Posted by: Jeff | October 19, 2010

Review: The Social Network

This blog reached 20,000 total page views, one day after its one year anniversary.  I don’t know 20,000 people, and my own clicks don’t count (according to WordPress, at least).  All of this goes to show the power of social media for making connection and exchanging information outside the physical “real” world.

The Social Network, the latest film from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher, explores the realm of online media as an allegory for the millennial generation and the stomping ground for a psychological inquiry into an achieving mind hungry for recognition.  It has been described as the seminal film of the millennial generation, a wonderful window into the genesis of one of the most prolific online entities the world has yet seen, and a terrifying condemnation of the psychological damage the achievement society can wreak.

This film is all of those things, and perhaps more: it is an incredible artistic work featuring top-notch performances, well-paced direction, and a magnificent script.  It is a film that deserves equal recognition for content and form, and will doubtless accumulate many awards for its achievement.

Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The American President) is a wonderful writer with a gift for creating witty repartee and quick intelligence through dialogue.  The opening scene of The Social Network establishes this script as a fast-moving – and quick-witted – vehicle.  There is something Sorkinesque about the ability to write two intelligent characters moving at lightspeed, all while keeping solid footing on the ground.  Early on, Erica clues the audience in to the dizzying pace of the dialogue when she exclaims:

Sometimes, Marc, seriously, you say two things at once and I’m not sure which we’re talking about.

And off the movie goes.  This film is at once a commentary on a generation, a story, and an entire medium.  Sorkin is something of a technophobe, often utilizing technology in his scripts as de-humanizing devices.  One can recall the use of the LemonLyman blog from The West Wing as a bewildering receptical of rumor and gossip to see Sorkin’s view of the internet.  It is perhaps no surprise, then, that Sorkin places Marc Zuckerberg’s blog at the forefront of this story – it is the blog, after all, that has led to the characterization of Zuckerberg’s moral ethics as questionable.  As Sorkin is quick to point out, the voice-over depictions of Zuckerberg’s blogging is taken almost verbatim from the actual text – as clear a highlight of the dangers of unfiltered voices on the internet as any.

Sorkin also utilizes the internet to show how self-absorbed Zuckerberg is – implicitly casting him as a stand-in for the achievement-oriented millennial generation he claims to represent.  The creation of Facesmash, an online repository of female student pictures for the purpose of ranking which are the most attractive, was motivated in part by revenge and in part by Zuckerberg’s own desire to cast a male gaze over a female population he clearly views as beneath him.  His attitude toward Erica is illuminating in this light as well – her perceived status as his girlfriend is something he bestows upon her, offering that this will allow her special privileges should he eventually be admitted into a prestigious Final Club at Harvard.  As Zuckerberg’s character simultaneously looks down at her status as both a female and a student at B.U., Sorkin reveals an inflated ego and a bloated sense of self-worth he believes to be typical of many entitled millennials.

As the film unfolds, Sorkin uses the story of the genesis of Facebook as an allegory on greed, entitlement, and obsession with recognition that unfortunately does represent some of the millennial generation.  As Eduardo labors to develop a business strategy for Facebook, Zuckerberg begins to resent Eduardo’s acceptance into elite social circles and seeks to replace him with Sean Parker, a fellow internet mogul who lavishes attention upon Marc and openly subverts Eduardo’s inclusion.

This then becomes a tale of a friendship eroded by ambition, success, and jealousy.  Ultimately, Zuckerberg casts aside everyone close to him.  His business machinations lead to a solitary life, and he seems mostly bothered by legal challenges that arise.

These legal challenges also serve to highlight facets of Zuckerberg’s psyche.  First, come the Winklevoss twins, who claim the mechanics of Facebook as their own progeny, usurped by an ambitious Harvard programmer they hired to put their plan in motion.  When Facebook went live, they claim, they were still under the impression that Zuckerberg was working on creating a similar product, titled Harvard Connection, under their stewardship.  It’s important to note that the scenes depicting the case deposition are fabricated – it’s impossible to know what happened in the sealed deposition.  But the facts of the case as explained through the narrative of the film are still illuminating – Zuckerberg clearly found inspiration for Facebook in the ideas of the Winklevoss twins.  Whether he decided to implement the idea without them as a result of their superior social position within Harvard may never be known as fact, but it is clear that Zuckerberg consciously decided to run with the idea and not include them.  Whether this is immoral is unquestionable.  Whether it is illegal is an entirely different matter.

That seems to be a familiar refrain with Zuckerberg.  His actions are depicted throughout the movie as callous, self-serving, and often vindictive.  His final altercation with Eduardo is undoubtedly mean-spirited, and not at all indicative of a deep and long-lasting friendship.  Zuckerberg may believe that this is the price to pay for being young and successful.  Eduardo, on the other hand, sees this as a result of Zuckerberg’s inability to cope with a friend’s popularity and acceptance eclipsing his own.

The Social Network is by no means a comprehensive history of the creation of Facebook, the lawsuits that the creation precipitated, or of Zuckerberg’s own relationships.  Very little of that is known for fact.  What Sorkin has done is use the threads of information that are public knowledge to craft a very effective allegory for technology, ambition, and friendship in the millennial generation.  It’s a surprising feat, and one carried effectively by brilliant writing and character development.  This is a fantastic film that highlights both the craft and the content of effective film-making.

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Responses

  1. […] As I wrote after seeing the film for the first time: “This film is all of those things, and perhaps more: it is an incredible artistic work featuring top-notch performances, well-paced direction, and a magnificent script.  It is a film that deserves equal recognition for content and form, and will doubtless accumulate many awards for its achievement.” […]


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