And rage. “First scenes are superimportant to me,” Sorkin continued, lighting another cigarette. “I’ll spend months and months pacing and climbing the walls trying to come up with the first scene. I drive for hours on the freeway. I’m not a germaphobe, but I take six showers a day to get a burst of energy. Especially if things are not going well, I get in the shower and get wet, and get into different clothes and try again. The shower and the car are the two big thinking places for me. For The Social Network, I wanted to imagine the scene with the girl that led to that blog entry. I wanted to have that be the last straw. The girl saying no, the drinking, the blogging, the hacking, the creation of Facemash, all in one night. And then, after that scene, go to the end of the story—the depositions that happened when everything curdled.”
In the finished film, that first scene, between Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Erica Albright— portrayed by Rooney Mara, who was just cast as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—sets the tone for the rest of the film. It sings. Throughout his work Sorkin’s dialogue sounds like the rhythms were lifted from a fast-talking Thirties screwball comedy, but the content is something entirely less frothy. As Erica puts it, “Going out with you is like dating a StairMaster.” And later: “Listen. You’re going to be successful and rich. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a tech geek. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.” Zuckerberg’s response is to slag her online, to get his revenge through technology. Zuckerberg’s intellect, as channeled by Sorkin, is like a knife: It is effective but bloody.
When the film’s director, David Fincher, read the opening scene, he was struck by its larger resonance. “It was like Citizen Kane meets John Hughes,” Fincher told me. Unlike many directors, Fincher—who directed Fight Club and, most recently, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button—does not write his movies. And yet he’s attracted to the same subjects again and again: In most of his films, an outsider bumps up against society’s systems and rules. He saw that tension immediately in Sorkin’s screenplay and wanted to move quickly. “I read Social Network in May 2009, and I wanted to film it in the fall. Getting it done quickly seemed important.”
Everything went fast: Eisenberg, who has shown a twitchy intelligence in movies like Adventureland, was cast as Zuckerberg. Andrew Garfield, an English actor who was just chosen as the new Spider-Man, was given the pivotal role of Saverin. Armie Hammer, a great-grandson of billionaire Armand Hammer, plays both handsome, crew-rowing Winklevoss twins. And, after many meetings, Justin Timberlake was cast as Napster cofounder Sean Parker. If The Social Network has a devil, it is Parker, who didn’t make a dime from Napster but who was constantly on the lookout for the next Internet sensation. Zuckerberg was intrigued by Parker, who could read computer code and had both beautiful coeds and hungry venture capitalists in his thrall. “We made Justin audition more than anyone else,” Fincher said. As Parker, Timberlake is just the right mix of slick and craven; he instinctively gets Zuckerberg.