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In preparation to play Zuckerberg _ a relative blank slate considering the little known about him _ Eisenberg watched everything he could watch of the young CEO. After reading that Zuckerberg had been a fencer, he took fencing lessons. He listened to speeches by Zuckerberg on an iPod on his way to the set, and grew to have a “great affection” for him.

“I had the unique position on set of having to defend my character for six months,” says Eisenberg. “Even though the character occasionally acts in ways that are hurtful to the other characters, I was in the unique position of never seeing him in any light but a completely justified one. It’s impossible to play a role any other way.”

The portrayal is both harsh and empathetic, treating Zuckerberg as a visionary with little patience for condescending adults. Facebook, which didn’t cooperate with the film, said in a statement that “The movie might be a sign that Facebook has become meaningful to people, even if the movie is fiction.”

“You have to answer to its factuality,” says Sorkin. “I understand Facebook pushing back against the movie. That’s both predictable and understandable. They’re not doing anything wrong; it’s what I’d do, too. First of all, Facebook’s beef isn’t with the movie, it’s with the people who sued them and the testimony they gave. If I were Mark Zuckerberg, if I were Facebook, I would want this story only told from my point of view, which is what they wanted. But we’re telling it from their point of view and the point of view of Eduardo Saverin and the point of view of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.”

The Oscar drumbeat has already started for “The Social Network,” with many prognosticators expecting considerable awards attention for the film. Fincher, Sorkin and Eisenberg are all doing their best to ignore such talk for now; they know how fast and fickle online conversation can be.

“It’s scaring the heck out of me, I won’t lie to you,” says Sorkin of the swelling interest. “The rollout is enormous, the reaction has been extremely positive _ which can only mean one thing: The backlash will begin any moment now.”