw “The Social Network” … and I can’t stop thinking about it. That’s probably as good a reason as any to officially declare it my favorite movie of the year.

Jesse Eisenberg’s masterful portrayal of the (ironically) socially awkward Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is a fascinating examination of what it takes to literally change the world. Zuckerberg’s faults are also his strengths, and the filmmakers—director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin—deftly try not to make judgments one way or the other.

Did Zuckerberg steal the idea? The movie doesn’t tell you, but one of the best lines in the whole thing is from the main character: “If you’d invented Facebook … you’d have invented Facebook.” Did he screw over his one and only friend to get to the top? Or was his friend holding him back? Was the friend too timid for the big game Zuckerberg was playing, or did he have justifiable reasons for thinking along more practical terms? Again, it could be both.

And then there’s Sean Parker (played brilliantly by Justin Timberlake—you don’t know how hard it is for me to type that), the inventor of Napster, who swoops in during Facebook’s infancy and changes the course of all the lives involved, no matter how tangentially. He comes off as a reckless, arrogant blowhard, but would Facebook have reached the pinnacle of Internet domination without his connections, energy, and vision?

These are the tangled webs weaved by “The Social Network.” I will warn you: There are no answers (it reminds me of Fincher’s superb “Zodiac” in that way—minus all the dead bodies, of course). But that’s because there really aren’t any answers to be had yet. The real-life Zuckerberg is still just 26 years old and now one of the youngest billionaires on the planet; his story is probably far from over, and we certainly can’t have all that much perspective on his rise to power and fame while we’re still living in the moment he created one drunken night at Harvard.

In the end I liked Zuckerberg as portrayed here—how truthful a telling is obviously up for debate, but that’s rather beside my point. He was a Rand-ian visionary who wasn’t afraid of his own genius or putting it to work. His singleminded dedication to his craft is probably indicative of every successful entrepreneur. Does that make him a saint? No. Not even really a nice person. I’m sure there are certain decisions of interpersonal relations he’d rather take back (but maybe not). But one thing you can say about Zuckerberg is he never hid his ambitions, and it’s people like him who really do change the world. Those who weren’t fully committed to the grand goal he was chasing were eventually left behind … with millions and millions of dollars to comfort them.

Grade: A

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