Why the Critics are Wrong about "The Social Network"

As someone who has been wanting to see “The Social Network”, I was sceptical that it was going to be able to live up to it’s 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – the bar seemed way too high.   Also, I wasn't convinced that Aaron Sorkin, with his rapid fire, wisecracky, yet somewhat unrealistic dialogue, was going to be able to make the movie seem natural.  On the other hand, I was encouraged by the fact that Nine Inch Nails was scoring the movie and David Fincher was directing, (Fight Club is one of my favourite book adaptations). 

The movie’s opening scene, a conversation between Zuckerberg and his girlfriend, is immediately gripping.   The dialogue is fast paced and wisecrack heavy, but it actually seems completely credible and realistic.  You get an immediate sense of what drives Zuckerberg – he wants to prove himself and be recognized - without having to resort to clumsy or ham-fisted narration.   From then on, the narrative unfolds through a  series of flashbacks invoked by questions posed in  two separate depositions.  Jesse Eisenberg’s performance is understated and nuanced. He is able to communicate a great deal without any apparent change in his facial expression.  The Winklevi are the quintessential Harvard “crew” – handsome, fit, entitled and slightly douchey.  Their encounter with Larry Summers (who knew that  he was the Dean of Harvard) is an illuminating (although probably embellished) detail. Justin Timberlake is totally convincing as Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, who helped Facebook get it's first round of VC funding, although he comes across as being a bit of a dick.

There is a widely shared opinion that Zuckerberg is portrayed unflatteringly and Eduardo Saverin is the most sympathetic character in the movie.  I couldn’t disagree more.  The movie that I saw definitely presented Zuckerberg as insecure, restrained and isolated, but it also showed him as a visionary,  focused to the point of obsessive, hard working, witty, self aware, canny and ultimately a genius.  The Winklevosses may have come up with a half assed idea for a social network site, but Zuckerberg had been already dabbling with similar ideas as evidenced by facemash and his desire to belong to an exclusive Harvard club.  I left the movie believing that Mark Zuckerberg was almost singlehandedly responsible for the colossal success of facebook.  On the other hand, besides $19,000 and a little moral support,  Saverin’s contribution was minimal.  In fact, by focusing on advertising rather than venture capital, he came off as being small minded, weak and a hindrance (despite being a business major).  Of course, without the money loaned by Saverin, Zuckerberg would probably have had a hard time launching facebook, so in that sense he was entitled to a small part of its success.  A 5% ownership worth over $1 billion, however, seems excessive. 

The ultimate brilliance of the movie is that it has taken a somewhat mundane story  and protagonist, and turned it into a gripping story.  My only complaint is that, as with many two hour movies, it ended too soon. If you are one of the 5 people who has not yet seen the movie, I highly recommend it.  I have a whole new respect for Mr. Zuckerberg  (I would totally add him as a facebook friend, but it seems his “add friend” functionality has been diabled).  It is also fascinating to glean some insight into the mind of a genius, especially one as young as Mr. Zuckerberg.

What was your take on the movie? Did you think Zuckerberg was a jerk? Did you sympathize with Saverin?