Facebook is a six-year old social networking business recently valued at $25 billion. Most of us here at New College use its service, as does a large part of our generation throughout the developed world. Many of its users will surely attest that it has notably altered their experiences of dating, long-distance friendship, picture sharing, and perhaps even the general activity of browsing the web. Zimbabweans and Iranians even used it to organize protests of their governments’ recent elections
Author Ben Mezrich wrote a book entitled The Accidential Billionaires about Facebook’s founding and Aaron Sorkin, head writer of The West Wing and A Few Good Men, wrote a screenplay based on the work. Mezrich’s book was largely gleaned from the testimony of Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and therefore from his distinct point of view. Saverin launched a lawsuit against Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in pursuit of considerable funds he claims he was owed, so his memories of the website’s development are understandably colored.
The film The Social Network, which entered theaters on Oct. 8, tells the story of that development, as well as that of two lawsuits: Saverin’s and one leveled by Harvard students Devrya Narendra and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. Because Saverin and Zuckerberg were also students at Harvard, most of the movie takes place there. An atmosphere of privilege and entitlement is clearly communicated by such scenes in the film as the busing of young, attractive women to an elite Harvard party and a meeting between the Winklevoss twins and ex-Secretary of the Treasury and then-President of Harvard Lawrence Summers.
Perhaps the most palpable of these scenes is an intensely scored sport rowing competition in Henley-on-Thames, England. The cinematography of this depiction of the annual Henley Royal Regatta is breathtaking and the sunny and aristocratic event is delightfully contrasted with the scene before it: a conversation between Zuckerberg and Napster founder Sean Parker about the embarrassments and slights that led them to become all-star programmers in their youth, taking place over shots within a dark and glitzy California nightclub.
The scene contains what might be Sean Parker’s (played well by Justin Timberlake) best line in the film: “I changed the music industry for better and forever.” Put differently, when he claims earlier in the movie to have brought the record companies to their knees, Saverin (also extremely well-acted by Andrew Garfield) questions this, and Parker fires back, “You want to buy a Tower Records?”
Lines like these make it hard to pick out any one good bit of a movie so full of witty repartee, a trait characteristic of Sorkin’s writing. They also communicate a deeper discussion in the film than that of who should have the rights to what pieces of Facebook, Inc. Both actor Jesse Eisenberg’s inspired Zuckerberg and Timberlake’s Parker are young, unlikable geniuses who hate conformity, view themselves as victims of American society and are immensely talented at computer programming. Both have had a major effect on how we use the Internet and what it contains and represents. Both, in short, are vengeful nerds who have been rewarded beyond their wildest imaginings for what they initially saw as opportunities for vengeance, or at the very least, vindication.
This is the picture that the movie paints, at least. To hear others tell it, Zuckerberg is not so very different from most gifted young programmers with a slight antisocial tendency, and Parker is not so much of a drug-addicted bad boy as the movie posits him to be.
The movie has been criticized on sexual, as well as factual, grounds. There are only a few notable instances of a female character being strong in it, and in one, Saverin’s “groupie” girlfriend attempts to burn down his hotel room because he went on a short trip to California on business and didn’t respond to any of her 40-something text messages. In addition to this, there is the whole circumstance of the creation of the original Facebook predecessor entitled “Facemash,” which opens the film and depicts Zuckerberg making it possible to rank female Harvard students online, based on their attractiveness.
Sorkin has defended this dearth of a female voice by arguing for it’s accuracy. Apparently, these young and privileged male “nerds” did not give much credence to the opinions of the women around them. He emphatically wrote, “I didn’t invent the ‘F–k Truck,’ it’s real — and the men (boys) at the final clubs think it’s what they deserve for being who they are.” Sorkin went on to state that the male chauvinism he wrote into the script was meant as a reflection of that exhibited by Zuckerberg, Saverin and just about all of the rest of the male cast. “I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people,” he claimed. “These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s.”
And this, readers, is the greater issue. Sorkin seems to posit that “nerds” have come to run the world through the rise of the Internet. He holds them up against those who used to run it: tall, blond Harvard business grads who row crew in England and wear sweaters around their shoulders, embodied in the Winklevoss twins (both of whom are played excellently by one actor, Armie Hammer). As Zuckerberg puts it in the film, “The Winklevi aren’t suing me for intellectual property theft. They’re suing me because for the first time in their lives the world didn’t work like it was supposed to for them.”
Despite playing loose with the facts a bit more than he might have, Sorkin’s screenplay and the stellar talent added to it by director David Fincher (who also directed Fight Club), Eisenberg and others earns the Catalyst’s highest honor: a “Strong Sat.”