A seven-letter profanity referring to a spot where the sun doesn't shine is frequently used to describe Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. It is an apt description, if David Fincher's movie about Zuckerberg's co-creation of Facebook is to be believed.
As played by Jesse Eisenberg, the world's youngest billionaire (nearly seven times over) got there by being a supreme jerk, a condescending whiz kid relating to people only through insults and backstabbing. Zuckerberg is the last person anyone would choose in pickup games or partnerships unless they wished to lose, or win without morals.
Invoking Eisenberg's rule No. 2 for killing monsters in Zombieland, the Zuckerberg characterized in The Social Network clearly deserves a "double tap."
How low he'll go is clear from the outset. Zuckerberg is a Harvard student shunned by the exclusive "final clubs" securing future connections, and he's talking down to his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) about what they're missing. She gets fed up and leaves. Zuckerberg returns to his dorm and creates a website from hacked private records that is humiliating to Harvard women.
The idea that a phenomenon can take root in a petty, juvenile prank by a jilted narcissist hangs over The Social Network all the way to its final shot. It also raises the question of whether a medium tainted by angry, anonymous insults and dirty tricks ever had a chance otherwise. Zuckerberg is the Internet, as marvelous and misguided as it can be.
This is a remarkable film for more reasons than its antihero, from the cyberspeed wisdom of Aaron Sorkin's screenplay to Jeff Cronenweth's camera prowling the excesses of youthful genius gone wild. It's a movie as much in the moment as your computer's home page, which for millions of users is Facebook.
In its own way, The Social Network is the most thrilling dissection of a culture-shifting event and the corroded ingenuity behind it since All the President's Men. Fincher views the creation and fallout of Facebook as an espionage yarn along the lines of Watergate, following the money — and there's a lot of it — especially when Zuckerberg's claim of inventing Facebook is questioned by a hostile lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, both played by Armie Hammer using seamless special effects and a body double. They contend that Zuckerberg was hired to develop a Harvard social directory and bailed, taking their format. Much of The Social Network is devoted to the later settlement negotiations, weaved into a chronological version of events. It's a bold move succeeding because Sorkin's dialogue crackles with hipster venom.
Eisenberg performs so effortlessly antisocial that hopefully his work won't be overlooked at awards time. There is also fine support from Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg's Facebook partner and (former) best friend Eduardo Saverin, the closest thing to a conscience found in Fincher's film. In a lesser movie, Justin Timberlake would steal the show as Zuckerberg's personal Mephistopheles, leading the whiz kid into temptation.
But blaming anyone else is what Zuckerberg would do, at least as The Social Network tells it. No wonder folks question whether his recent $100 million donation to New Jersey schools is a cynical grab for damage control. After Fincher's brilliantly provocative film, he might want to dig a little deeper.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.