When trailers for The Social Network started playing in theatres over the summer, it was unclear whether what is better known colloquially as “the Facebook movie” would glorify the famously young billionaire Mark Zuckerberg or indict him for the misogynistic origins of his ubiquitous invention. From a feminist standpoint, sitting through asshole apologia would have been too much to bear.
So it’s a good thing that throughout The Social Network Zuckerberg’s character—as brilliantly played by the formerly nice-guy typecasted Jesse Eisenberg—invokes only disgust and pity, heavily weighted toward the former. The Social Network tells the story of Zuckerberg, a smart but absurdly arrogant Harvard College student with a hell of an inferiority complex. After his girlfriend Erica dumps him in the opening scene, Zuckerberg invents Facebook’s precursor website while drunkenly nursing a broken…um…sense that Erica should have tolerated him. That first website was Face Mash—what became known as the “Hot or Not” of Harvard, a site where young men could rate their women classmates' hotness. Charmingly, Zuckerberg figures that all women should pay and be “treated like farm animals” because he got justifiably dumped.
Herding, taming and acquiring women in reality and online emerges as a disturbing trend throughout Facebook’s history—from its origins in Face Mash to school-expansion choices to the inevitable groupies that emerge once the site hits big. Even Zuckerberg’s loser hero Sean Parker (a completely watchable Justin Timberlake) confesses that he founded Napster to attract the attention of a crush. Along the way, Zuckerberg enjoys mostly self-loathing (hey, I hate you, too buddy) and a little sex in a bathroom, but still pines away for ex-girlfriend Erica. But it’s not the loss of love and companionship he's lamenting; it’s the absence of a target for verbal abuse, and that she can't be conquered or won over regardless of his accomplishments. They don’t overshadow the fact that he’s an insufferable asshole.
These themes about women are surely troubling. That they play out with drug use and sometimes with girls under the age of consent is even more so. But although these themes are present, for the most part they’re clearly associated with poor behavior and bad people. Zuckerberg clearly hates women and so does Parker, but at least these two douchebags are the bad guys.
Aside from the many, many abhorrent examples of Zuckerberg’s misogyny, he’s also just a weasel in general. The film follows Facebook from its origins to its inevitable lawsuits, since Zuckerberg arguably took the idea from his classmates and then screwed over his only friend (and primary investor) when Facebook got its big financial break—all this in less than a year.
What’s really amazing about The Social Network is that the person we spend the most time with—the main character—is the bad guy. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s just a villain. Writer Alan Sorkin manages to tell a dialogue-heavy story starring a pathetic, hateful character. And although this is a fictionalized account, time stamps and flashbacks from legal arbitrations balance beautifully creating a sense of photojournalism on one hand and artful cinematography on the other.
This film is fascinating and well executed and, let’s face it, it’s fun to watch Zuckerberg be lampooned. In the end, it’s arguable whether he got what he deserved (after all, he’s still absurdly rich). But at least his reputation will be deservedly hammered.
Go see The Social Network, especially if you’re on Facebook. It’s important to see an origin story for a medium so many of us use, even if it’s an admittedly exaggerated account. If even half of this stuff is true, it should make us sick that we’re helping make this piece of crap a billionaire.
Also, bonus points for awesome rowing footage and a truly bizarre set of twins.
Feminist Grade: C
Overall Movie Grade: A