Unlike MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson, who once greeted the social networking site’s newest users as a default friend, his smiling face plastered on-screen like a digital welcome mat, Mark Zuckerberg rarely seems to have used his position as Facebook co-founder to collect pals, real or imagined.
Until now, the man most responsible for the world’s largest online clubhouse, who innocently describes his mission as making the world “a more open place by helping people connect and share” — neglecting to mention the roughly $7 billion his unique brand of altruism is reportedly worth — has managed to remain largely anonymous outside his circle of business associates, who should never be confused with his buddies.
That will change with David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” in which Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is depicted as the ultimate wannabe, a Harvard sophomore stung by his inability to climb the social ladder.
Never recruited to join any of the college’s famously discriminating final clubs, he is determined to create his own club, where he not only belongs, but wields his power like a scepter.
Did Zuckerberg draw his tireless motivation to succeed, to show up the clubs that never seemed to want him, from a bitter romantic breakup?
Was he so infatuated by rock-star entrepreneurs like Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) that he betrayed his only true confidant — Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield as naive but unwaveringly loyal? Or was he just a misfit looking to fit?
In “The Social Network,” a fascinatingly thorough account of Facebook’s rise, adapted from Ben Mezrich’s best-seller “The Accidental Billionaires” by “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin, all these things are true of Zuckerberg. And yet he remains an enigma.
We learn little about his upbringing. His gaze is impenetrable, his speech coldly calculated. The only emotion that registers is contempt — for the women who resist his advances and the men who dare to challenge him.
That’s no fault of Eisenberg’s, so often cast as an agreeably ineffectual nerd in movies like last year’s “Zombieland” but impeccable here as a maladjusted visionary driven by a desperate need for acceptance in circles of power.
Whether anyone really knows Zuckerberg — least of all Sorkin and Mezrich, with whom he refused to cooperate — is anyone’s guess.
As in real life, Zuckerberg has no shortage of detractors — Saverin foremost among them — in Fincher’s mesmerizing but frustratingly incomplete character study and though we may never know whom to believe in an unavoidably slanted story of betrayal, its entertainment value is never in question.
The Social Network ***½
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by David Fincher
Running time 2 hours 1 minute