I’ve discussed what impressed me about The Social Network, now I must address what disappointed me. That would be the script by Aaron Sorkin. Let me be clear: Sorkin’s script tears out of the gate crackling with energy, good pacing and whip-smart dialogue. This a film with almost no physical action, and so the conversations between characters had to be totally engaging and amusing for The Social Network to have any traction at all. Sorkin rises to that challenge.
The problem (for me at least) is that the film starts with a bang but ends with a fizzle. The opening scene (a conversation between Zuckerberg and his ex-girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara) is one of the best I’ve seen since Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, and instills confidence early on that “the Facebook movie” might be more dynamic and entertaining than expected. As I’ve said, the dialogue is sharp, crisp, hip and thoroughly entertaining, however it’s the presence of a larger point to the story that seems to be missing from The Social Network.
Sure, the film has a point – only it’s one that becomes all too obvious far too early, and is hammered on again and again throughout the film’s final act, just in case anyone in the audience is too obtuse to get it. The themes of Sorkin’s script are also pretty cliched: legal battles and lost friends are practically rites of passage in the rise to fame and fortune in America – we’ve seen this story many times before. By the time the big fallout between Zuckerberg and Saverin plays out, despite how well it’s executed, I was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed.
To be honest, I believe Sorkin committed one of the greatest sins of storytelling: missing the opportunity to both look deeper and say something bigger. Part of what makes The Social Network‘s first third so engaging is that we get to see Zuckerberg actually interacting in the digital realm he is about to revolutionize. We hear entries from his Live Journal blog in voiceover, see him creating other, smaller, web projects and watch him squirming between a digital realm where he’s a virtual god, and the real world where he’s a hapless loser. For me, this opening act was the most interesting thing the film offered - a larger commentary about how we all navigate life and “reality” in a digital age where our online profiles, blogs and Tweets have begun to define us more than our flesh and blood actions can.
However, by the time the movie hits its midpoint, Sorkin’s script loses a good deal of steam, settling into a standard narrative of wealth, fame, power, and the relationships fractured as a result. The script also strangely diverts its focus away from Zuckerberg and onto some of the secondary characters such as Saverin, Parker, or (oddly enough) a trio of Harvard students who also sue Zuckerberg over Facebook. Combined, the jumps between characters, times and places quickly wears the film’s unique structure thin, and worse, made me start to wonder what the point was.
There’s also one glaring problem with telling this story at all: the history of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook is still being written. How can Sorkin fashion a story that feels complete when the person the story is about has not yet completed his arch? If Facebook’s role in our lives is still evolving, what point is there to be made about its creation – that it cost Zuckerberg friends and gave him legal headaches? As I said, that’s a cliched story, but more to the point: most people would argue that becoming a multi-billionaire in your twenties is worth it. For those people – who believe the rewards justify the struggle – The Social Network is going to have little insight to offer.
It’s only in the closing minutes of the film that Sorkin’s script returns to the intriguing theme offered by the opening act: how Zuckerberg’s online persona coincides with his real-world experience. I think Sorkin and Fincher felt they were being deep and profound by closing things off that way; in my opinion, The Social Network might’ve truly been ‘the film that defined a generation’ had that question been explored at greater length. As it stands, this is pretty much the story about how a couple of Harvard kids got rich off of the Internet.
Watch the trailer for The Social Network to help you decide whether to see it in theaters: