Once Upon a Time, at Harvard Culture: vanityfair.com
Saw The Social Network last night with Carmen. Both of us were really looking forward to it: the film has a good pedigree, a decent buzz and it's about a very major phenom in Facebook. We both left disappointed, though I have to say I still found the two hour flick interesting, fascinating.
Let's not talk about the performances. No one sucked. Most were good. But the performances aren't the point. What's at stake is how true it all is.
I've seen some strange quotes from the screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, suggesting that truth and accuracy need not be one in the same thing. Well, no, not in this case.
Film makers have to wake up to something I think. If they are dealing with historical events: Tudor England, the Victorians, Ancient Greece, then playing fast and loose with the facts is fine. Everyone's dead. No one's reputation is at stake. And nobody sat and watched Gladiator thinking: which emperor is this supposed to be?
But The Social Network charts events from 2003. Disputed events. Events that are surrounded by a he said, she said culture. Events that were the subject of legal actions that sound less like disputes between business people and more like an ugly spat in the dorm room. Which is what they were. You have to get it right.
So who is the real Mark Zuckerberg? Is he the prick that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin portrays him as? The narrow minded, self obsessed, ex-girlfriend obsessed cyber nut who stole the initial idea off three fine young blue bloods and turned himself into a billionaire (screwing over his best pal en route)?
Or is he the good listener, philanthropist, genial ceo that the profiles in various newspapers have him to be?
He's still only 26 of course. He may well have been all of those things in the past few years. I know I matured a lot between the ages of 18 and 30, MZ will do the same I'm sure. Only he'll do it with a billion or two in the bank.
There were elements of the story I thought could have been brought out more. Nuances that muddy the waters. Like the fact that Facemash and then Facebook was partly inspired by college/high school culture: those year books they all have had been digitised. The idea was circulating around. What Zuckerberg did was make it work, he employed the latest technology, took advantage of broadband and digital photography, and he got it out there first.
Meanwhile, the blue bloods rested on their laurels. Or rather they got on with rowing and studying while Zuckerberg got on with coding. In that sense, you've got to admire MZ. He may well have been a bit scurrilous, but history has a tendency to only remember the winners.
As a film, The Social Newtork felt a bit lumpen. I expected more from the director David Fincher who seemed to struggle with the complexities of the legal action. As for the risible Henley regatta scenes (Prince Albert????) and boat race: yeah, Dave, we got it already. Most of the characters were introduced in fairly cliched ways... a series of CVs read out by one or other of the cast. Sort of. And it offered no sense of who Zuckerberg was: his background before Harvard. Did he have sisters? Family? Was he privileged or not? (He went to a private school, his parents were Jewish professionals...) All he told us was that he was a bit of a geek, a bit of a loner.
Oh, and then there was the sexism. Carmen thought it was the most sexist film she'd seen in ages. The women - girls - were almost exclusively in either their underwear or miniskirts, drinking cocktails, having sex or just looking good. The obvious exception was Erica, the girl who dumps Zuckerberg at the beginning of the film.
There's some effort by Fincher to address this balance. There is a thoughtful, insightful lawyer, a woman, who gives MZ some advice. But overall you are left with the sense that although it might be 2003 on the calendar - and this film is made in 2010 - Harvard still beats to the same drum that was sounding in the early 1980s. They even dress much the same way too. Beery parties, girls are for decoration, boys are in charge. Perhaps this is an accurate portrayal of American university life and indeed American corporate culture. Is it? If so... well they've got a way to go.
A miss. But intriguing just the same...