SORKIN, AARON – THE SOCIAL NETWORK
CLASSICAL THEMES OF HUMANITY
Everybody knows about Facebook – but perhaps not about the bitter rivalries that
spewed out friendships and generated friction on a massive, multi million dollar
scale behind the façade, as it were. Indeed, The Social Network is not so much
about the birth of Facebook but the death of friendships, of betrayal and
jealousies, all classical themes, Aaron Sorkin tells Andrew L. Urban.
So you think The Social Network is about Facebook? Well it is and it isn’t. As
the man who wrote the screenplay, Aaron Sorkin, says, “it’s really about
friendship, betrayal, jealousy and loyalty, a classical story in which Facebook
is the backdrop.” And what a backdrop, filled with conflicted characters like
its central figure, the man who claims to have invented Facebook (first called
Facemash), Mark Zuckerberg, and friends who become antagonists in the course of
Sorkin, a smartly dressed 49 year old, is visiting Sydney to promote the film;
he talks eloquently about the subject with the assurance of someone who knows
their onions. To write the script, Sorkin pored through every available blog
(including the text of Zuckerberg’s exchange with his girlfriend as they broke
up), all relevant document and several cartons of legal papers, “and most
importantly, I spoke to lots of people who knew Mark, many on the condition of
anonymity.” The one thing he changed is the name of Zuckerberg’s girlfriend;
“she doesn’t need to be embarrassed any further.”
The fact that neither Sorkin nor director David Fincher spoke to Mark Zuckerberg
personally is not a drawback. “I wanted to give Mark the opportunity to defend
himself but I fully expected him to decline,” he says leaning forward in his
chair on the other side of the coffee table, “and in fact I was relieved when he
said no. I didn’t want this to be a Facebook production, nor did I want any
editorial restrictions to interfere with the screenplay.”
But Facebook executives did get a chance to look at the script after it had been
greenlit for production by the studio (Columbia Pictures). “Facebook
communications director Elliot Schrage sent back some notes, but these were
mostly about hacking terminology, which I’m not too familiar with,” says Sorkin.
"it’s for the audience to assess"
After collecting all the research, including the all-important depositions by
the key protagonists - Zuckerberg, his ex-friend and business partner Eduardo
Severin and the Winklevoss twins - “we had three conflicting versions of the
story, “ says Sorkin. And that’s what he grabbed on to as the structure for the
script. “We’re not presenting what we think is the truth,” he adds, “it’s for
the audience to assess.”
When asked if he’s a fan of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s classic 1950
movie, Rashomon, Sorkin nods and says, “I owe Kurosawa!” The film depicts the
rape of a woman, the murder of the woman’s husband, but told through four
differing accounts: one each by the bandit/rapist, the wife, the dead man
speaking through a medium and the narrator.
There is a deep irony within the Mark Zuckerberg story in the fact that a young
man who lacked all the social graces and was short of close friends would devise
a way of infiltrating the intimacies of the lives of his fellow college students
– and become wealthy as a result.
While The Social Network depicts Mark Zuckerberg (brilliantly played by Jesse
Eisenberg) “as an anti-hero for the best part of the movie, by the end he
becomes a tragic hero,” says Sorkin. “When writing the script, I had to care for
the character and to empathise with him. And I could, because I, too, am shy and
awkward socially,” which seems hard to believe as he breezes through his dozen
interviews on the run. “You know that series Entourage about working in
Hollywood – well, I appeared once on Entourage and I work in Hollywood yet I
still feel an outsider doing it. So I did find ways of connecting with Mark.”
"casting was absolutely crucial"
Sorkin agrees that casting was absolutely crucial, and he sings the praises
of Eisenberg. “There was no other actor in the conversation for the role – or
any of the other roles, despite David and I having seen hundreds of actors.
Somebody would have had to come in and beat Jesse …” One of the things Sorkin
admires about Eisenberg’s performance is that he doesn’t “beg the audience to
love him” and yet, by the end, perhaps audiences will feel something for him,
even though he’s hard to admire or like.
One of the very few cinematic tricks in the film is the use of motion capture to
replicate the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler. Armie Hammer plays both
roles, except for scenes where they have a physical interchange such as passing
an object to each other. In those scenes, Josh Pence (“an absolutely terrific
actor,” says Sorkin) stands in, with dot marks on his face, where the face of
Armie Hammer is later overlayed in the digital backroom.
The proximity of the movie to the actual events depicted is unusual; “it’s not
usual even in television,” says Sorkin. “But what we are talking about is not
just the events – what we’re talking about is timeless.” As for an idea being
trumps, Sorkin disagrees: “I believe that execution trumps everything else.
People have ideas or what they think are ideas all the time. You can say, for
instance, I’m going to write a movie about Facebook. That’s not the same as
Sorkin (who wrote and produced The West Wing) is “as proud of The Social Network
as anything in my professional life. You know, when I look at [the script for] A
Few Good Men now, 20 years after I wrote it, I wish I could take it back; I
could make it so much better. But I don’t think I’ll feel like that about The
A blogger for Salon.com, Tracy Clarke-Flory, expressed concern about the role of
women in the film, stating: "The most important roles played by women in one of
the greatest web innovations of the decade were as gold-diggers, drunken
floozies and that 'bitch' who got away."
Responding on a blog post about the film, Sorkin said the film showed the very
real and disturbing attitudes the protagonists have towards women.
"It's not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw
in the movie but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I
was writing about. Women are both prizes and equal.
"born during a night of incredible misogyny"
"Facebook was born during a night of incredible misogyny," Sorkin said.
"The idea of comparing women to farm animals, and then to each other, based on
their looks and then publicly ranking them. It was a revenge stunt, aimed first
at the woman who'd most recently broke his heart (who should get some kind of
medal for not breaking his head) and then at the entire female population of
"More generally, I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group
of people. These aren't the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the '80s.
They're very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the
quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now.
The women they surround themselves with aren't women who challenge them (and
frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere
Published October 28, 2010
Published first in the Sun-Herald
Email this article
Dir. David Fincher Scr: Aaron Sorkin
In 2003, brilliant but socially awkward Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse
Eisenberg) conceives a way to replicate social networking on campus - via the
internet. With his well off friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) providing
some modest working capital, Zuckerberg and his small team develops the website
into what soon looks like major web success and soon, Napster founder Sean
Parker (Justin Timberlake) takes Facebook to Silicon Valley’s venture
capitalists. But the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer), who tried to engage
Zuckerberg for their own project, feel he betrayed them and stole their idea –
and sue him for ownership.