The Social Network – aka The Facebook Movie

Above all, The Social Network (2010) is a magnificent work of storytelling.  Especially considering that it’s a story based on boring litigation over the tedious topic of computer programming.  On the other hand, it’s a rare example of cinematic creative nonfiction.  How do you dramatize the truth, especially when all the action is cerebral?  I hate to say this because it might jinx some people from going to the movie, but The Social Network is an incredibly educational movie, especially about the nature of what it means to be an asshole.

The litigation over the creation of Facebook reminds me of the fight over who invented television, but few people will know about that.  Ditto for the radio, and many other major tech inventions of the past we take for granted.  It’s very hard to give exact credit when everyone stands on the shoulders of giants.  Few characters in this film come across as nice, many are assholes, most are viciously aggressive, and we see the very worse sides of greed and sex.

At a naturalistic level The Social Network is about alpha males fighting over intellectual territory while alpha females throw themselves at the perceived winners.  At the class level the story is about old money, old social networks, descendents of WASP wealth fighting Jewish upstarts who out maneuver the class incumbents to climb even higher on the social ladder.  At the economic level The Social Network is about the marketing of an idea as an invention and who really deserves the spoils of business.

The film is bookend by two women who try to enlighten the Mark Zuckerberg character about the specific traits of his asshole personality.  These are two of the three nice people in this film, the third being Eduardo Saverin, the nice guy who is fighting out of his league.  People who get into Harvard are by nature driven by ambition, if not naked aggression, so we need to factor such drives out of the equation to make all things equal.  But a bitch fight over billions is not pretty, so it’s hard to see the positive qualities of the combatants.  I’ve got to say the movie reflects the efficiency of our modern legal system because it took decades to solve the legal battles over television and radio.  And The Social Network does an apparently fantastic job of explaining to the public the complicated legal issues dealing with the foundation of Facebook.

To me, the saddest part of this movie is how poorly young women come across in this film.  For the most part, the females in this story are the prized toys that males win in battles of aggression.  They throw their beautiful bodies at any guy who succeeds, even the social challenged Zuckerberg, they frolic around lesser males who do the sweatshop programming, taking bong hits and acting sexy to spur on their coding success, and they lay on their backs to provide flat bellies for the rich to snort cocaine from.  The strong independent women in this film are savvy lawyers, but the endless hordes of legal teams, male and female, come across as brainy vultures.

Of course, the sex-toy women also reflects badly on the males, because they don’t see women as other than prizes for success.  Zuckerberg is portrayed as driven by envy, jealousy and desire, and the film makes a good case that Facebook exists because Zuckerberg was rejected by Erica Albright, and that he wanted the success of Facebook to give him another chance with her.  It wasn’t about the money, but female approval.

More complex to understand is the exact quality of Zuckerberg’s asshole-ness.  He’s brilliant and aloof, but he’s so lacking in social graces that you have to wonder if he has an autistic background.  Mark tries so hard to be liked while looking down on all others and squashing any attempts of communication with a towering superiority.  But isn’t that how most average folks see super-geeks?

I attended The Social Network on its opening weekend, a Saturday afternoon, and I expected the theater to be packed because of the overwhelming wonderful reviews and great word of mouth, but we sat in a mostly empty room.  Moviegoers might not find the topic of this flick appealing, but director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have created a powerful, riveting and engaging story of our times.  It really shouldn’t be missed.

Finally, because the movie uses real names I must ask how much are the characters in the movie like their real life counterparts?  I’d love to find interviews with all of them where they talk about their portrayals in the film. Actually, someone should make a documentary of that.  Essentially the movie is metafiction, and that’s a fascinating topic by itself.

JWH – 10/3/10

4 Responses

  1. Great review. I haven’t seen it yet, but I really want to. As for your young women remark, was it the movie who treated them like objects, or was the movie making a comment on the characters seeing them as such, because there is a big difference there.

    • Good question. I’d have to say the storytellers wanted us to believe this is how the characters saw the women. I’d love to see an honest essay by Mark Zuckerberg analyzing the movie from his point of view. This movie is so fascinating it makes you want to research all the real characters to see if they match their movie versions.

  2. There’s something about this that bothers me, Jim. These are real people. At least, Zuckerberg is. But the movie isn’t a documentary. It’s entertainment. I don’t care how wealthy I became, I still don’t think I’d like someone fictionalizing my story, especially not using MY name. Whatever the truth – and I doubt if we can know that for sure – this movie is how he’ll be remembered.

    And these people aren’t politicians or entertainers – people who voluntarily put themselves out for public comment. They’re just really, really rich. I guess that makes you a celebrity in our society, huh? Well, most people would take that trade in a heartbeat, I’m sure. (Heck, most people seem to WANT to be celebrities.)

    I don’t know. Personally, I prefer pure fiction. I don’t even like historical fiction which takes liberties with people long dead. This sort of thing not only seems like an invasion of privacy, it also seems… unfair. To me, these movie people seem like ghouls, feeding on someone else’s life.

    But I haven’t seen the movie.

  3. I understand your concerns Bill. I worry about Zuckerberg’s reputation too. But we fictionalize real people all the time in both novels and movies – luckily most real people get fictionalized after their death so it can’t hurt them personally.

    The Social Network really is an example of creative nonfiction, a literary genre that is much discussed in MFA programs around the country. Is the movie doing anything different than what the book The Accidental Billionaires attempts to do? How much of non-fiction is really fiction?

    By the same token, should we even read biographies? That’s why I called this movie an act of meta-fiction. Everyone who sees this film knows that it’s based on true events, and they kow it can’t be perfectly accurate. But it is reporting on a very news worthy story of our times. It’s like a very fun game – what is real and what is not real. The Social Network could be the Roshomon of our times. I wished Zuckerberg would make his own documentary or even film to counter this film.

    I went with two friends to see this flick and all three of us want to go see the movie again. We also all went home and got on the Internet to find out more.

    Ultimately this movie might be trashed, but go see it. It’s riveting. The storytelling is so good that I’d think even Mark Zuckerberg might forget its about him.

    Finally, this brings up a question I often ask my literary friends: Which would you prefer – to write a great novel or be a person a great novel is written about?

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