The Social Network, directed by David Fincher, written by Aaron Sorkin
This new film has received lots of positive reviews and has sold lots of tickets over the past weeks, but I was unsure just what might be in store as I walked into the theater this weekend. What I found was a brilliant, and oddly moving, tragedy. At first, it seemed to be just the tragedy of one man, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of facebook, but in the end the tragedy seems to be so many-sided, so “social” that I found myself drawn right into the drama. I was asking the question: these people’s lives are so very broken, but in the end, are they all that different from me?
The movie runs through the story of the founding of the website facebook, which, whether you love it or hate it, is without question an amazing phenomenon. Two 19-year-old undergraduates took an idea and turned it into a billion-dollar company within 5 years. The director, David Fincher, and the writer, Aaron Sorkin, are able to communicate just how surreal, how amazing the speed of this development was for all the people involved. They take what from the outside could have been an incredibly boring story (if I had made the movie, it would have been entirely made of two hours of people typing on computers until Zuckerberg jumps up and yells “Eureka!”) and instead make the audience feel the ridiculous pace as the little company gains its thousands, and finally its millions, of members.
Yet if the filmmakers render the business story exciting, they do even more with the human story. Facebook is not an idea for connecting stuff, as if it were about getting natural gas to homes faster, or about safer ways to ship trinkets. The whole idea is about connecting people. As the movie depicts it, this means for connection is in large part created out of the social backwardness, the social folly, perhaps even the social sins, of its founders. On the one hand, you have the Winklevoss twins, comfortably occupying a position as the elite of the elite, members of the most exclusive private club at Harvard University. Their disdain for Zuckerberg and their assumption of their own superiority is so complete that when Zuckerberg fools them, it takes them months to figure out what to do. They are convinced that because they always win, they will win. When they don’t, they are flabbergasted. Even more tragically, Zuckerberg’s friend, Eduardo Saverin, ends up being pushed aside by Zuckerberg because Saverin disagrees with him about the direction the company should take. Saverin, who had put up the money to get facebook started, who served as its CFO for the first year, gets shoved to the curb.
In the end, the tragedy focuses on Zuckerberg. It is driven forward by his brilliance, his desire to be liked, his phenomenal insight into what people want from facebook, and the very brokenness of his personal life. As the movie depicts it, facebook is substituting for the connections that Zuckerberg wishes he had: with a girlfriend who dumped him, with the elite social clubs at Harvard, with other powerful and talented people, such as Sean Parker, the former founder of Napster. His own desperate need for connection drives him to create the means for connection for everyone else. Facebook, built as it is around the network of connections to other online “friends,” thus provides the ironic center, the dramatic irony of the movie. Saverin turns to Zuckerberg, after facebook has become a network of millions of “friends”, and says, “I was your only friend.” The accusation from Saverin is such a basic human drama, of a person betraying a friend because of a new friend. But in this case, Zuckerberg betrays Saverin because of millions of new friends. The advertising tag line for the movie is right on: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”
It is crucial, in the midst of this engaging and stimulating movie, to allow the tragedy to turn on us. What are the betrayals we make in the midst of cultivating our social networks? Who have we sacrificed? How is our online life driven by the brokenness of our daily interactions? And any finger-pointing is coming right back at me. Let it be noted for the record that facebook makes frequent appearances in my examination of conscience. But in evaluating our online lives, it is not to write it off completely. The writer of the movie, Aaron Sorkin, has said in a number of interviews how much he hates facebook and does not use it. Yet Sorkin does the right thing in the movie by not making it an accusation against facebook itself, a decrying of the falsehood of internet friends. In fact, what the movie says is that the tragedy of human injustice, of human brokenness and sin, is the same online and off. It’s one human tragedy, in which we all participate. Among those who are constantly proclaiming the internet as the Savior of the World, and among those who are ready to demonize it in favor of immaculate natural interactions, this is a great middle-ground to hold: it’s all one human tragedy. Our weak human hearts find it hard to love and be loved, whether online or off. It lacks a clear savior, but this amusing, engaging, and ultimately sad movie might help us face, in our whole lives, just how badly we need one.
Michae! Magree, SJ