Facebook’s Ivy roots

Harvard takes center stage in new flick

By Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa
Boston Herald
September 23, 2010

The Hollywood spotlight will shine on Harvard in “The Social Network,” the highly anticipated Facebook movie that goes behind the ivy-covered walls to chronicle the birth of the massive online Friendfest.

The flick, due out Oct. 1, is based on a book by Boston author Ben Mezrich about the origin of Facebook in a Harvard dorm room by alienated computer nerd Mark Zuckerberg, who wanted to do something impressive enough to get into one of the best clubs on the Ivy League campus.

Zuckerberg, now presiding over the largest social network on the planet, with more than 500 million members, has condemned the flick as “fiction.”

But critics already are drooling over the Aaron Sorkin-penned script, the David Fincher-directed performances and the star turns by “Zombieland” actor Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg and pop superstar Justin Timberlake, who plays Sean Parker, the ex-Northeastern student who founded Napster and became Zuckerberg’s Silicon Valley mentor.

“You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies,” the tagline says.

And it is those enemies that drive the plot. Zuckerberg was sued in Boston courts by classmates who claimed he stole their idea. He paid them a reported $65 million settlement.

Zuckerberg’s ex-best friend, Eduardo Saverin – who provided the startup capital for the site – also ended up in court claiming Zuckerberg cheated him out of his fair share of the company, now worth an estimated $25 billion. (That suit was also settled with Saverin reportedly receiving a massive payout.)

“I have great affection for my character,” Eisenberg told the Track yesterday in a round of media interviews to promote the film. “He kind of feels alienated by society and by traditional relationships at Harvard. He’s coming, not from a place of greed when he creates Facebook, it’s to create a place where he feels comfortable interacting.”

The release of the film is expected to reignite debate over Facebook, which critics say undermines traditional human interaction and replaces it with impersonal keyboard punching.

“I think Facebook is one of the best tools we’ve been given in this modern age,” said actor Armie Hammer, who plays both Winklevoss twins, Tyler and Cameron, the Harvard students who claimed Zuckerberg stole their idea and turned it into his Web monster.

“You can connect with people you haven’t seen since you were 4 years old, you can create a cause, draw awareness to something. If there’s a country where there’s a news blackout, stories get out on Facebook – there’s a whole new generation of Facebook activists.

“But then there’s the flip side of Facebook, where it turns people into voyeurs or narcissists. They’re on Facebook for eight hours a day, saying ‘Who tagged me? What picture? They didn’t even write on my wall!’ And all of a sudden, you spent six hours on Facebook and you have nothing to show for it except your eyes hurt.”

Screenwriter Sorkin said he purposely started out to present all sides of the Facebook story and to leave it up to the viewers to decide who was right, who was wrong and whether the social network is one of the Seven Signs of the Apocalypse.

“I liked the fact that there was this ‘Rashomon’ quality – three different conflicting versions of the story and I wanted to dramatize that,” Sorkin told the Herald.

“The movie doesn’t take a position on what the truth is,” he continued, “but if I were Mark, if I were Facebook, I would only want the movie told from my point of view. There will not be consensus at the end of the film over who the bad guy was and who the good guy was; who was right, who was wrong. Those arguments will happen in the parking lot.”

Let the debate begin . . .

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