Hell hath no fury like a geek scorned

30 10 2010

The Social Network, theatrical poster. Shot this the week before I saw it.

A FEW seconds into The Social Network, I found myself wrinkling my brow, squinting my eyes.  It was an attempt to sharpen the images before me because the projection on the screen was dark and dreary, the colors dull.  The college bar – “The Scholar’s Pub” if memory serves me right – was dingy and crowded.  The camera then zoomed onto a couple.  I knew at this point I was still wrinkling my brow, still squinting my eyes.  And I knew it already had less to do with the toned down brightness of the cinematography and the apparent cagey avoidance of colors that could connote joy.

I realized that like Erica Albright (played by Rooney Mara) on screen, I too was having a hard time keeping up with Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg).  “Did you know there are more people with genius IQ’s living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?”  That first line I caught.  I thought that for a movie about the inventor of facebook, a dead-on unequivocal reference to genius was required to set the tone.  But as Mark and Erica volleyed inadvertent witticisms at each other – including a reference to stairmaster to which I was the only one who guffawed in a packed theater that I felt so out of place – I came to realize that beneath genius, I would discover what I could only succinctly describe by borrowing a trademarked line from one social networking site whose grave Mark Zuckerberg dug – “It’s Complicated™.”

Boyfriend-girlfriend soon became enemies in a matter of a few minutes.  And that was when it occurred to me:  This movie might not be what I had expected it to be.  I thought I was in for a sappy tale of serendipity, of accidental success from humble beginnings.  But instead, a somber mood washed over me, making me feel that Mark might not be the protagonist I would want to root for.  He seemed to be a very complicated (there’s that word again!) teenager.  I saw it in his eyes, in the way he avoided eye contact.  And I heard it in the phrasing with which he would drop his lines.

I’ve never read about the beginnings of facebook.  (And I had been quite hesitant to sign up for a while.  But like over 500 million all over the world, I eventually did.)  So to find myself watching intently the fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg make a steady stride back to his dorm room, I could tell that I would finally be clued in on the how and why it came about.  I kept watching him walk in a fast pace across the school yard and probably wanting to impress my friend, I leaned over to The Flash and whispered, “I’ve been to this place.  It’s Standford.”  Then the title card appeared, “Harvard, Fall Semester, 2003.”  There went my braggadocio!  (No wonder that right around that time in 2003, while a Mark Zuckerberg was standing on and staring at the precipice of a huge change for the human race, I was on the West Coast depleting my checking account at Kenneth Cole, Adidas, and on wristwatches.)

Back in his bedroom, with a drink in hand and seething with anger after being broken up with, Mark blogged about Erica, even mentioning all the help she got from her “friends at Victoria’s Secret.”  He said he needed something to take his mind off her.  And that’s when he channeled his anger at the rest of Harvard’s women, hacking into the databases of various residence halls and downloading their photos for a vicious game of “who is hotter, the girl on the left or right?”  Kirkland, Elliot, Adams, Quincy, and many other residence halls later, Mark was ready to put up the link to his cruel game and go live.  But he needed one key ingredient – an algorithm.  And it could only come from one person.  Someone who at one point in the movie was referred to as Mark’s best friend.  His only friend.

In came Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield, post-Lions for Lambs, pre-Spider-Man 4), and in a brief scene of him writing his algorithm on their dorm room window, I was reminded of the painfully shy genius John Nash in A Beautiful Mind.  To me it was a moment that forebode the emotional turmoils that lay ahead.  The algorithm worked and “FaceMash” was born.  In dorm rooms, parties, and halls across Harvard, it went viral.  Made in about a couple of hours while Mark was drunk, and generating 22,000 hits – “22, 000…  not twenty-two hundred” – FaceMash crashed Harvard’s servers at 4:00 AM.  It was a success.

And somehow it was a failure too.  Mark was hauled to the Administrative Board and was punished with a six-month academic probation.  But not without showing them who was boss.  In a meeting of suits, there he was in his hoodie, pajamas and Adidas flip-flops demanding that if at all, what the board owed him was “recognition” for pointing out the gaping holes in Harvard’s information security system.

FaceMash vilified Harvard’s women and made a pariah of Mark.  But to three other students, the 6’ 5”, 220-lb. identical twins and future Olympic rowers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer, who I shall now call “The Voice”) and their friend Divya Narendra (Max Minghella), it introduced them to the computer programmer they thought could bring their idea of a website – “HarvardConnection” – to life.  He would be paid, they told him, but more importantly, he would have the chance to rehabilitate his reputation on campus after the FaceMash scandal.  It was one of those foreshadowed moments of Mark and Erica’s split at the bar.  “You’d do that for me?” he asked them point-blank.  And I knew this budding collaboration was doomed from the start.  Mark seemed lost in the air of exclusivity he was breathing (the three brought him to the living room of their “final club”), and even before any of them could finish their pitch, Mark cut them with a deadpan “I’m in.”

But Mark would turn to his friend Eduardo for his better idea of “taking the entire social structure of college and putting it online.”  Right there, in the cold air of a 20-degree night, outside a Caribbean-themed party that had the irrelevant backdrop of a looped image of Niagara Falls, the seeds of facebook were sown.  Eventually on board were Mark’s roommates Dustin Moskowitz and Chris Hughes, both programmers.  Eduardo put up the startup cash of a thousand dollars to rent the servers and get “thefacebook.com” online.

It was a defining moment that showed Mark’s ambition.  Though clearly he wasn’t driven by money.  That’s what Eduardo wanted – for their venture to become profitable – so he started to knock on doors of potential investors.  And in a meeting arranged by his then-girlfriend, Eduardo unintentionally introduced Mark to the flamboyant, big-spender co-creator of Napster, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake).  Over a Japanese dinner (I think) and in between sips of Appletinis, Sean had seduced and lured the quiet, painfully shy, and enigmatic Mark into his world of fame, fortune, and dare I say, exclusivity.  “A million dollars isn’t cool.  You know that’s cool?  A billion dollars.”

And in his own defining moment, Sean, right after signing the check and before leaving, said, “Drop the ‘the’.  Just facebook.  It’s cleaner.”  It was his hand gesture that drove the point home.

The Social Network takes place in the good part of this decade.  I actually first came across the term “facebook” in what a Filipina newspaper columnist wrote about the early demise of a dear friend of hers, something to the effect of: “…There’s now facebook.  It’s cool.  He would love it.”  And the movie, from the scene of Mark’s fast-paced walk back to his dorm room, to him running back to the same after one friend lighted a bulb in his head about “relationship status” and “looking for” fields, to him with headphones on during coding marathons, to him pacing back and forth in his room where flip chart boards bore the different pages of facebook – login, welcome, profile – told the speed at which Mark attained his success.

The screenplay and the narrative captured this “speed” in vivid detail and in a momentum I didn’t feel while watching the Transformers movies (I dozed off on those and those were action movies!).  The cuts and pacings between times and spaces – the Ad Board meeting, the depositons, the pivotal scenes in the creation of facebook – were seamless, not dizzying at all, and at one point brought to mind how effective the same was for The Time Traveler’s Wife.

The Social Network is a story of desire, drive, ambition, and success being the greatest revenge.  In a couple of scenes that have stayed with me long after the credits had rolled and the lights had been turned on, I caught a glimpse of who the real Mark Zuckerberg could be, an effort that the movie didn’t try too hard to do.  At one point, he referred to the Winklevoss twins as the “Winklevi” – I took it as forming the plural form much like bacillus would be bacilli – and I quietly snickered at how he wittingly mocked the very paragon of exclusivity he was longing for.  And in that other bar room scene, when an expectedly indifferent, if not still furious, Erica coldly dismissed the existence of “thefacebook” by saying she hadn’t heard of it, Mark turned and passing by Eduardo on his way out declared, “We have to expand.”

The movie begins with Mark and Erica in that dark, crowded, dingy campus bar.  And it ends with Mark in front of his laptop, virtually still in front of Erica who he just added on his facebook page.  Still quiet and not saying a word, he keeps on hitting the refresh button, waiting to be confirmed as her friend.  This is the guy who claims he invented facebook.  He is just a boy, standing in front of a girl – okay, sitting in front of a laptop – asking her to “friend” him.

I stood up from my reserved seat at the theater, checked the time on my wristwatch, gave the rolling credits one last look,  and told myself, “Mark Zuckerbeg.  This painfully shy guy invented facebook.”  I went out of the cinema rooting for him.

Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.



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