In this respect, a movie about the failure of one individual also reflects the historical failure of a culture. If the opening scene between Erica and Mark explains Mark’s personal failing, the scene with Larry Summers (Douglas Urbanski),[open endnotes in new window] the president of Harvard, explains how that failing reflects the collective failing in which Mark is himself but a bit player, notwithstanding — or perhaps because of — his commercial success.
The Winkelvoss twins set up the context in which Mark’s success represents the new historical order of business. His repeated attacks on them — “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook” and “I think that if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try” — comes with an understanding that his success represents an historical change — “They’re suing me because for the first time in their lives things didn’t work out exactly the way they were supposed to.” A stand-in for “old Harvard” — white, Protestant, moneyed, athletically strong and competitive — the Winkelvosses are both on the crew team and members of one of the final clubs. They maintain an historically quaint sense that the world entitles them to a life which, in their self-serving view, is fundamentally fair. They may exclude others from their club or neglect or even abuse women. For example, they never bother to ask whether their girlfriends were hurt by Mark’s Facemash site and belong to a club which brings in women by the busload for their personal entertainment. Nevertheless, “these gentlemen of Harvard” believe in a certain code of behavior. That code is embodied in the Harvard student handbook, which one of them dubs “Harvard law.”
But that “Harvard law,” as Harvard’s president makes clear in his meeting with the Winkelvoss twins, no longer exists in the contemporary world defined by the Mark Zuckerbergs and Facebook. The building in which the meeting occurs is 100 years older than the US republic, as the president’s secretary pointedly tells the twins, thereby lending an historical gravitas to this meeting. Yet immediately we see that the Winkelvoss’ trust in “Harvard law” is misplaced. For example, the president’s secretary makes cautionary note about the near sanctity of the chairs in which the Winkelvoss sit; her words, however, cannot help but remind us of Mark’s differing view — that no one can own the rights to all chairs simply because he or she was the first to invent the design of a particular chair. At the meeting, President Larry Summers, who touts his knowledge as the former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, immediately mocks the Winkelvosses as students who have come to sell a Brooks Brothers clothing franchise. In an exchange of words nearly as fast as Mark’s opening one with Erica, Summers brushes aside their reliance on “Harvard law,” disclaiming any responsibility on the part of Harvard to intervene. He suggests that they come up with a new idea and ultimately informs them that their recourse is to be found in the anonymity of the court system, which comes to occupy the film through the depositions recounting the story of Facebook. Indeed, Summers pointedly deflects their question about knowing the difference between right and wrong, and he ironically ends the meeting by accusing them of abusing their position by the very arrangement of the meeting through their father. “Anne, punch me,” Summers tells his assistant, the same term used by the final clubs in admitting new members.
Larry Summers, like Mark Zuckerberg, is himself the president of a final club, namely Harvard University. Harvard and Facebook are alike in that they both tout their self-serving exclusivity and both impose an isolation on their presidents, placing them in socially acceptable “panic rooms.” There is no “Harvard law,” only a social Darwinism in which all the spoils go to the winner. As Eduardo later observes in despair to Mark as their friendship deteriorates and in a reference to Sean Parker’s earlier speech about success as consisting of catching the huge marlin, “Don’t fish eat other fish?” The successful individual feeds on others in order to achieve the success of a presidency. Cannibalism is each individual’s “unalienable right.”
President Summers' rejection of the Winkelvoss' petition is but one way in which the plot indicates the shifting definition of fairness. For example, the Winkelvoss twins later accept as fair the results by which they lose the Royal Regatta at Henley, but their loss is dismissed by Prince Albert, an insider to an older, still more exclusive club to which they do not belong. In a similar way we see the helplessness of the Winkelvoss' father in the face of a changing world. He has his in-house lawyer send a useless "cease and desist" letter, which Mark readily answers with the assistance of a third-year, Harvard law student. The elder Winkelvoss is still later at a loss for words when the family learns that Facebook has expanded to England so that the twins' loss at Henley has already been broadcast over Facebook.
Historical context defines fairness, and only Napster’s Sean Parker seems aware of the latest shift in values, repeatedly announcing that “it’s our time.” Symbolically, the sponsoring logo to the Winkelvoss’ crew boat is the Polaroid logo, a once premiere, Boston-based company which failed to keep pace with the progressive advances of technology. Ironically, as we learn through the end credits, the Winkelvoss twins eventually placed sixth in the Olympics then held in China, the very country in which there are more genius IQs than there are people in the United States. Mark’s $65 million settlement check to the Winkelvoss twins is indeed only a “speeding ticket” for what in 2010 was a $25 billion business. Mark’s success represents an historical change in which “old Harvard” and its sense of fairness has been rendered as irrelevant as Prince Albert, whom the Winkelvosses mock, because his country, Monaco, is the size of Rhode Island. The athletic Winkelvoss twins have themselves been outsized.
If Mark represents the future and the Winkelvosses the past, then Eduardo represents the present torn between the two and the moral center of the film. His connections with Mark are obvious. He is Mark’s friend. He is the only person who expresses concern about Mark’s breakup with Erica (which Mark seemingly ignores) and later ironically tells the Facebook lawyers that Mark needs to be protected (even as those lawyer on behalf of Mark are having Eduardo sign corporate papers which will lead to Eduardo’s disenfranchisement from Facebook). He is also the technologically savvy student whose algorithm enables Mark to set up the Facemash site, eventually resulting in Mark’s introduction to the Winkelvoss twins who disclose to him the idea for the “Harvard connection.” Not incidentally, Eduardo is also the person who suggests to Mark that Facebook needs to expand not only to Yale and Columbia, as proposed by Mark, but also to Stanford. He thereby advances the interests of his friend Mark but also dooms himself in the process, since it is through that California connection that Sean Parker learns of Facebook, inevitably leading to Eduardo’s being forced out.
Eduardo, however, is also not Mark. He is not so “plugged in” as Mark, evidenced by his lack of enchantment with the supposedly visionary Sean Parker, with whom Mark wholly identifies, and also by his admitted inability to change his relationship status on Facebook, an admission he makes to his then-paranoid girlfriend. Thus, Eduardo is also, in part, “old Harvard” and, as such, connected to the Winkelvoss twins and their world. He acknowledges his desire to become a member of one of the final clubs, and the obsessive development by Mark of Facebook is paralled by Eduardo’s obsessive steps in becoming accepted by, and his gradual induction into, one such final club, the Phoenix Club. Tellingly, the two narratives converge when Mark prevails upon Eduardo to disclose to Mark the members of the Phoenix Club so that Mark can launch Facebook through the email addresses of those members. Of course, Mark has only contempt for a club from which he has been excluded, mocking the email address of the Phoenix Club’s president and its reference to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.
That parallel is made explicit in other ways. For example, as a result of his seeking admission to the Phoenix Club, Eduardo is accused of an animal rights violation by supposedly torturing a chicken, namely feeding chicken meat to a chicken. That story, in turn, leads to the revelation of how Mark used Facebook to find answers for his art history essay. Our sympathies in this instance are wholly with Eduardo. The young law associate, Marilyn Delpy, laughs at the silliness of the chicken episode, which the Harvard Crimson wrote about (implicitly at Mark’s instigation) and which thereby embarrassed Eduardo in the eyes of his father. On the other hand, Mark’s use of Facebook to find answers for his art class essay is not excused by any such laughter and is thereby acknowledged for what it is — cheating. Until he accidently found the Winkelvoss’ cease and desist letter in Mark’s dorm room, Eduardo knew nothing about the Winkelvoss’ “Harvard connection” idea, an idea which Mark consistently has disdained because he copied none of their code and hence, in his view, violated no laws.
Indeed, that intellectual property law, which is repeatedly referred to by each of the characters, would likely not recognize the Winkelvoss’ contribution for what was merely an “idea.” As Mark correctly observes — echoed in Fincher’s commentary to the movie — no one can own the rights to the concept of a “chair.” Nevertheless, it is Eduardo who understands that law and morality are not one and the same. The former is based on logic, codes, while latter is based on relationships, emotion. While Sean Parker introduces Mark to venture capitalists for whom Facebook is merely a vehicle for making money, without emotional content, Eduardo lends his own money to Mark out of friendship, which Mark himself acknowledges in explaining why he chose to accept his money rather than from the Winkelvoss family. Eduardo also tries to “monetize” the Facebook site through old school advertisers for whom there are real products. That Fincher cast Sorkin to play one such advertising executive expresses Fincher’s view as to where Sorkin’s sympathies lie. Sorkin harks back to a United States which once made products, such as railroads — and which today might still make products, such as solar panels — rather than primarily engage in the financial wizardry of hedge funds and the virtual realities of Internet communications through Facebook. The connection for Eduardo between relationships and morality is symbolized by his emotionally driven decision to freeze Facebook’s funds and his confession to Mark that he did so in order to gain Mark’s attention.
While money is of no importance to Mark other than for the social notoriety it provides, relationships are equally of no importance to Mark. They are only social currency providing entry into an exclusive final club where he will be the president. Thus, in response to Eduardo’s confession about his anger and need to gain his friend’s attention, Mark retaliates by claiming that he needs his CFO, coldly inviting Eduardo to Facebook’s new offices; there he “ambushes” Mark through both the company’s lawyers and Sean Parker. In fact, Fincher has commented with approval on Mark’s need to discard his Harvard roommates, such as Eduardo, if Facebook is to achieve its creative potential. Such words express where Fincher’s sympathies lie. Fincher applauds the members of the “millennial generation” in the United States for whom virtual communications render individual success emotionally removed; hence making it becomes less problematic even when one’s personal success hurts others.
In the confrontational scene between Mark and Eduardo at the Facebook offices, in which the same “hauntingly quiet” music plays as under the movie’s opening credits, Mark is dressed in his “fuck-you” flip-flops and hoodie while Eduardo is dressed in black. Mark is the street kid from The Wire with his new electronic toy which will make him billions while addicting its millions of members (“freakishly addictive” to quote the Stanford student’s observation to Sean Parker). In contrast to Eduardo (and the Winkelvosses), Mark is the fatherless adolescent and remains always in rebellion against the “adult” world. Eduardo is the Johnny Cash-like figure in black, the rebel of an earlier generation who eventually grew up and became known as husband and father to other country western singers.
Erica rejects Mark for his immaturity, his inability to sustain a genuine relationship with anyone. In contrast to her scene with Mark at a local club in which she wears the classic, black beret, the stereotypical image of a young woman in rebellion, she appears on Facebook in the final scene as an older woman who has outgrown her adolescent self. While Fincher has commented that Erica is not the love of Mark’s life, Sorkin in contrast describes as heart-breaking the movie’s opening scene. Angry at her rejection of him, Mark tells Erica in the opening scene, “I don’t want friends,” and she replies, “I have no intention of being friends with you.” The scripted, final shot of the movie returns, however, to the image of Erica on Facebook as an adult and Mark’s futile quest to friend her, which Sorkin has compared to the nearly final shot in Citizen Kane and its disclosure as to the meaning of “rosebud.”
At the end of the film, Mark’s quest to achieve and his commercial success have inevitably led to his being alone in the large conference room of his adult lawyers. The last image of the inventor of Facebook shows him addictively refreshing his computer trying to “friend” Erica. The patriarchal and exclusionary world embodied by the Winkelvoss twins has been overridden by technology, which makes winners of those with the brains to imagine and implement the demands of the many. Bill Gates and now Mark Zuckerberg are our robber barons. In place of a sexist and ethnically determined society, ours is a far more democratic and merit-based world. Yet it is also a world with little or no moral compass other than the degree of notoriety captured by those who succeed. It moves ahead without regard for the consequences to the many and fosters “relationships” consisting of only immediate connections without any depth, let alone caring.
The personal is political, but it is also now the case that the private is public. That Facebook has routinely captured data on its members — and that its members accede to that — suggests how far the world has come in monetizing people. The movie expresses little sympathy for the Winkelvoss family, except as historic relics. It ultimately condemns Mark Zuckerberg, mourning his failings, including his continued adolescent state and self-love. The movie expresses sympathy for Eduardo, the one character who cares about others. However, he is rewarded by betrayal by his closest friend. In that context, Eduardo’s settlement consisting of a listing on a masthead and an undisclosed sum of money is an afterthought of the end credits. The movie’s bleakness resides in its sense of waste and lost opportunities. That the characters’ story is told through deposition transcripts is apt in a world in which, as Sean Parker foresees, having lived on farms and then in cities, we will now live on the Internet, though alone with our “social networks.”