As popular as Facebook is (roughly 8% of the world’s population has a page), wrap your head around the fact that it’s only been in existence for four years. Indeed, only 1,500 days ago (unless you lived on a college campus) you couldn’t ‘like’ something on Facebook even if you wanted to. A few years before that, the only time people used the word ‘facebook’ was when referring to the yearbook-like pamphlets many universities provide to first-year students.

Now Facebook is so massive that in the time it takes you to watch The Social Network, (the excellent, intense, and superbly-entertaining movie about the site’s creation), 50,000 more people will have joined. It’s obviously a story worth telling, and the filmmakers also make it worth seeing. And then some.

The movie opens way back (all of seven years ago) in the fall of 2003, with Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) sitting in a Boston bar engaging in verbal warfare with his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara). “Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster,” she says, before assuring him that, “you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a 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 a jerk” (only she doesn’t say ‘jerk’).

Zuckerberg immediately trots across campus to his dorm and, in a fit of petulance (the first of many) blogs about how Erica is a flat-chested witch (only he doesn’t say ‘witch’), and then he proceeds to hack into Harvard’s mainframe to quickly create a website that empowers users to ‘hot-or-not’ every co-ed on the campus.

Four hours later, 22,000 students have logged onto the site, causing Harvard’s server to crash. It garners the attention of (among others) the Winklevoss twins, seniors who are looking for someone to do the coding for their latest project, a campus-wide connectivity website. They recruit Zuckerberg, who takes their idea, mixes it with his idea, improves on it, and (poof!) designs Facebook.

The Social Network, though, isn’t boring biopic of a website. It’s a completely engrossing, occasionally even funny, ride through the highs and lows (and highs again) of one man’s journey from loser to billionaire. And it’s instantly worthy of being in serious contention for at least a half-dozen Oscars, including Best Picture.

In the extremely capable hands of director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en), the movie becomes a tale for the ages. I could sit here and wax poetically about how it’s a timely parable or a fascinating reflection of our own Internet-obsessed society, but when you cut through all that, the simple truth is that you may not see a movie the rest of the year that is as mesmerizing and expertly crafted as The Social Network.

To a person, the cast turns in career performances, including Eisenberg, who plays Zuckerberg as a ridiculously bright kid of few words, with all the social graces of a tarantula. When he does talk, he spits out the machine-gun patter of Aaron Sorkin’s incredible screenplay like he’s a dealer flinging cards in Vegas.

Justin Timberlake is fantastic as Sean Parker, the slick co-founder of Napster who helps Zuckerberg take Facebook global. He could (pretty please?) abandon his music career tomorrow and never look back. It’s Andrew Garfield, though, who turns in the most jaw-droppingly brilliant performance of the movie. As Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s only Harvard friend and the original financier of Facebook, Garfield has the most material to work with, and he makes every minute count. Over the course of a year, Saverin goes from co-founder to persona (extremely) non grata, screwed out of his stake in the company and left with no choice but to take his former pal to court. His powerful performance resonates long after the credits roll.

Sorkin has never written better (which is saying something). Alternating between flashbacks and the ‘present-day’ depositions in two lawsuits filed against Zuckerberg (by Saverin and by the Winklevoss twins), the screenplay is as close to perfect as it gets. And the whole thing is expertly augmented by the eerie, electronic score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

We can debate all day long about how far the facts were stretched to create interesting drama (though I imagine the final product is closer to the truth than not), but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The Social Network is nothing less than an instant classic that’s as witty and sharp as it is fascinating.

‘Like’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

5/5 stars