Monday, October 25, 2010

Lost in a Crowd: A Review of "The Social Network"

Last Friday I finally got around to seeing the hit movie The Social Network, the unauthorized biopic about the founding of Facebook. The film, directed by David Fincher with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin stars Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Justin Timberlake as the charismatic internet entrepreneur Sean Parker. The Social Network is a faithful adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s book, The Accidental Billionaires, which I read a few months ago in practically a single sitting. (Reading Mezrich is like reading a half-finished screenplay. You can read my review of the Mezrich book by clicking here and scrolling down to entry #32.)

In the book version, two related themes come into play. One of these themes has to do with the intention that Facebook act as a great leveler of social stratification. Zuckerberg hates exclusivity and secrecy. The second theme, a perennial theme for Mezrich, is the theme of money. Mezrich spends a lot of time dissecting Eduardo Saverin’s interest in monetizing the company and Zuckerberg’s perceived financial indifference. All along the way Zuckerberg turns down lucrative offers. This turns out to be the wise thing to do, but it would be hard to argue that these decisions were about financial ambition.

Interestingly, the Fincher/Sorkin film is called The Social Network but it doesn’t spend a lot of time on either of these themes. The film delves into the relationship between Zuckerberg and Saverin and between Zuckerberg and Parker.

Having already “read the film” the aspect of the film I found most striking was how virtually every scene was shot in a crowd. The movie opens with Zuckerberg’s Boston University girlfriend dumping him at a crowded bar in Somerville. Virtually every scene that follows takes place in an environment surrounded by other people. That can be an exclusive college party, a deposition, a classroom, a nightclub, a fancy New York restaurant, a computer lab, or a celebratory reception following a crew race. Even the scenes that would play to isolation or minimalism are written by Sorkin with extraneous characters. During Zuckerberg’s first night of manic coding a goofy roommate interrupts him. When the Winklevoss twins go to meet with Larry Summers, Sorkin squeezes an extra aide to the President into the room. Even when Zuckerberg and Saverin go on a double date with two young women they meet at a Bill Gates lecture, the evening contains no romantic privacy.

In this way, the film is a visual representation of Facebook; our lives now take place almost entirely in public.

By the way, in my book review of The Accidental Billionaires I made the comment that Mezrich’s book is sophomoric, but that is okay because the characters he depicts are sophomoric. Interestingly, Sorkin much made the same comment on a blog post while responding to questions about the film’s misogyny and sexism. He wrote,
Facebook was born during a night of incredibly misogyny. The idea of comparing women to farm animals, and then to each other, based on their looks and then publicly ranking them. It was a revenge stunt, aimed first at the woman who'd most recently broke his heart… and then at the entire female population of Harvard.

More generally, I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren't the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80's. They're very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now. The women they surround themselves with aren't women who challenge them (and frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere near them.)