Oct 8 2010 1:37pm

The Social Network: Genius, A@#holes, and Genius A#@holes

I remember when Facebook used to annoy me. When I heard my friends talking about it and rolled my eyes, because I thought it was just a college fad that would go the way of Friendster. I didn’t think it’d have any practical application for grown-ups. When I finally succumbed and created a profile, I didn’t expect to utilize it for long. There was too much stuff going on. Too many stupid games, too many applications. It was a mess. Now, of course, I realize how silly that was. Facebook is not only a part of life, but has—for better or worse—changed our lives in the way we communicate, in the way we digest information, and in the way we keep in touch with our friends and families.

However, I never thought I’d see the day when my Facebook status message would read:

Just saw The Social Network, and it was more amazing than she even expected. Also, she’s proud to be on Facebookbecause it really was a great fucking idea.

Yet, that’s exactly what it read the night I saw it. Maybe I’m an a#@hole, but The Social Network inspired me! In addition to that, it was a finely-crafted film.

The Social Network stars the fantastic Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland) as Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who created Facebook. If you’re seeing this movie expecting it to be a factual representation of how Facebook was created, don’t. No film will tell a story like that accurately, because every film needs a point of view, and the second you start telling a story from one person’s point of view, that point of view becomes skewed. The names and dates are correct, of course, but after that all bets are off. A film like this must be seen on its own terms.

I saw the film after opening weekend, because every show I wanted to attend then was sold out. A complaint I heard in early reviews was that the film treats Zuckerberg like a villain. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Zuckerberg I encountered in the film was definitely the hero of the story. He wasn’t “likeable,” but who needs likeable? Instead, he was was sympathetic; a subtle, yet important distinction. You don’t exactly like him, but you understand him. And there are moments in which you like him; moments when Aaron Sorkin gives him brilliant retorts and quips as he deals with lawyers or naysayers. When he says to the guys suing him, “If Facebook was your idea…you would’ve invented Facebook,” you believe that. You’re in his corner, because it’s then that you realize the genius of his idea. Anyone can come up with the idea of a networking site—networking sites had existed before—but genius happens when someone improves on an idea to such an extent that it becomes a separate entity. Thus “Facebook” becoming a verb (ie: I’ll Facebook you when I get home) and part of the popular lexicon.

The performances in the film were solid all around, but special kudos have go to Eisenberg, who plays Mark Zuckerberg as a bit of a sociopath. This isn’t a bad thing. 1 in 10 people on the planet are sociopaths. I’m not talking Dexter-level sociopath, but in Eisenberg’s portrayal, I saw a young man who geniuinely has no idea why people react to him the way they do. He can’t process why people get angry with him, and while for the most part it doesn’t seem to affect him, there are moments when the armor cracks, like when his girlfriend breaks up with him, or when Shawn Parker (played with surprising skill by Justin Timberlake) is overly harsh in dismissing his business partner, and his eyes get moist. He never cries, which I think is very true to character, but you get the sense that he would if he knew how. And you believe it when one of his lawyers tells Mark at the end, “You’re not an a#@hole. You just try so hard to be.” It’s a coping mechanism, the only one he knows. No one understands him, and he doesn’t understand anyone, so being an a#@hole is all he has to help him deal.

Aaron Sorkin’s script is amazing. I’ve missed his dialogue, and this film was like watching The West Wing starring nerds instead of political figures. Between his words and David Fincher’s crisp direction, it was like listening to a great conductor conducting a renowned orchestra. From the opening scene, where we’re dumped smack in the middle of a scene between Zuckerberg and his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara), we’re off at full throttle, watching this couple’s relationship crash and burn within a matter of moments. And speaking as a geek, I found this line of Erica’s really interesting. As she breaks up with Mark, she says:

“You will go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd, but I’m telling you from the bottom of my heart that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an a#@hole.”

How many of us use our geekiness as an excuse, because it’s easier than examining ourselves more deeply? Food for thought.

And this is where I thought the film excelled—making Zuckerberg human. Every film titan needs a Rosebud, and for the Mark Zuckerberg of this film, that Rosebud was a girl named Erica. Did Facebook really come about because Mark got dumped? Was he so jealous of his best friend getting accepted to an exclusive club that he sabotaged his involvement in Facebook? Who cares? What’s important is that this film uses the story of Mark Zuckerberg to examine genius and how it affects both the genius him/herself and the people in the genius’s life. In the case of a movie like The Social Network, emotional truth is more important than factual truth. You want a history lesson? Read a book.

The Social Network is brillilantly written, carefully directed, and blessed with a fine cast. I will be very surprised if this film doesn’t make a strong showing at the Oscars this year.

Teresa Jusino was born the same day Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. She is a freelance writer in New York City who is a regular contributor to websites like ChinaShop Magazine, Pink Raygun, and Newsarama. In addition to her geeky online scribblings, she also writes prose fiction and screenplays. Teresa is the author of a chapbook of short stories called On the Ground Floor, and she is working on a webseries called The Pack, coming in 2011. She is also the last member of WilPower: The Official Wil Wheaton Fan Club. Get Twitterpated with Teresa, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.

Maggie M
1. Eswana
Amen! I saw the Social Network solely based on my love for all things Sorkin and was not disappointed. I agree that Zuckerburg isn't a villain, but he's not quite a hero, or even anti-hero. The most sympathetic character, I thought, was Eduardo. Poor guy.
2. KVFinn
I felt like the film was much more negative on Facebook than you. John Hagel's review says it better that I could:

The movie portrays Zuckerberg as a person incapable of forming deep relationships with others and as someone who would in fact betray many of those he dealt with. The key point in the movie is that the relationships he developed were not deep or meaningful, but superficial and calculating, much like the caricature of the online social network world held by those who view the virtual as the enemy of the physical. The last scene of the movie is particularly poignant, showing Zuckerberg trying to “friend” on his social network platform the woman who dumped him in the opening scene of the movie and checking back repeatedly to see if she had accepted.


Seen through this lens, the distortions in the movie are not simply there to create a more engaging story; they are there to help construct a narrative of the revolution that helps to reassure the ancien regime that they were on the side of humanity.

Rie B
3. toggit
I was reading somewhere (maybe even here?) that The Social Network's portrayal of women was beyond disappointing -- that they were little more than props in the film.

If such is the case, I don't have much interest in seeing the film. I used to be able to put on my my "male goggles" and ignore or perhaps even enjoy or relate to horrific depictions of women but anymore it just makes me uncomfortable or annoyed.
Matthew B
4. MatthewB
Pet peeve...

If you really want to use the word "asshole" (and two uses in the title of the article alone tells me you do) , just use it. Stop pussyfooting around with "a@#hole." If you feel like you have to censor it then you should just pick a different word.

Replacing "asshole with "a@#hole" is stupid. If someone disapproves of the use of the word "asshole" then they're not going be tricked into thinking that's not what you're saying. If they are the kind of person who thinks it's ok to write "a@#hole" but not ok to write "asshole," then just use "asshole." Don't bend over backwards just to please assholes like that.

If an asshole editor replaces your "asshole" with "a@#hole" without your permission, fire them, or at the very least don't work with them any more.

see also:
Matthew B
5. MatthewB
The director claims that the film's portrayal of women is a product of the characters' perception of them. I'm inclined to accept this - young men (esp geeks) with problems relating to women are not exactly a shocking phenomenon.

I don't think that's reason enough to dismiss the film entirely.
6. Dave Fried
...except that Zuckerberg has had a steady girlfriend (now fiancee) since before Facebook went live, and seems to be in a happy, committed relationship. The film turns him into a misogynistic jerk, giving the writers an excuse to have women portrayed as objects, because that's how their caricature of Zuckerberg views them.

It would have been more difficult to write a compelling Hollywood story about the real Zuckerberg, who by all accounts was an affable (if slightly nerdy) guy who was fairly well liked and was in a solid relationship with a nice, independent woman. And there would have been a lot less eye candy, too. (See how that works?)

Anyway, go see The Social Network, but don't pretend for a moment that what you're watching has any bearing on reality.
Matthew B
7. MatthewB
I don't know Mark Zuckerberg, so i can only speak about the character in the movie. This movie isn't billed as a documentary and it's not the kind of historical event that demands a faithful representation, so who really cares what it gets right or wrong about Zuckerberg? If he's unhappy with the representation, he can set the record straight on his own, though i doubt that his presentation of the people and events would be significantly less skewed.
8. Gerry__Quinn
I suspect "mrburack" at @7 would be the first to complain if a presentation created and publicised worldwide at a cost of tens of millions of dollars were to unjustly pillory him.

(And it's hardly as if the word 'documentary' has had much to do with authenticity since the days of the outpourings of Michael Moore and his ilk...)
9. kristenmchugh22
This is so completely concise and on point, that I almost squeed. Not because of the precision in the writing, (although - yes,) but because it's a distillation of how TSN functions AS a distillation. What happened is nearly always less interesting than why it happened. An interpretation of the what and why, constructed of the deliciously Shakespearean rhythms Sorkin produces... Heaven. :)
Tim Lewis
10. RaPToRFunK
I don't know what is more of a waste of my time: watching a movie about Facebook, reading a review about a movie about Facebook, or writing a comment on a review about a movie about Facebook.
Kate O'Hanlon
11. KateOH
"Did Facebook really come about because Mark got dumped? Was he sojealous of his best friend getting accepted to an exclusive club that he sabotaged his involvement in Facebook? Who cares?"

Well, I do. The movie posits Zuckerberg's social insecurity as his motivation for building facebook is Zuckerberg. That fell incrdibly flat for me. It's such a cliche. And if it wasn't true than I'm pretty dissapointed that Sorkin, whose work I respect a lot, reached for such a cliche.

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