The Social Network (2010, d. David Fincher)
I respect bullshit. Sometimes. Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter of The Social Network freely admits to taking artistic liberties with the story of Facebook and it’s founder Mark Zuckerberg partially because Zuckerberg declined to participate in the bio-pic, but also because it was Sorkin’s artistic preference, “I feel like, had I met Mark, I would have felt a certain obligation to make the character sound like Mark, walk like Mark… I probably would have had an affection for him that I wouldn’t have wanted to betray…I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling.” That’s a more sophisticated way of admitting the screenplay is full of bullshit. All dramatized biographies necessitate storytelling. There’s nothing new about movies that reprocess history, id est bullshit, for dramatic impact. The Social Network film is in part adapted from the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. Remarkable, because Mezrich himself opens his book with a note that he re-created scenes using “my best judgment,” altered descriptions, compressed several conversations into one, and changed the settings. As if the bullshit cocktail weren’t strong enough, Social Network’s creators have carefully clarified that their film was inspired only by Mezrich’s original proposal for the book, not the book that Mezrich published and that Sorkin read neither the book proposal nor the book until after his screenplay was nearly finished. Still, all okay by me. Hell, I’m currently writing a book I casually refer to as “autobiographical fiction” which is perhaps a more sophisticated way of admitting my book is full of bullshit. Why? Because what I’m in the middle of making up is more interesting than anything I’ve actually done in life. Even the real Mark Zuckerberg said on Oprah that a film about him had to be fiction because he lived the real story and it wasn’t all that entertaining. Yet, what I see discussed across the internets is all about which parts of The Social Network are fact and fiction and were the filmmakers ethical and responsible in presenting the Facebook story less accurately. I’m not actually going to get into that ethical debate (I am including some article links at the bottom). My concerns lie more with what’s in the film instead of what it isn’t.
Sorkin’s story, directed by David Fincher, takes place during 2003 and 2005. Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard University drop out and the billionaire creator of Facebook, the worldwide social networking website, is being deposed in two coinciding lawsuits. The story flashes back to Zuckerberg, as an undergraduate, being spurned by the girl of his dreams, and feeling shut out of elite Harvard social clubs. Zuckerberg is imagined to have a complicated personality- verbose yet self-conscious, quick-witted yet prickly, and either an asshole or a nice guy trying to be an asshole. One late night he directs his rejection hostility into an online prank called FaceMash, comparing photos of girls on campus and crashing Harvard’s computer system. The prank gets him academic probation but it also earns the attention of several students from an elite club who hire him to develop FaceMash into a campus dating site. He churns their idea into the first version of Facebook, and this becomes the basis for the first lawsuit; that Zuckerberg stole the idea. The second plotline and lawsuit is in the form of Zuckerberg’s former business partner and friend, Eduardo Saverin, who is forced out of the blossoming company, as the victim of Zuckerberg’s corporate backstabbing, Zuckerberg’s suppressed animosity toward Saverin, or perhaps simply out of disagreement on which direction the company was going. We don’t know for sure and we never will.
We will never know because Sorkin, being a brilliant writer of dialogue, chose not to commit to one point of view, to decide whose bullshit was truer. In a non-fiction novel I think this could work. For the screen, I’m not so sure; same goes for taking on the story of an invention. Sorkin wanted to write a movie about the legal battle for Facebook’s intellectual property and it doesn’t completely translate. Sorkin says he wanted
to avoid a depiction of people friending each other and falling in love through a social network. I think a story about how technology and Facebook changed the way people communicate is a more compelling starting point; especially because Sorkin’s invention of character Mark Zuckerberg for the screen lacks poignancy. Some people are taking issue with Social Network’s factual frivolities. The problem I see is that Sorkin’s deliberate gloss over facts doesn’t take us to any better truth. Actor Jesse Eisenberg’s Aspergers-like portrayal of Zuckerberg is well executed, but this fictionalized Mark Zuckerberg is a cipher. We are afforded almost no information into character Zuckerberg’s background, motivations, or retrospection. Sorkin wanted to invent a Mark Zuckerberg but his leap of imagination lands nowhere. Character Mark Zuckerberg, the protagonist and apparent anti-hero in this tale is practically faceless. Additionally, as filmed by the talented and original director David Fincher, I found the project to lack imagination. I’m not calling it a bad movie. However, I am stretched to find anything special or noteworthy about the filmmaking itself beyond the sharp dialogue and fine acting.
In regard to writing about people who are still alive Sorkin has said, “On one hand, you don’t want to screw around with people’s lives, you never want to say anything that isn’t true, and you don’t want to mess with history. On the other hand, this isn’t a documentary. Art isn’t about what happened, and the properties of people and the properties of ‘characters’ are two completely different things.” Sorkin and Fincher’s work on The Social Network is drawing attention via Citizen Kane and what its fictional character did for the real biography of William Randolph Hearst. Critics have said that whoever the real Mark Zuckerberg is, The Social Network defines him and the story of Facebook and that the filmmakers have irresponsibly messed with history. Zuckerberg is 26. The imminent danger from a reckless act of bullshit and the passive associations with Kane sounds like bullshit that gets planted by movie studio p.r. people. The Social Network is good, but it’s a dwarf compared to Citizen Kane. I wish it were a better movie but the fact that The Social Network is bullshit doesn’t bother me. Aren’t most people’s Facebook profiles all bullshit too?