Sometimes there’s nothing lonelier than a crowd. That’s especially true on Facebook, a social network that has swelled to 500 million members because people really like being alone together.
Facebook was launched from the dorm room of Mark Zuckerberg—it would make him the world’s youngest billionaire—but the site may not have started there. The Social Network, the first blockbuster movie spotlighting the digital infrastructure of the millennial generation, traces three competing stories about Facebook’s birth.
First, there is the archetypal entrepreneur outsmarting the entire establishment. As a child, Zuckerberg hacked through security systems designed by adults. As a brash Harvard drop-out, he mastered the alchemy of computer code, turning strings of symbols into programs and experiences that people have come to need on a daily basis. (Americans now spend more time on Facebook than on the next five most popular websites combined.) This is the capitalist narrative that runs closest to Facebook’s popular press coverage.
Then there is the accusation of a more sinister alchemy: the theft of other people’s ideas and property, especially of the intellectual and intangible sort, for Zuckerberg’s private gain. The Winklevoss twins, a pair of sculpted Harvard rowers who commissioned Zuckerberg to build their model for a college social network, press this case. (The real brothers won big, ultimately settling a lawsuit with Facebook for $65 million.)
Finally, inevitably, there is plain old greed. Zuckerberg’s best friend and business partner, Eduardo Saverin, is the most responsible and trusting character in the film, and the upstart company screws him the hardest. Even though Saverin is the co-founder and original investor in Facebook, his shares get slashed in an accounting scheme he naïvely approves, thinking that the company lawyers are acting in his interest. Then he gets his own lawyers. (Facebook settled with Saverin, too.)
The dazzling script, written by Aaron Sorkin, presses these dueling cases in a vigorous, slashing onslaught, but it does not resolve them. "I wanted to go for a Rashomon quality," Sorkin recently said after the movie’s premiere at the New Yorker Festival, so he chose a courtroom drama motif to play out the conflict. All the pretty young plaintiffs came in handy.
The Social Network jumps from depositions in shimmering corporate conference rooms to flashback clashes between angry, entitled elites. Sorkin, who wrote one of the most acclaimed modern courtroom scenes in A Few Good Men, says he pored over legal documents, conducted background interviews with participants and trolled through online detritus to reflect developments at the time. "Nothing has been invented in this movie to Hollywood-ize or sensationalize it," he emphasizes. The real Zuckerberg lived loudly online. While there is no co-author credit, Sorkin uses Zuckerberg’s words, archived online so many years ago, for several scenes. The web never forgets.