The Ultimate Hoodlum: In The Social Network, the Villain Wears a Cloak

In the past, storytellers have marked the villains of their narratives with a hump or a limp, facial hair, a cigarette, a severe laugh, a harsh light, something black and well tailored or bright and dandified. The 20-year-old villain of The Social Network, which premiered at the New York Film Festival last Friday and will arrive in theaters Oct. 1, wears Adidas sandals and an oversize Gap hoodie. 

“That’s the Zuckerberg outfit–a hoodie and flip-flops,” said Ben Mezrich, author of The Accidental Billionaires, at the Harvard Club in midtown after Friday’s screening. According to Mr. Mezrich, whose book served as the basis for the film, the Facebook founder’s look was something described to him in detail while he was doing his research. “Why does he dress that way? Maybe he’s the ultimate rebel revolutionary just fighting the good fight. He’s always been kind of that guy.”

The Zuckerberg character, as conceived by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher and played by Jesse Eisenberg, spends most of the film’s 121 minutes in what another character describes as his “hoodie and fuck-you flip-flops” as he invents the Web site in his dorm room, runs through the snow of the Harvard campus and attends legal depositions opposite classmates who have brought lawsuits against him.

In one scene, Zuckerberg tells Eduardo Saverin, the site’s co-founder, played by Andrew Garfield, that the design of Facebook is “never finished the way fashion is never finished.” The Zuckerberg wardrobe evolves, too, not the actual parts but the fit and make as he transitions from socially thorny Harvard student to friendless mogul sitting at a laptop, repeatedly clicking refresh on his ex-girlfriend’s Facebook page. That gray, bulky Gap sweatshirt at the Cambridge, Ma., bar has morphed into a fitted, black (American Apparel?) hoodie in Facebook’s colorful Palo Alto office.

“Not only was it comfortable, which is not really relevant to me, but also accurate,” said Mr. Eisenberg, the 26-year-old actor who plays Zuckerberg and who said he is not on Facebook. Mr. Eisenberg was dressed in an appropriate suit and tie. “The costume designer found every picture of every character that was available and retrieved every article of clothing in those pictures” (i.e., Phillips Exeter Academy T-shirt, black North Face fleece). The actor plans to keep the hoodie from the film’s opening shot as a keepsake. “I was promised the Gap sweatshirt, and I am still waiting for it,” said Mr. Eisenberg.  

To illustrate the film’s tension more explicitly, Zuckerberg’s adversaries, the towering future Olympic twin rowers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss–or the Winkelvy, as Zuckerberg nicknames them–always appear in expensive suits and pressed ties. When the Winklevoss twins enter the office of Larry Summers, then Harvard’s president, to complain about Zuckerberg stealing the idea for what was allegedly their Web site, Summers says to his assistant, “From the look of it, they want to sell me a Brooks Brothers franchise.” Early on, one of the twins argues that they cannot take legal action against Zuckerberg because they are Harvard gentlemen. (Incidentally, the word villain is derived from the Latin villanus or “inhabitant of the farm,” i.e., someone who works the land and lacks the chivalry and manners of a knight or a gentleman.)

Saverin, the Facebook co-founder who also sues Zuckerberg and may be the most likable character in the film, has a wardrobe of tailored pea coats and raised collars. According to Mr. Garfield, the British actor who plays the character, Zuckerberg’s outfit wouldn’t have been the same had Facebook been invented at Oxford or Cambridge. “No, no, no, no. Flips-flops in the rain doesn’t work,” said Mr. Garfield. “I mean, just no. I think it’s a purely Zuckerberg thing.”

Mr. Garfield is also not on Facebook. “I was on Facebook and now I’m not,” he said. “I was using it to waste time and then I decided to stop wasting time.” (The actor has recently signed on to replace Tobey Maguire as the next Spider-Man.)

Brenda Song, the actress who plays Saverin’s girlfriend, said the young men where she attended college, Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., would never do the “Zuckerberg” and opted instead for board shorts and bare chests. “Literally, I think only Mark Zuckerberg would wear that,” said Ms. Song. “He’s always ready for a shower, for outside, for anything in seconds, basically. It’s comfy wear. It’s me in a sweatshirt and Uggs–that’s my Mark Zuckerberg.”

Of all the actors in the room, only Kevin Spacey seemed to be on Facebook, which he said he joined after he signed on to be executive producer of The Social Network.

“When it started, we didn’t know really what it was, but we just had a gut feeling that there was a story there,” said Mr. Spacey, as The Observer pulled him away from Justin Timberlake. “And once we investigated and Ben Mezrich started to do his research for the book, we quickly realized that there was a fascinating story about friendship and betrayal and this remarkable way in which we all communicate.”

Mr. Spacey insisted that Zuckerberg is not the villain of the story. “I wouldn’t characterize him that way. I think he’s portrayed as a human being,” he said. “I think no matter how you think this thing went down, it’s like Rashomon–at the end of the day, you root for everyone.” Asked what he thought of the Harvard’s man’s attire, he said, “I don’t know that everybody there wears that.”

–Irina Aleksander The Ultimate Hoodlum: In The Social Network, the Villain Wears a Cloak