I got really worried in the first few seconds of The Social Network. Aaron Sorkin can do very little wrong in my eyes (I’m a fully paid-up fan of The West Wing, Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) but opening a film about a website whose majority of users are young, self-centred and show-offy by nature with a back-and-forth where Mark Zuckerberg and his then-girlfriend, Erica Albright discuss SAT scores, the comparative populations of America and China and try to differentiate between the two Roosevelts seemed like a bit of a mistake.
One of Sorkin’s critics’ most trundled-out lines is that he can do only one thing in everything he writes: make hyper intelligent people talk at somewhere approaching the speed of sound. The problem with that isn’t the premise: this after all is a film about hyper intelligent people at Harvard who made billions off the back of their brain cells; they’re also incredibly young, and therefore talk faster than anyone previously in existence as a norm. But they wore their intelligence a little too well in the first scene, and opening a film that will be – for many – their first taste of Sorkinese with such a ratatat scene full of intellect risked losing the interest of those who measure their lives by Facebook’s 1001 character wallpost limit.
“I’ve lost my place again,” says Erica halfway through being bamboozled by Zuckerberg jumping back and forth between two different conversations with the same person like The West Wing’s Will Bailey or Sports Night‘s Jeremy Goodwin (though without Josh Malina’s expressive face and glasses and with Jesse Eisenberg’s tufts of hair and Zuckerberg hoodie.
It serves its purpose though, and actually acts as a sharp introduction to what follows in some scenes. It also gives the motivation for much of what follows in the film (something that I think every guy watching the film will emote with: that everything Zuckerberg – and as we later learn, Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker, founder of Napster – does is to try and impress the girl he pines for). Zuckerberg is summarily dumped, with what is a typically witty and scathing Sorkin verse paragraph:
Listen. You’re going to be successful and rich. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.
There are brilliant lines line this peppered through the whole film: Tyler Winklevoss, one half of the “Winklevi” with his identical twin brother who rowed in the Beijing Olympics (coming sixth) and were very likely wronged in a deal with Zuckerberg for a separate but similar website to Facebook says “I’m 6’5″, 220 pounds and there’s two of me” (a cheeky reference to the fact that the same actor plays both through visual trickery). Zuckerberg, being deposed and questioned for two simultaneous lawsuits (the crux of the unfurling of the plot) has umpteen wisecracks, including “Ma’am, I know you’ve done your homework and so you know that money isn’t a big part of my life, but at the moment I could buy Harvard University, take the Phoenix Club and turn it into my ping pong room.”
Much has been made of the negative impact the portrayal of Zuckerberg will have on Facebook. Truthfully, the portrayal isn’t as black and white as media have made it out to be. He’s a bastard, yes, who cheated several people out of money and the most brilliant idea for a website that there possibly ever has been. But he himself is screwed over just as he screws himself, and by the end of the film – even though the epilogue captions at the end of the film like to remind us that he got off pretty scot-free, you still feel slightly sorry for him (though not as much as Eduardo Saverin, who only now has had recognition of his part in Facebook’s start-up).
It’s not a film that defines a generation, which is what Sorkin, director David Fincher and its producers were obviously aiming for, but it is interesting to watch and helps you understand just how the site most of us visit several times a day to connect our lives came about. Go and see it when it comes out tomorrow.