A glance at my Facebook page tells me that I have a couple hundred people listed as my friends. I can tell you without hesitation that I do not interact with this many people in my life. Not even close.

But there they all are…framed in little boxes, smiling back at me under a pale blue label that confirms them as “Friends”. How did this virtual oxymoron happen?

Set in 2004, THE SOCIAL NETWORK is told by way of two separate legal depositions intercut with the events those depositions are discussing. At the centre of it all is Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), a Harvard student who creates a website one night. Its inspiration is one part anger, one part ambition, and three parts drunken restlessness. It proves to be a popular site – so popular in fact that it crashes Harvard’s server.

The website was done for a lark, but it gets the attention at some members of a Harvard Final Club that he desperately wants to be a part of. The Final Clubs you see, come with a certain social status…something Zuckerberg can’t seem to achieve on his own. When three members of The Final Club approach him to help them create their site, Zuckerberg gets hit with an even better idea. He comes up with a site that Harvard students will be able to interact with each other online, but still keep their privacy intact since it will all be by invitation only.

With his closest friends in tow, including Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) who puts up the money needed for R&D, Zuckerberg launches a site called “The Facebook”. The whole thing becomes pretty popular, but raises the ire of the gang at The Final Club since they feel he ripped off the idea they tasked him with developing.

Zuckerberg continues to duck their ever-escalating threats, focusing instead on growing The Facebook into something bigger. As it expands to other schools, he gets the attention of Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). Parker likes the look of what they have, and agrees with Eduardo that there is money to be made with the project. However, he also understands that monetizing such a concept will have to be done delicately, lest all the fun get sucked out of it.

Three radically different personalities, the threat of legal action, a potentially world-changing idea. What could go wrong?

Everybody involved with this film has brought their A-Game. Eisenberg and Timberlake show us a side of themselves that we haven’t seen yet, and Garfield continues an unforeseen run of great acting in a part that makes him this story’s moral compass. While it can be overbearing at times, the entire story is made a tad more unsettling by an off-centre score by Trent Reznor, which compliments David Fincher’s calculated direction perfectly. Fincher has taken a story that is little more than straight dialogue, given it a rhythm all its own, and turned what seemed on paper to be a pretty slight concept into a very captivating film.

One does have to wonder just how much of this story is true (The Erica Albrecht character for instance, was completely made up). That’s the speedbump for this film on its drive to cinematic success: since we’re talking about events that happened just six years ago, one has to wonder if filmmakers rushed this story in the race to tell it first. That aside, one has to admire the biggest irony of this entire story: a tool that is supposed to bring us together, allow us to have fun, and socially interact is created by a character who usually sits alone, never seems to be having any fun, and couldn’t be more socially awkward.

When we spoke about the film, fellow blogger Sebastian Gutierrez zeroed in on a moment that encapsulates everything this story is about. A character sits alone in an empty room…makes a friend request on Facebook…and continually refreshes the page to see if the request is accepted. In reality, one has to wonder “what next?” Will he start sending messages to this person…rekindle a friendship…go out for a drink? Probably not. He is ceaselessly refreshing his browser to see if they will in fact be ‘Facebook Friends’ – a life he can keep tabs on, get an update at a glance, and maybe drop the odd comment on every once in a while. Just how social is that?

Thats what makes the story of THE SOCIAL NETWORK so interesting, is the fact that what these socially awkward/morally compromised college kids perhaps irreversibly changed our world because they were bored and looking for kicks one drunken Tuesday night. This tool that a huge percentage of the world uses gets tweaked to include a person’s relationship status, because someone out there was too chicken-shit to walk up and actually ask another person about their relationship status. We have entered an age in which we all interact virtually, because a one guy who happened to have an idea wasn’t that hot at interacting socially.

But it’s not just him is it? So many of us these days have forsaken face time and picking up a phone in favour of communicating via text and sending brief instant messages. When Mark has his blow-out with Erica at the beginning of the film, he doesn’t have the guts to tell her what he really thinks…but he has no qualms with publishing it for the whole wide world to read.

I don’t want to sound like the old cotcher bitching about what technology has done to our lives (that’d actually seem pretty hypocritical), but after seeing a movie like THE SOCIAL NETWORK, one can’t help but look at what these characters created…how it has affected our lives…and wonder if we are in fact better off?

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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