Tapping into The Social Network

social-networkHaving finally plunged into Facebook myself about a month ago, followed closely by Booklist and our blogs, I’ve been intrigued by the allure of social networking and the way that people communicate (or sometimes fail to communicate) with these tools. So when I saw the effective trailer, then heard the buzz for the new film The Social Network I had to see what it was all about. I caught it last night, and in my opinion, the films deserves the early acclaim.

The Social Network is the story of Facebook’s genesis, but I don’t think you’d have to be a frequent online social networker to appreciate it. Just as The Blind Side wasn’t just about the offensive line in football and Seabiscuit wasn’t just about a horse, this adaption of a nonfiction book is not just about Facebook. And in my opinion, this is the best film of the lot.accidental-billionaires

Aaron Sorkin adapts his screenplay from Ben Mezrich’s book, The Accidental Billionaires: the Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal. The resulting script is smart, funny and suspenseful, touching on questions of class, friendship, loyalty, intellectual property rights, business ethics, the misogyny of geek culture, and what it means to be successful.

Jesse Eisenberg leads the cast with a strong performance as Facebook founder Michael Zuckerberg, portrayed here with a potent mixture of obsession, humor, defensiveness, intelligence, loneliness, and self-loathing. Andrew Garfield, as his best friend Eduardo Saverin, Armie Hammer (a great grandson of Armand Hammer), as the privileged and somewhat menacing Winklevoss twins, and Rooney Mara, in a small role as Zuckerberg’s former girlfriend Erica Albright, also deliver breakout performances. Justin Timberlake shows a sense of humor about his own celebrity in playing smarmy Sean Parker.

Director David Fincher puts it all together nicely. The visuals he constructs are marvelous. I was stunned by scenes like the crew race in which part of the scene is blurred and part highly detailed, or the bar scene where colored lights play across Timberlake’s face, making him into some kind of modern-day devil.

Book groups would do well to pair this with the book by Mezrich (who also wrote Bringing down the House, a book about a team of blackjack card counters assembled at M.I.T., previously adapted (less successfully) into a Kevin Spacey film. Mezrich’s prose can be a bit purple, and he’s been accused of exaggerating the cloak-and-dagger and sexual aspects of the Facebook story to make his book more exciting, but I’m sure demand will follow as this film circulates and receives various honors.

facebook-effectSince Mezrich had access primarily to Eduardo Saverin, his book may exaggerate Saverin’s importance in the creation of Facebook and the degree to which he was later slighted by Zuckerberg and his financiers. An even better choice, and an interesting contrast, might be found in David Kirkpatrick’s book The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that Is Connecting the World, which was written with Zuckerberg’s cooperation. Reviews for Kirkpatrick’s book have actually been better than those for Mezrich’s.

You won’t finish these books or watch this film without thinking hard about your own motivations for using social networking (or for staying away.) Should your book group take on this book/film pair, I hope you’ll also leave time in your discussion for your own opinions about Facebook and other social networks.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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