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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

On Jesse Eisenberg’s birthday, revisiting his magnificent performance as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network

The Social Network had an enviable creative team in David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin. All it needed was a strong central performance to make the movie a success. It got a fantastic one from Eisenberg, an actor, it seems, was particularly suited for the role.

By: Entertainment Desk | New Delhi |
October 5, 2021 5:55:20 pm
Jesse Eisenberg, the social network, jesse eisenberg social networkJesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. (Photo: Sony Pictures)

Jesse Eisenberg turns 38 today. The actor has delivered several acclaimed performances in his career, but none comes close to his portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network. Written by Aaron Sorkin, the film was a delectable combination of Fincher’s trademark storytelling techniques and sensibilities (flashbacks, narrative jumps, muted colour tones) with Sorkin’s sharp script and snappy dialogue.

The fact that more than a decade has passed since its release has only made its legacy stronger and more relevant, as Zuckerberg’s Facebook continues to affect our lives, sometimes in terrifying ways.

The ingredients were all there. The Social Network had an enviable creative team. All it needed was a strong central performance to make the movie a success. It got a storming one from Eisenberg, an actor, it seems, was particularly suited for the role.

It was wise for Eisenberg to not mimic Zuckerberg as that would have turned the movie into a cheap parody intended for, mainly, humour like Saturday Night Live. Rather, he brought his own interpretation to the character. In other words, he did not play a real person so much he essayed a character from a script.

Thanks to Sorkin, Eisenberg had a superlative script to work with. Right from the outset, in the first scene itself, the film grabs you and never really lets you go. Even something as dry as discussions

We see the Harvard undergraduate Zuckerberg getting dumped by his girlfriend Erica Albright (an invented character played by Rooney Mara). The frat boy he is, he takes revenge by insulting her on his blog.

We see this tendency to denigrate everyone he thinks is below his intelligence level again and again.  Eisenberg does a magnificent job in inhabiting this singularly egotistical maniac — the character, not the real person as thanks to his reclusive nature, we don’t really know what kind of person the real Zuckerberg is.

Eisenberg had played geeky, socially awkward people before, but this was something different. This was a geek whose biggest creation has become a home to hate speech, misinformation, racist, homophobic, and abusive content, and if US media reports are anything to go by can tilt the opinion of millions of people towards a political candidate, perhaps one who is adept at it.

There were miserable aspects to Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg, but there were some sinister ones too. The actor was flawless in depicting both faces to the character.

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