Facebook founder battles his demons on `The Social Network’

By Andy Goldberg, IANS
Saturday, September 25, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - Its director has likened the film to the classic tale of media ambition, “Citizen Kane”.

The Hollywood Reporter has called it a “mesmerising, must-see movie”.

So it’s not surprising that as the Facebook movie, “The Social Network”, is set to hit screens around the world in the coming days, the buzz in Hollywood and in the ever-more important blogosphere is that the film is heading for Oscar glory.

It may even achieve that rarest of feats in the annals of dramatic cinema - gather an armload of critical raves and prestigious awards while also becoming a huge box office hit - especially if only a small proportion of Facebook’s 500 million registered users decide to spend their hard-earned cash watching a film about the creator of their favourite website.

The film, written by West Wing scribe Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher (”The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), stars Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and follows him as he goes from being an awkward Harvard undergraduate to the creator of the world-changing social network.

There can be no doubt that it’s a worthy subject. Zuckerberg, only 26, is often called “the boy-king” of Silicon Valley, but that grand title may not give him his full due.

Facebook is not only the most popular website in the world, surpassing even Google in

the amount of time people spend on it. More than any other invention since the telephone, it has redefined the way people interact with each other.

The New Yorker Magazine, in a recent and rare profile of Zuckerberg, called his creation “a directory of the world’s people”. While “only” one in every fourteen people in the world currently is a Facebook member, the site is still growing so fast

that it won’t take long until that somewhat hyperbolic description is accurate.

Fincher’s comparison to the movie that is often called the greatest film of all time is not entirely spurious. Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” was a semi-fictional account of the life and motivations of Randolph Hearst, an all-powerful media magnate at the turn of the 20th century. “The Social Network” tries to peek into the life and drive of Zuckerberg, who ironically remains an intensely private person despite his stated intentions with Facebook to make the world a more open place.

The film is based on the book “The Accidental Millionaires” - some of which is based on fact - which describes Zuckerberg as an egotistical and obsessed geek whose drive to create a new kind of social interaction via the web ironically caused him to lose his

closest friends in real life.

The Hollywood Reporter described Zuckerberg’s character as a Shakespearean protagonist - “a high achieving individual who carries within him the seeds of his own destruction”.

So far of course Zuckerberg has artfully avoided such destruction. Financially he is already ranked as the 35th richest person in the US with a $6.9 billion fortune. That is likely to grow considerably when Facebook finally decides to go public.

He also appears to have a relatively normal private life, enjoying the company of a steady girlfriend - a medical student whom he met at Harvard - and appearing glaringly uninterested in the material trappings his success could afford him. He lives in a rented house, doesn’t own a TV and drives a relatively modest sedan that he bought

after asking a friend for a car that would be “safe, comfortable, not ostentatious,” according to the New Yorker.

The conflicts revolve around the well-documented claims that Zuckerberg stole his ideas and many of Facebook’s key features from fellow undergrads who had asked the coding genius for help on developing similar sites. Zuckerberg has already settled most of those lawsuits for undisclosed amounts that are thought to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

But there is no such comfortable relief from the other source of controversy - his flawed and arrogant character that is portrayed as valuing others only in so far as they can contribute to his plans. Zuckerberg reportedly hates the unauthorised movie, but has acknowledged elsewhere that he has matured since then and that some of his more troublesome acts were the result of youthful indiscretions.

“I think I’ve grown and learned a lot,” he told the New Yorker.

Eisenberg also professed sympathy for the flawed character he plays in the movie. “I don’t think any of us would want the things we did when we were 19-years-old made into a movie,” he said.

Other moguls may have gone on the offensive at the unflattering portrayal. But Zuckerberg’s reactions have been more muted. He cooperated with the New Yorker profile, in which he came out as a sympathetic tech visionary, and he also announced a $100-million donation to the trouble schools of Newark, New Jersey just days before the film was released.

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