Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Social Network

I finally got a chance to sit down and watch The Social Network the other day, after having been unable to catch it in the theater. As a theatrical experience, I must say that it was most entertaining, though as an amateur historian I was compelled to do some further reading on the subject of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg when the film was complete.

The Movie:
Make no mistake about it, The Social Network is a smartly constructed, slick and well filmed story about three characters as totally different as they are fascinating. It would be wrong to simply say that this film is about the creation of the Facebook website and company. In fact, that summary totally undercuts one of its greatest strengths; the art of the character study. In  fact, I would even go so far as to characterize this film not as a coherent story, but a string of tightly connected vignettes, each one offering amazing insight into the dynamic between the film's three principle characters.
Mark Zuckerberg is drawn as a brilliant computer programmer, but his brilliance creates a drive that borders on obsession as he constantly works to perfect the idea that becomes Facebook, a goal that is all but unreachable. Eduardo Saverin, Facebook co-founder, is shown as a friend and compatriot to Zuckerberg, but their friendship is strained as Saverin's business sense clashes with Zuckerberg's intellectual motivations. And lastly, Sean Parker, already famous (or infamous) for the creation of Napster, joins the scene relatively late into the story, but enters with more than enough dramatic flair to make up for the late start. Larger than life, and radiating blinding levels of social ambition, Parker's epic personality puts an ever growing wedge between Zuckerberge and Saverin as he infuses the fledgling Facebook company with a shot in the arm of his own untamable (and unstable) personality.

Where other writers might use courtroom antics, or dramatic monologues to tell this personality driven story, Aaron Sorkin frames the story with moments from the depositions of two simultaneousness lawsuits, leaving the balance of the story to be told in flashback. The mundane is painted as the extraordinary we see the characters work through the process that ultimately created the interface that is the modern facebook. A random comment in a school computer lab, a smoke break outside a dance, a downhill relationship conversation (read: Breakup) inside a pub; the laboratory for innovation is oftentimes life itself, and this film embraces that fact with open arms.

Cinemagraphically, the story is told with traditional acting, and simple, but effective settings and backdrops. Despite a story that revolves around a web page, there are surprisingly few shots of computer screens, and almost no noticeable CGI work. This is a character story, and the director is smart enough to let the character's tell it in their own ways.

The Reality:
Before watching the film, I had relatively little knowledge of Facebook's background, or of the people who created it. Even after watching The Social Network, it turns out that I still know relatively little on the subject. As it happens, to say that the writer took "artistic license" with history seems to be a titanic understatement. All three of the real life principles depicted in the film have commented on how inaccurate the story is to the lives they lived at the time. Because of how unflattering the film is to all three of the principles, it might be easy to accuse them of shrugging away from an honest appraisal, but when questioned on the subject, director David Fincher responded with;

"I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling. What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake, and can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?" 

In the end, The social network is a thoroughly enjoyable, tightly written drama about a trio of modern giants who unapologetically set their own paths through life, each one driven by objectives and motives as unique as themselves.

However, I felt that it fell well short of its full potential when its creators placed more faith in their own ability to craft a believable fiction, rather than put the extra effort into finding and preserving a compelling story from the pages of actual history.

Still, its well worth seeing.

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