Where does reality end and mythmaking begin in the Facebook creation-myth movie "The Social Network," opening Friday?
That has been debated ever since the movie's source — the Ben Mezrich best-seller "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal" — was published in 2009 amid the author's admissions of making up scenes and dialogue and calling his own work "a best guess."
And for director David Fincher, it doesn't appear to be a relevant question.
"I don't know how much the movie really is about Facebook," Fincher, 48, says in an interview. "Let's hope it's about a lot more than that."
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"Fundamentally, it's about a very big American theme, which is loneliness and reinvention," the movie's producer, Scott Rudin, 52, says. "It's Gatsby," he adds simply.
Not that F. Scott Fitzgerald's studiedly urbane Jay Gatsby was anything like Facebook prime mover Mark Zuckerberg, a less-than-ideal avatar of the American dream. A brusque, dismissive tech geek who labels himself "awkward" and whom Fincher says people call "borderline Asperger's," Zuckerberg comes across in lawsuit testimony and elsewhere as a bitter, alienating and vindictive jerk reinvented as a CEO superstar after creating a social-media phenomenon with his Harvard-dorm roommates.
Zuckerberg's saving grace as a movie character, at least, is getting to deliver some of the choicest Aaron Sorkin dialogue since "The West Wing" or "Sports Night," in a script where words and ideas volley like a Pro Penn ball at the U.S. Open, top-spinning with delicious sarcasm, sophomoric grandiosity and, somehow, an empathetic humanity.
That humanity, to much extent, comes via star Jesse Eisenberg, who despite accolades for films like "Roger Dodger" (2002), "The Squid and the Whale" (2005), "Adventureland" and "Zombieland" (both 2009), says self-effacingly over the phone, "I actually do feel very uncomfortable in settings that might also make my character uncomfortable. When I was preparing for the movie, I watched every interview that was available with the real guy, and I noticed he seemed pretty uncomfortable in interviews, and that's something I immediately understood. Oftentimes when my character feels uncomfortable, he tends to invert and almost appear stoic, and I kind of have a similar reaction."
That visceral identification with one aspect of the real Zuckerberg — who did not cooperate with the making of either the book or the film — helped Eisenberg, 26, do what he calls his "job, which was defend my character."
"I don't know what (Zuckerberg is) like in real life," Fincher says, "but I think it's fun that as a character he's somebody who doesn't suffer fools" — which is an interesting comment, since the character isn't so much suffering fools as he is putting down people with perfectly valid reasons to castigate, break up with or sue him.