"THE SOCIAL NETWORK": Sorkin takes One Giant Step Sideways
By Nick Adams
In 1941, the film “Citizen Kane” was a critical success, earning several Oscar nominations—including Best Picture. The dramatic film was particularly praised for its script, cinematography, music and non-chronological narrative structure. The film itself followed characters trying to label the ‘eccentric’ (read: “crazy but rich”) billionaire of an organization that proved as popular as it was controversial—much like the protagonist himself. The protagonist was a loner and, to a scene, the smartest guy in the room. This overt, and only arguably deserved, self-assuredness was met with scorn and ridicule from friends and family, eventually leaving the protagonist isolated in his fortress of material success.
‘Copy and paste’ for “The Social Network.”
Beyond the screen, “Citizen Kane” was met with vehement protest by William Randolph Hearst—the real life wealthy entrepreneur/emperor of nearly 30 newspapers, magazines and other gossip-filled periodicals. Hearst was adamant that Orson Welles’ film was slanderous (and, to a lesser extent, vulgar). Welles, to his credit, claimed the title character was actually based on himself. In this retort from 70 years ago, Welles proves himself at least one step smarter than Aaron Sorkin, the writer of “The Social Network.”
“The Social Network” is unequivocally billed as the true story behind Facebook. That the movie has inaccuracies with factual history is not the problem; it’s that the film’s entire thesis behind Facebook is wrong. In “Citizen Kane,” Kane spends his life trying in vain to reclaim his lost “Rosebud”—a childhood sled. Fortunately, the movie wasn’t about the mogul Hearst and so made no assertion that Hearst spent his life seeking a childhood relic. In “The Social Network”—at a near one-to-one comparison—“Rosebud” is the affections of a lost love. Unfortunately, Sorkin doesn’t have a Welles-esque clarity for theatrics and thus left the window wide open to criticism. Hell, it isn’t even a window; it’s like an entire wall was missing from the set. Mark Zuckerberg, in real life, is not chasing a lost love; the girlfriend he had before Facebook took off is the same girlfriend he has now.
Sorkin feels no shame in completely missing the point of cultural history, though. He admittedly wrote the first draft of the script before even reading the biography of Zuckerberg, “The Accidental Billionaries”, which the marketing team pointed to as the literary origin for the story. It doesn’t seem to have even occurred to Sorkin that perhaps Zuckerberg is not a desperate loner, but rather just one more person, like Sorkin himself, who wants to create something. Facebook is perpetually updating and retooling itself—something Sorkin’s script notes but doesn’t analyze. Facebook is not complete. If anything, Charlie Kaufman’s artistically horrifying “Synecdoche, New York,” more than "The Social Network,"actually taps into the unrelenting ambition of pure creators needing no finished product--be it play, movie or website.
Most damning to me is that Sorkin was so close to reaching Welles’ level of self-reflection. Zuckerberg, in the film, repeatedly talks circles around his friends, enemies and lawyers. Zuckerberg talks like Sam Seabourne in “The West Wing.” White House staffers don’t speak with such speed and determination in real life any more than Zuckerberg, a computer programmer ever does. Ever seen an interview with the real Zuckerberg? He talks likes a rambling, didactically unsure computer programmer. In the film, the character could have spoken in haikus with as much realism. As is, the fictional Zuckerberg speaks how Sorkin (though not Sorkin alone) views himself: impossibly articulate and proudly not popular. Boastfully, even. Being popular means being one of the masses, being ignorant and forgotten. Sorkin, though, fails to consider any true meaning beyond Facebook’s unparalleled popularity nor any self-examination—which could lead to more earnest, emotional territory.
Moreover, had the script been the fictional story of a website founder/billionaire, then Sorkin could have expanded the timeline and scope. He could have hypothesized the political ambitions of “Zark Muckerberg.” He could have done any number of things that would have meant more than the half dozen scenes that ultimately did nothing new for the story or characters.
Pictured above: symbolism? Definitely not real people.
Admittedly, the film is wonderfully directed and acted and even entertaining more times than not. But I sigh more than a little bit when I think about the movie that could have been and how close/far “The Social Network” ended up. Sorkin may very well write a masterpiece screenplay, and I know director David Fincher can turn any film into the best eye candy, but right now “The Social Network” is too close of an instant-meal, cash-grab on brand recognition to best the classics--or even deserve much more than a passing comparison.