Examining Andrew Garfield's Performance in 'The Social Network'


The Social Network should not be an engaging film based on its premise. It takes place between boardrooms and college dorm rooms, following dialogues between unlikeable and inexperienced businesspeople as they stumble and betrays their way to millions of dollars. Who wants to sit through two hours of discussions on stocks and social media, culminating in Mark Zuckerberg being the world's youngest billionaire?

Despite the apparent dullness and odiousness of the true-life story it depicts, The Social Network became one of the most significant and influential films of the twenty-first century. The film revealed the thrill to be found behind conference tables and back-end development thanks to Aaron Sorkin's quick, sharp writing, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails provides an outstanding score, and the film is directed with David Fincher's renowned precision. In reality, the film is about friendship and betrayal, not any of those things. 

Though those concepts are sculpted in Sorkin's writing and heightened by Fincher's direction, it is up to the actors to guarantee that the reality is felt. Surprisingly, despite so much praise for the film's craftsmanship, little attention was paid to stars Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield, who play the painful demise of a friendship flawlessly. 

Fincher was initially interested in Garfield for the character of Zuckerberg while the film was in its early stages. However, when Fincher met Garfield, he discovered that he had "such incredible emotional access to his kind of core humanity," as he told the Los Angeles Times. Fincher was searching for someone who didn't have this kind of access, so Garfield wasn't quite fit for the emotionless, distant Zuckerberg. Instead, Fincher cast him as Eduardo Saverin opposite Eisenberg. 

The Brazilian entrepreneur, who began as Zuckerberg's college friend, was instrumental in the founding of Facebook, but their friendship and business cooperation soon deteriorated due to a series of betrayals and disagreements. As a result, Zuckerberg's name has been inextricably linked with Facebook, whereas Saverin's has essentially vanished from the cultural mainstream. Saverin may have lost Facebook stardom to his former pal, but his relative anonymity allowed Garfield to explore the character in his own right, rather than trying to emulate Eisenberg's well-known characteristics. 

Garfield discussed his preparation for the job with the Los Angeles Times, which did not include a meeting with the real Eduardo Saverin since they did not believe it was necessary. It didn't feel necessary because Aaron Sorkin wrote such an intricate and unique story that allowed him to fully develop a number of actual individuals, according to the man. But doing any sort of mimicking act didn't feel necessary or crucial." 

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The actor's determination to eschew mimicry paid well. By digging for the character in his own research of Sorkin's writing, he created the perfect opposition to Eisenberg's unfeeling Zuckerberg and the film's overall unemotional tone. Garfield spends the first half of the film portraying Saverin as sympathetic and naive, attempting to be a good buddy despite Mark's protestations. 

When Mark tells him, "I need you" while working on the first version of Facebook, Saverin, soft and sad, sits at his side and declares, "I'm here for you." In the aftermath of his friend's split, Mark expresses genuine concern, to which Mark just says, "No, I need the algorithm you use to rank chess players." Garfield's entire demeanor during the sequence is filled with concern for his friend and the girls he's objectifying online, with him mentally wrestling over how best to help him. 

Garfield's lighthearted, lovable persona persists throughout their early connection, prior to Facebook's global success, from dancing over to Mark at a college party to goofy surprise at his increased female attention. It's a sharp contrast to the Eduardo we see in the court scenes interspersed throughout the novel. When we see the characters in a conference room, Garfield portrays Eduardo as disheartened and disillusioned. The light in his eyes has gone when he looks over at Mark, his old best friend. 

This difference is what makes Garfield's Saverin so appealing to the audience. Mark's shenanigans and treachery have steadily destroyed the thrill he once felt about starting a business with his friend, and it's all the more heartbreaking when presented through Garfield's fully genuine performance. Garfield's transformation from a devoted friend and enthusiastic business partner to a furious foe culminates in a memorable moment near the end of the film, which has been endlessly referenced by cult cinema lovers online. 

Court footage is once again intercut with a scene from Facebook's headquarters in which Eduardo discovers that Mark has diminished his shares. When they begin discussing the situation, Garfield sits facing the camera, with a hazy Eisenberg behind him - he can't even look his friend in the eyes. He just turns to say the terrible remark, "I was your only friend." You have one friend", before returning to narrate the story, stoic and enraged. 

Garfield's best moment is when Eduardo realizes Mark has betrayed him. At that point, he finally abandons his concern for Mark, marching across the office with a face that reveals his disdain for his friend. He smashes Mark's laptop down, delivering his words with a mix of rage, anguish, disbelief, and disappointment, both in Mark and in himself for having trusted him. Back in court, he confronts Zuckerberg once more, staring him down to deliver the devastating statistic: his shares were diluted down to 0.3%. 

Garfield's performance as Eduardo Saverin may have gone unnoticed in the midst of widespread appreciation for The Social Network's production features, but it is equally deserving of praise. In contrast to Eisenberg, Garfield purposefully channels the emotional and human in his performance, making Mark appear even more unfeeling. 

In real life Eduardo Saverin, like Zuckerberg, is now a billionaire and entrepreneur, but Garfield isn't playing him. He's interpreting Sorkin's script in his own way, telling the story of a broken friendship rather than the story of Facebook. Garfield adds a human feel to a film that may have been as emotionless as its main character.

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