Facebook, For the Win

The Social NetworkThis week’s episode of KCRW’s excellent radio show The Business features a great interview with Dana Brunetti, producer of the critically lauded and Oscar-nominated movie “The Social Network.” In it, Brunetti goes into fascinating detail about how the book and the movie came to be.

“The Social Network” is of course based on the book “Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich. Apparently, Mezrich and Brunetti have a standing, informal book-to-movie deal — the former writes books that make for good movies, and the latter options them, sometimes before they’re even done. (The Kevin Spacey film “21” is another example.) Such was the way “Accidental Billionaires” turned into “The Social Network”; screenwriter Aaron Sorkin was working on his script while Mezrich’s manuscript was still in progress, working practically in parallel, with the two comparing notes and research. You can listen to or download the interview here.

Nothing Succeeds Like Success

It seems entirely appropriate that a movie about Facebook would get done in this just-in-time fashion. As a phenomenon, Facebook has happened so quickly, with such totality that it makes complete sense that a movie would be made before the book was even done, before the original story itself is even done. And, pursuant with that unstoppability, of course the movie would go on to win plaudits from every film society and of course it would score Golden Globes and Oscar nominations left and right. The Facebook story is a winner’s story; so thoroughly American in its bigness and inevitability and success that it won’t be denied. I say this not out of criticism but utter fascination; Mark Zuckerberg’s rapid ascent to the pinnacle of social media is ostensibly a tale of an awkward kid done right, but come on, he went to Harvard, okay? This is a hardly an odyssey of the disadvantaged. Facebook is the new American archetype for winners winning, through and through.

The Facebook Movie

I didn’t write about “The Social Network” during its original run because so much was being said about it at the time, but I did see it in theaters and I did enjoy it thoroughly. I found it insightful, rewarding and good solid entertainment.

As I recall it was greeted with a fair amount of initial disappointment, at least from the technorati, but really, what were they expecting? This is about as good a movie as Hollywood could possibly make from this material. It was helmed by an A-list director from a script written by an A-list screenwriter, with home run-level performances by an eager and hardworking cast; it went out of its way to be at least vaguely realistic (note the lack of Hollywood-style digital chirping when actors type on keyboards), and it was actually genuinely enjoyable, to boot. All of that amounts to a huge, huge leap forward from the way Hollywood has handled technology in the past, especially for those of us who remember the abysmal “Pirates of Silicon Valley.”

The Social Network Poster

What Winning Costs

What’s impressed me most about the movie is that it continues to inspire conversation about its message, its meaning and its import — again, just like its inspiration. In The New York Times, Opinion Page columnist Frank Rich pits the movie against “True Grit” (another film I really enjoyed), arguing that the latter is about a “clear-cut sense of morality and justice, even when the justice is rough.” By contrast he finds that “The Social Network” excuses all “moral transactions” and promotes a worldview predicated on impunity.

That argument struck me as more than a little specious, but I couldn’t articulate a more effective response than The New Yorker’s movie editor Richard Brody did over at his blog, The Front Row. Brody writes:

“As for the question of whether, in ‘The Social Network,’ anything must be paid for: the entire film is structured around a pair of civil suits that exist to determine payment. Mark Zuckerberg, at the beginning of the film, pays for his peculiarly insensitive sensibility with a relationship; he’s well aware, as is shown in the course of the hearings, that he has lost his closest friend due to his disloyalty; and the movie ends with the law-firm associate played by Rashida Jones telling Zuckerberg that he will indeed have to pay — and with Zuckerberg finding, once again, that he is still paying, socially, for his emotional disconnection. In other words, Aaron Sorkin’s script underlines at every turn the price that Zuckerberg pays for his unremedied character flaws and his ambitious misjudgments.”

That too is a dimension of winning: success doesn’t come for free. And it’s no accident that this notion of accountability is at the heart of this irresistible story of winning; this critical insight is what made Sorkin’s script more than just a celebration of Facebook’s unfettered rise to dominance. It’s what made the movie truly resonant and thoroughly fascinating. In fact, if you ask me, it may also be the reason that “The Social Network” will endure, why ‘the Facebook movie’ will be remembered and revisited long after Facebook shuts down.

  1. Actually, the most fascinating thing about The Social Network, is that it’s ultimately a love story between Zuckerburg and Saverin, albeit a professional one. The rest is ancillary. I’m willing to bet that’s exactly what Sorkin and Fincher intended, as well.

  2. Nice post. I was hesitant about the movie in the first place when I first heard it was coming out. I thought it was way too early for a movie about Facebook. But after finally giving in, I watched the film and surprisingly thoroughly enjoyed it. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure myself why I liked it so much. Like you said, it’s a modern take on the “American dream,” which has several layers for analysis. Winners winning (while winning doesn’t come free). Nicely put.

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