Film and Society

Beyond the Hubbub of Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network

October 04, 2010

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Beyond the Hubbub of Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network

In the Internet Age, an increasing fraction of media “content” is generated by young nobodies, much to the disgust of old pros, such as screenwriter Aaron Sorkin of TV’s The West Wing: “I am all for everyone having a voice, I just don’t think everyone has earned the microphone. And that’s what the Internet has done.”

Sorkin has teamed up with veteran director David Fincher (Fight Club) to strike back at Kids These Days by making a supremely accomplished bit of up-market razzle-dazzle, The Social Network, an enjoyably bogus hatchet job on 26-year-old zillionaire Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.com. Hyped as The Film that Defines a Generation, The Social Network is more an entertaining compendium of the worries of the new generation’s upper middle class parents: elite colleges, IQ, money, the social status of their kids on the marriage market, and why young people never go outside anymore.

The Social Network asks: How could somebody who is extremely smart but not intuitively gifted at making and keeping friends ever figure out the logic underlying friendship well enough to program it into a computer?

Doesn’t that question answer itself?

The Social Network succeeds on sheer show biz chops despite less-than-compelling source material. To avoid a libel suit, the movie is stuck dramatizing the legal claims to a share of Zuckerberg’s fortune filed by two sets of fifth wheels he knew at Harvard, the preppie Winklevoss identical twins and the audience’s nice-guy surrogate, Zuckerberg’s rich Brazilian roommate.

All poor Eduardo Saverin ever wanted was Mark’s friendship. That, and not passing up his Wall Street internship at Lehman Brothers when Zuckerberg and the other programmers moved the business to Palo Alto. Plus, Eduardo merely wanted business control despite never having much of a clue where Facebook should go. And don’t forget a return on his $19,000 investment of five million percent.

Sorkin portrays Jews at Harvard in 2003 as pushy outsiders desperate to break out of the ghetto of the one Jewish fraternity and into the WASPy “Final Clubs” populated by carefully bred ubermen.

The hubbub over The Social Network is a reminder that, despite all the technological innovations in ways to amuse yourself in your own room, movies that you have to leave your house to see remain the apex predators of popular culture.
The peculiar strength of movies is that they end. In the 21st Century, watching a television series, playing a video game, or buying a cell phone is increasingly like enrolling in a cult contrived to consume several years of your life. In contrast, two hours and one minute after The Social Network starts, it’s over.

This relatively short duration allows Fincher to maintain a level of intensity—heightened by Trent Reznor’s artfully grating score—unachievable in more protracted media. The Social Network reminds us that while William Randolph Hearst published billions of words in his newspapers, Orson Welles shaped how we remember the man in just 119 minutes of Citizen Kane.

Granted, Fincher sets such a forced march that only the upper quarter or so of the audience will have any hope of making sense of it. I saw it in the working class suburb of Van Nuys, where the normally polite Mexican teens became loudly bored by the convoluted machinations over which rich Harvard brainiacs will get even richer.

You can’t really blame them. The Social Network eschews most of the documentary-derived tricks that feature filmmakers have adopted in recent years. Fincher certainly has the visual technique to help us understand, but he seems chained down by Sorkin’s bravura confidence that he can make everything clear solely through stagey dialogue.

Jesse Eisenberg, who was so annoying yet likeable in The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland, plays Zuckerberg with an implausible look of suspicious hostility plastered on his face, as if he were a surly extra in Idiocracy.

There’s much debate in the press about how realistically the film portrays the tycoon. The obvious answer is that Sorkin is projecting onto Zuckerberg his own (perhaps not wholly undeserved) self-loathing over sex, drugs, and ethnicity.

In Sorkin’s imagination, Silicon Valley looks like Jim Morrison’s Laurel Canyon in 1969, with barely legal stoned groupies swarming over the nerds. (The reality is that Zuckerberg has had the same unspectacular girlfriend, to whom he appears devoted, since he started Facebook. Monogamy is a huge time-saver.)

Almost as bizarrely, Sorkin portrays Jews at Harvard in 2003 as pushy outsiders desperate to break out of the ghetto of the one Jewish fraternity and into the WASPy “Final Clubs” populated by carefully bred ubermen, such as the Winkelvoss twins, the stars of the crew team.

When the Winkelvosses debate whether a true Harvard gentleman would sue Zuckerberg for copying their idea of a Harvard-only dating site, one points out the feasibility of giving him an old-time thrashing: “I’m 6’5”, 220 pounds, and there’s two of me!” Ironically, the actor who plays both Winkelvii, Armie Hammer, is the grandson of, yes, Armand Hammer, that favorite capitalist of both V.I. Lenin and R.M. Nixon. Now, there’s a scoundrel worthy of all this movie talent!

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