I used to love Mark Zuckerberg: A review of “The Social Network”

Andrew Garfield, most commonly associated with his iconic performance as Peter Parker, has recently been thrust back into the spotlight following the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home as well as tick, tick…BOOM!, for which he was nominated for Best Actor at the 2022 Academy Awards.

Over the last few months, mainstream media and social media alike seem to have gone through a phase of revisiting Garfield’s roles in Hollywood, and when doing so there are a few that stand out among his collection of masterclass performances, namely, The Social Network.

Upon any basic Google search, you’ll see that the film is based on and around the creation of the largest social media platform in the world, Facebook, but the movie is actually much, much more than just that. The Social Network delves into the intricacies of the business side of Facebook through its emphasis on the interactions between Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Tyles and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer), Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), and Mark Zuckerberg (Jessie Eisenberg). These seven characters, in one way or another, all played a role in the conception or execution of Facebook as a corporation. 

The simplest way to describe those interactions would be sour. While the film does technically tell the story of Facebook, the significance of the story comes from the rocky relationship between those six main founders of the company

The film follows two lawsuits that Zuckerberg is fighting, one against Narendra and the Winklevosses who sued for intellectual property theft (among other things) due to them believing Zuckerberg created the Facebook platform based on their own social media concept (named HarvardConnection), and the other against Saverin who sued after Zuckerberg diluted his stake in the company from 30% to 0.3%.

Within the movie, as each lawsuit progresses, so does the backstory to them, told through a series of flashbacks. That basic structure beautifully complements the story being told, allowing the viewers to have a comprehensive understanding of where the issues the movie is based around come from. It also makes it so that there is no dull moment within the movie, as we only get to see the “meat” of why everything went wrong. Furthermore, seeing emotion through the lawsuit and seeing it once more in the flashback forces any viewer to resonate with the characters within the movie, to feel what they are feeling. 

However, that brilliant movie design is meaningless without the acting performances to bring it to life. On that point, while I felt no performance was lackluster, two performances stand out above the rest, Jessie Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield. 

Jessie Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg, while often painted to be the antagonist within The Social Network, is far from a simple character. There is a dichotomy within him, two sides that I felt Eisenberg wonderfully showed the conflict between, morale and intellect. Socially, Zuckerberg was a failure. He found it difficult to make friends, to engage in conversation, and to meet new people. His sole ambition in the world then was the growth of Facebook. The world around him could crumble for all he cares about and I feel he genuinely may not care unless it affected the growth of Facebook. As is the case in this movie and in the real world, corporate growth is easier when you sacrifice your morality. You get to be ruthless, you get to be the bad guy. That is who Zuckerberg was. Yet, Eisenberg’s performance made it so even after all the pretentious things Zuckerberg did, I still question whether he is a good or bad person at heart.

Understanding that Zuckerberg wasn’t a jerk, it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t trying his best to be one, and Jessie Eisenberg’s performance somehow threads that line. He manages not to speak a word in the realm of emotional vulnerability, and yet I found it hard not to feel bad for him at countless moments in the movie. Any side of him that comes off as rude is only like that because he believes that is the only person he can be, even though that’s not who he wants to be. The result of that is an awkwardness in Zuckerberg, something Eisenberg brings out through his delivery of lines. He speaks fast, not just so the people he is speaking to can’t respond, but seemingly because he has no regard for their opinions. Moreover, Eisenbergs facial and bodily gestures throughout the movie are that of a dork. The way he dresses even, often wearing socks with slides, pants that are too short, and a hoodie that is a bit big. Zuckerberg’s portrayal is complex beyond what many can handle; someone who’s a jerk, awkward, egotistical, emotional, sensitive, and more importantly just someone who’s given up on trying to prove his worth to the people around him.

Eduardo Saverin comes across as extremely different. He’s more focused on all aspects of life, and in that sense, much of what he says and how he acts is traditional. He wants to have fun with his friends, meet new girls, and have a memorable college experience. Stemming from that mindset is the care he has for his peers, namely Mark Zuckerberg. As is made clear in the film, he’s Mark’s only friend, and in that fact, doesn’t want to leave him. He is a caring person, and that is the primary difference between him and Zuckerberg. There is no conflict between intellect and morale within Saverin because he will never try to sacrifice one for the other in the way Zuckerberg does. Due to that fact, however, Zuckerberg walks all over Saverin, and each time, Saverin rolls over and does whatever Zuckerberg asks of him, either out of pity or out of trust. That is, he rolls over each time until Saverin’s shares get diluted, upon which moment he conveys to the audience that he’s not putting up with it anymore. His last words to Mark before the lawsuit were “you better lawyer-up a**hole, ‘cause I’m not coming back for 30%, I’m coming after everything.”

All in all, The Social Network is a movie that, through the amazing performance delivered by its cast and the direction given by the director and the writers, manages to encompass one of the widest displays of emotions I’ve seen in a long time in a film. It, of course, tells a story wonderfully, but more importantly conveys life lessons to the audience. I look forward to watching more of Jessie Eisenberg as his performance was especially surprising, and I definitely  understand better where the hype around Andrew Garfield comes from now.