Review Date: 10-12-10
Release Date: 10-1-10
Runtime: 121 min.
Period: 2003 – 2004
Costume Designer: Jacqueline West
Well, awards season has officially begun. The Social Network is a great film, and between it and Inception, the race is already underway.
The Social Network is, on the surface, the story of Facebook. However, on closer inspection it is a story about the isolation and disenfranchisement of the “uncool”, the less privileged, the outsider, marginalized by whatever means relevant.
One doesn’t think of a Harvard student as being “uncool” – it’s arguably one of the best universities in the world, and one of the most difficult schools at which to gain admission. Harvard has educated more U.S. Presidents than any other university. You must be whip-smart, test well, and have a certain level of achievement (or connections) in order to be accepted at Harvard. Most high school students would give their right arms to gain admission to Harvard, but for some, even once accepted, it is not enough.
One such student was young Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg). Portrayed in the film as a genius and a schemer, Zuckerberg entered Harvard with enviable computer programming skills. He had invented a music/media player that would learn the user’s listening preferences (an innovation at the time), and Microsoft came calling. Zuckerman snubbed his nose at Microsoft, uploaded the player online and went to Harvard instead.
The nose-thumbing continued at Harvard, though one can speculate that it was a reaction to what Zuckerberg perceived as social inequity. Sure he was smart, but was he cool? And what is “cool” at Harvard anyway? Old money? Connected? Charming? Good-looking? Funny? Falling short in these categories, Zuckerberg filled his veins with the poison of resentment and bitterness, and the ensuing mess is dramatized for us in The Social Network.
In the opening scene of the film, he speaks pejoratively to Erica Albright (Rooney Mara), a Boston University student he’s dating. Zuckerberg is obsessed with joining a “Final Club” (an all-male social club on campus like a fraternity, but much more exclusive) and he patronizes her, noting that (once he gets in to one of these clubs), she would be meeting people she wouldn’t normally get to meet. Incensed at his snobbery, Erica breaks up with him on the spot.
Reeling and full of vinegar, Zuckerman blogs angrily about Erica – he rants publicly about her, and it is ugly. After a few beers, he comes up with a site that allows users to look at pictures of female Harvard students and rank them against one another. The site is inundated with hits, and it crashes the server. Coed backlash against the misogyny is fierce, pushing Zuckerberg into further alienation with women, and with the social scene at Harvard.
At the same time, his roommate and best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) has been invited to “punch” (meaning, start the process of joining) the elite Phoenix SK Final Club. Zuckerman can barely contain his jealousy. The seed is planted here, it seems, for Zuckerman: why HIM and not ME?
Zuckerberg is approached by über-WASP twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra to build a site akin to Match.com, but for Harvard students. They invite him to a meeting at their prestigious Final Club house, the Porcellian Club. Zuckerberg is in awe at the house, but he is not allowed to go past the bike room. Narendra and the twins make a pitch to Zuckerberg, and he quickly agrees. The idea is that his association with the Winklevoss twins and Narendra (as members of the Porcellian Club) would rehab his tarnished image on campus, and perhaps make him a bit more socially accepted.
The story is told in flashback, intercut with legal proceedings regarding the intellectual property ownership of Facebook. To make a long story short, Zuckerberg takes a bit of the twins’ idea and makes it his own, creating Facebook. He enlists help from Saverin (who fronts the money) and fellow programmer Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph Mazzello) and they are quickly up and running. It catches on immediately, and soon all of Harvard is Facebooking.
The twins and Narendra find out about the Facebook, and are incensed. Tyler and Narendra want to sue Zuckergerg, but Cameron thinks a lawsuit would be unbecoming for “Harvard Gentlemen”. Zuckerberg, Saverin and Moskovitz expand Facebook into other universities, including Stanford.
Cut to Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), former CEO of Napster, waking up with a young Stanford coed. He asks to use her computer, and when the screen comes up, the Facebook user interface appears. Parker smells an opportunity.
Saverin and Zuckerberg meet with Parker in New York, and an uneasy business relationship takes shape. Zuckerberg is mesmerized by Parker’s charisma; Saverin is wary. Parker convinces Zuckerberg to move Facebook to California. Saverin takes an internship in New York for the summer, leaving Zuckerberg and a few interns at a house in California to work on Facebook. Soon, Parker joins them, weaseling his way in to the home and the business.
Saverin is furious when he discovers Parker has insinuated himself into the Facebook infrastructure. He freezes the bank account he set up for the business. Meanwhile, Parker has helped Zuckerman secure $500K in the form of an “angel investment” from PayPal entrepreneur Peter Thiel. The wheels are turning furiously now, and Facebook is gaining momentum.
Facebook expands into more campuses in the US, as well as Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. The Winklevoss twins are in the UK at a regatta when they hear that Facebook has expanded internationally. This is the last straw for Cameron. He finally agrees that the trio should sue Zuckerberg for theft of their intellectual property.
And thus begins the backstabbing.
In the end, Saverin was cut out of the company, and Parker retained a percentage of ownership. The Winklevoss twins as well as Saverin won a settlement against Zuckerberg and Facebook. Looking back, Zuckerberg may have gained a fortune, but he lost the best friend he ever had: Saverin. The audience is left to wonder if that was a fair trade.
Zuckerberg is portrayed as a schlumpy guy who doesn’t care about how he looks. He wears t-shirts and hoodies as a uniform, no matter the occasion – dorm room slouching or board meeting. He has an unfortunate love of Adidas pool slides as footwear, no matter the outfit, weather, or event.
This level of sartorial disaffectedness is another form of nose-snubbing in Zuckerberg’s world. His color palette is fairly washed out and grey, until he meets Parker.
Once Zuckerberg meets Parker, we see more stark contrast in his colors. Here, for example, a bright yellow t-shirt and black fleece jacket. This is the scene where they get $500K from Thiel. It’s a turning point in the character’s understanding of who he is and what he can do.
Interestingly, Parker’s costumes change from sleek, Hollywood-style all black to t-shirt, hoodie, blazer and jeans when he is fully entrenched in the business of Facebook. He is portrayed as a sleazebag and a leech, and the arc of his costumes, taking him from lizard to faux-shabby, lets the audience know that he really a sham.
Eduardo has a very narrow range of costumage in this film – he is the one perpetually dressed for business. He wears dress shirts, trench coats, slacks, and occasionally neckties, in a range of color from black to grey to blue. The purpose here, of course, is to contrast him to Zuckerberg’s lack of style and sloppy comportment. Even when he’s being betrayed (here, wearing all black), he looks great.
If you were a potential investor, and these two guys came in, looking for money, what would you think of them? The contrast is amazing.
Shouldering the role of Cameron AND Tyler Winklevoss, Armie Hammer looks and breathes this/these roles. Through the magic of visual effects, Hammer plays both twins himself. Another actor (Josh Pence) provided the physical form of the other brother when both twins were in the same shot. It’s pretty genius.
I can’t think of another actor who could have played the Winklevoss twins with such aplomb. No stranger to the privileged elite, Hammer is the great-grandson of oil magnate/entrepreneur/art collector Armand Hammer. He is a beautiful young man, and has the bearing and countenance one would expect in a “Harvard Gentleman”. His performance is wonderful, reminding me of a young James Spader. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
His costumes are fantastic – stuffy Brooks Brothers fare (and there is a chuckle at the twins’ expense in this regard). The use of the Harvard Crew blazers is particularly nice. Hammer wears this character so effortlessly – this is dream casting for a costume designer. He walks in with the height, bearing, look and affectation of these twins – it’s delightful to see it!
Brenda Song plays Christy, a Harvard student drawn to Eduardo like a magnet. Essentially she is a groupie, attracted to Eduardo’s power, fame and potential money. Her character is introduced to us all in white, and she meets Eduardo when everything is exciting, fresh and new.
She ends up losing it, becoming excessively jealous and paranoid, the classic “psycho (ex) girlfriend” that everyone fears. Here she burns a gift from Eduardo – note that she is all in black. Could it be that her character is a metaphor for Eduardo’s journey? It starts out clean, and ends up in the abyss. Something to consider. I am glad to see Ms. Song branching out from her heretofore squeaky clean Disney roles. This is a great opportunity for her!
There is another likely fictionalized character, Marylin Delpy (Rashida Jones) who serves as the film’s compass/inner voice of the viewer. Delpy is a newly minted attorney working Zuckerberg’s case, and she is dressed throughout her screen time in grey. She doesn’t necessarily take sides on Zuckerberg’s culpability or character; she stays neutral. Just like grey is neutral. “Every creation myth needs a devil,” she notes, without an iota of accusation.
I want to make special mention of the product placement in this film – there was a lot of it, and I was impressed: Adidas, Nike, Patagonia, Gap, Under Armour, and The North Face to name a few vendors. Giorgio Armani received special thanks in the end credits, so there was probably a connection there, too. It’s kind of a coup to get two vendors of the same category involved, so the Patagonia/The North Face presence, together, is not lost on me.
It must be awkward to portray people who are still living, and it is worth noting that the physical resemblance is not always spot-on. Take a look here at the originals vs. the film versions:
The film is particularly interesting to me in that it is recent history, and not one of these protagonists is over the age of 30. It’s staggering to consider what one person can do in such a short time to alter the world. One good idea can change everything.
…Including the awards race! So, great job David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin (a mind-bendingly staccato script), and Jacqueline West! I am sure we will be hearing more about this film as Awardsapalooza continues. This film is definitely a contender, and it is an enjoyable, satisfying piece. Go see it!