The Many Faces of Mark Zuckerberg: A Review of ‘The Social Network’

As a nocturnal Facebook addict, I reluctantly crawled out of my vampire casket and tottered off  to a matinee show of ‘The Social Network’,  sunglasses firmly perched on nose, crucifix and garlic repellent duly stashed away in my pocket.

Raj AyyarThe film captures the nerdy zeitgeist of our time rather well. It has no straightforward heroes or villains, nor does it have a clear cut storyline. But then a bio-pic of this kind simply reflects contemporary real life scenarios, that often lack a clear moral focus, and a telos, a purposive thrust toward a nicely packaged ‘The End’.

 I liked the film’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, from his seedling years at Harvard, to the triumph of becoming the world’s youngest billionaire, with 500 million + subscribers to Facebook, the numbers growing steadily.

I think Jesse Eisenberg’s version of Mark is masterful—he even looks (well, sorta kinda) like the founder of Facebook. He does display a varied spectrum of Zuckerbergian faces--Mark’s passion ‘to connect, to connect, to connect’, in E.M. Forster’s words, his algorithmic addiction and his passion for creating an ever-expanding social networking website. Facebook began on a beery night, conceived as an expanded elite college yearbook, originating at Harvard,  then marketed to other Ivy Leagues. It spread to include the whole planet.

The film also exposes his carefree lack of interest in money per se, his treacherous dumping of old friends when they no longer fit in with his plans, and his endless homo -social/emotional dependency on close male associates. The text of the film exposes his gawky awkwardness with women. Indeed, the  idea of FB was hatched on a stormy night, after his girlfriend breaks up with him and he returns to his Harvard dorm room in a misogynist mood, seeking revenge against her and against all the women students at Harvard, comparing them to ‘farm animals’. 

Justin Timberlake does a good job as the flashy, flirtatious Sean Parker, founder of Napster, who swiftly displaces Eduardo Savarin, co-founder of FB, from Mark’s affections and from the management of FB. Andrew Garfield has an interesting intensity as Eduardo, possibly the only ‘real’ character in the film and one who cares about Mark deeply.

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Honorary Gay Man of the Year: James Franco

Howl was one of several LGBT-themed films that made it onto the big screen in 2010, and much of the credit for this particular movie’s success goes to the actor who appeared in the leading role as gay poet Allen Ginsberg. 

James Franco deserves to be a contender for the title of honorary gay man of the year for doing a terrific job in the film, but what cinched the award for him—at least in my book—is that this is merely the latest of a string of gay characters the A-list straight actor has played.

For most moviegoers, Franco’s previous part that comes first to mind was that of Harvey Milk’s boyfriend in the Rodger Streitmatter2008 blockbuster Milk. The scenes featuring Franco in a skin-tight white T-shirt added some tasty male eye candy to the flick.  

TV viewers with a slightly longer memory might recall that Franco also portrayed the brooding gay icon James Dean in a 2001 film that aired on TNT. Many critics called the role one that Franco was born to play and it won him a Golden Globe for best actor.

It was also in 2001 that Franco played a gay man in the indie film Blind Spot. The low-budget work, which wasn’t widely released, showcased the young heartthrob as an aimless prep school student who goes in search of his missing male lover. 

[A case also could be made for Franco earning even more gay street cred for a 2009 appearance on Saturday Night Live when he French kissed Will Forte. I’m opting not to put that one on my list, though, seeing as how Forte was playing the part of Franco’s grandfather, which moves the scene way too far on the icky incest continuum for my taste.]   

The 32-year-old Franco definitely gets a bunch more gay points for his response when asked, for a cover story in The Advocate, why he’s been attracted to gay roles:

“In this history of cinema, there are so many heterosexual love stories—it’s so hammered, so done. It’s just not that interesting to me. It’s more interesting to me to play roles and relationships that haven’t been portrayed as often.”

Franco’s got it right there, as major motion pictures about same-sex love have been few and far between.

Ginsberg’s love life isn’t at the center of Howl, but the film includes passing references to his affairs with Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. It spends a bit more time depicting his 43-year relationship with fellow poet Peter Orlovsky—a same-sex partnership that ended only with Ginsberg’s death.

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