Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, is the smartest guy in the room. He used to be the smartest "kid" in the room, but he aged out of that. Kind of.
But the questions posited by David Fincher's brilliant film The Social Network, scripted by Aaron Sorkin, are why anyone would want to be that smart, and just what Zuckerberg's brand of brilliance gets him.
The first answer is the same reason guys become athletes or rock stars: to meet women. And the second is more intriguing. Zuckerberg, stunningly interpreted by Jesse Eisenberg, is an unfiltered genius — manic, compulsive, unable to censor an unkind word, unwilling to let go of an idea until he has mastered it, unable to pause even long enough for commas when he's trying to stop his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) from breaking up with him in the film's killer five-minute opening scene.
As we watch the tale of the founding of Facebook unfold — through flashbacks at court depositions, Harvard ethics hearings and the like — we feel awful for this witheringly smart Ivy League boy who traffics so easily in the condescending put-down. "Creation myths need a devil," a sympathetic lawyer assures him. And Eisenberg's Zuckerberg is just that, a devil obsessed with details and not shy — in the least — when anything or anyone stands in the way of his "cool" idea.
Sorkin (A Few Good Men, TV's The West Wing) didn't have to sex up Ben Mezrich's book about the devious, duplicitous and beer-fueled founding of this runaway social media phenomenon. But he did spice up the snappy patter, giving everybody in this small, elite circle sharp, polished things to say.
As one and all in the story embrace the notion that "getting there first is everything" on the Internet, Sorkin and Fincher let us get there first from time to time. In mid-creation, a friend asks Zuckerberg whether a student he knows is seeing anybody. Since he has decided that "The Facebook," as it was called in the snowy winter of 2004, is the ultimate campus social scene, that's one piece of information the site can't be without. We're way ahead of Zuckerberg as he sprints back to his laptop for a tweaking.
Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo Saverin, one of the few people to hang with nerdy Zuckerberg at Harvard. Saverin comes from money, has connections and even the possibility of getting into a prestigious "Final Club" on campus. Some day, you figure, Zuckerberg will make him pay for that. Armie Hammer and Josh Pence (with camera tricks that make Hammer appear as both) are the patrician, old-money Winklevoss twins, the rowing team heroes who commission Zuckerberg to build them an "exclusive" Harvard social network site, then "as gentlemen of Harvard" are shocked when he takes their idea, perfects it and launches it on his own.
Eisenberg (Adventureland, Zombieland) cranks up the intensity so much that we almost forget we're watching an unpleasant variation of the smart-kid role he has played his whole career. With the boyish Garfield as the next Spider-Man and Mara as the new Dragon Tattoo girl, The Social Network could someday be known as one of those movies that launched major careers. Justin Timberlake, playing the sex-and-drugs-and-more-sex womanizer and visionary Napster inventor/salesman Sean Parker, might seem a little fey, but that makes his unisex charm that much more devastating.
"Private behavior is a relic of a time gone by," Parker preaches, and Zuckerberg listens — enthralled.
Revel in Sorkin's saucy, sarcastic re-creation of a scene in which the privileged Winkelvosses ("Winklevi" is what Zuckerberg calls them) try to enlist Larry Summers, the president of Harvard, in their case.
And try try try not to think of these folks as you burn hours at Zuckerberg's "freakishly addictive" invention. The performances, direction and writing make The Social Network every bit as addictive, and a little chilling.