The Social Network Gives Facebook a SuperPoke

There are over 500 million Facebook users in existence today, and as of Sept. 30 over 42,000 of them have already confirmed that they “Like” The Social Network. Well, just wait until these folks actually see the movie. David Fincher’s provocative new film, which unflinchingly recounts the early, tumultuous years of Facebook and its controversial CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is a bona fide Oscar contender that quite frankly is more deserving of a “Love” button.

Following a screening of the buzz-worthy flick late last month, the cast, crew and media were all invited to a black-tie-optional after party at the swanky Harvard Club of New York. Founded in 1887, the historic hangout almost seems to exist in another time and place. Adorned with oversized fireplaces, early 20th Century illustrations from the Harvard Lampoon, Harvard athletic paraphernalia and more than a few mounted animal heads — there was even an elephant — it was a most fitting venue, not just because Facebook originated at Harvard, but also because the members-only social club perfectly embodies so many of the key motifs of the film: social status, wealth, privilege, and exclusionism.

Of course, it didn’t take long before I clumsily spilled my food and drink all over the floor. Fortunately, nobody inside the tony establishment seemed to pay any attention — which got me to thinking: in a room full of Hollywood big-wigs and VIPs, perhaps I was invisible, a media outsider not worthy of a second glance. I was sharing the same physical space as them, but I wasn’t one of them. It was a lonely, alienating feeling, one that makes you understand why Zuckerberg — at least the version of him created by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and played by rising star Jesse Eisenberg — held such contempt for the social institutions that refused to accept him.

According to the film, it was Zuckerberg’s desperate longing for inclusion that not only fed into his insecurities but also allowed the teenaged whiz kid to recognize Facebook’s greatest selling point when he launched the web site back in 2004 — it’s a way for you to create your own exclusive club, one that’s a window to your soul, where you are always the center of attention, where you decide who gets in and who never gets past the velvet rope.

“It’s a party and you’re throwing it,” said Social Network co-star Justin Timberlake at a press conference held the following morning at the Harvard Club. “I think that’s kinda the intrigue behind having your own Facebook page and creating your own profile. It’s your world.”

And what immense irony it is that it took a socially awkward 19-year-old to run with that concept and revolutionize the way people communicate in the digital age.

“The character that Aaron created is a guy that is desperately trying to fit in and doesn’t have the social wherewithal to do so,” said Eisenberg. “And, almost to cope, he creates this incredible tool to interact in a way that he feels comfortable. And because of his incredible insight, 500 million other people also feel comfortable using that tool.”

The real Zuckerberg, now 26, has distanced himself from the film, largely due to his unflattering portrayal as an arrogant, envious, socially-backward “nerd” who co-opts his fellow classmates’ concept for a web site and betrays his own best friend Eduardo Savarin by forcing him out of the company they co-founded. (Eduardo, if you don’t know by now, is played by the next Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield.) According to Sorkin, Zuckerberg had at one time agreed via a third party to provide his account of events, but only if Sorkin did not set the film in Harvard and didn’t refer to the web site as Facebook. “In other words, ‘We’ll help you out if you write fiction, but we’re not going to help you out telling the true story,’” said Sorkin.

Fortunately, other anonymous parties who personally witnessed the meteoric rise of Facebook first-hand detailed to Sorkin their perspectives on the story, thus allowing him to create a complex and sometimes contradictory narrative that essentially asks viewers to consider the various characters’ inconsistent accounts and interpret the truth for themselves. The screenwriter also relied heavily on the depositions from two separate lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg, one by Savarin, and the other by a trio of Harvard students — Divya Narendra and twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss — who claim that Zuckerberg stole their idea. In the end, said Sorkin, “I don’t think we are unfair to anyone in this movie. I think everyone gets their say and I think by the end of the movie you want to give Mark a hug.”

Despite the clashing points of view presented in this film, one thing everyone can agree on is that Facebook is a multi-billion-dollar powerhouse whose value just keeps on soaring. Strangely enough, however, none of the actors in the film, nor Sorkin, have really jumped on the Facebook or social networking bandwagon. “I get the idea collectively that none of us are really that savvy at using Facebook,” said Timberlake. In fact, “I’m ridiculously stupid when it comes to computers and social networking.”

So I guess at the end of the day, no matter how insignificant and invisible I my have felt that night at the after party, at least I can say that I have more Facebook friends than Justin Timberlake — at least until he decides it’s finally time to join the party.