Though it may not be science fiction, Facebook movie The Social Network does what all great science fiction does: It speculates about how new technologies are changing society. I've read through Aaron Sorkin's script, and it's a riveting amorality tale. Spoilers!
Early reviewers have already talked about the film's swift, overlapping flashback structure, which is both dizzying and the perfect way to tell the story of a guy who invented the ultimate short-attention-span site. We spiral back into Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg's past by jumping off from two seemingly simultaneous depositions. He's being sued by several of his former schoolmates at Harvard - Eduardo, his former best friend, alleges that Mark screwed him out of millions in a bad business deal; and the others are his wannabe business partners who claim that Mark "stole" the idea of Facebook from them. As the plaintiffs' lawyers question Mark, we're pulled back in time to witness the birth of Facebook from a mixture of ambition, misogyny and Apache server hacks.
We meet Mark as he's being dumped by his girlfriend Erica, who is apparently sick of listening to him obsess about getting into one of Harvard's exclusive "final clubs". In a fit of pique, Mark returns to his dorm, gets drunk, and whips up a nasty little HotOrNot-esque app called FaceMash that lets people vote on the hottest girls of Harvard by looking at side-by-side photos. It's so popular that it crashes the Harvard network within hours. And that's when Mark realises that the killer web app will let people experience an online version of the cliques, closed friendship networks and social power games of Ivy League life.
What makes the script so powerful is Sorkin's deft evocation of Harvard's social hierarchies. We watch the proto-elite men of the final clubs bringing hot chicks to their parties in buses dubbed "fuck trucks" while Mark codes up FaceMash. If he can't dip into the fuck truck like the son of a wealthy man would, he'll turn all of Harvard into his own private fuck truck. And if he can't make any real friends at Harvard, he'll create a website that places him at the centre of the world's university scene.
The character of Mark bears some resemblance to the real-life Mark Zuckerberg, but it's clear that Sorkin is more interested in him as an allegorical figure. Mark stands in for a whole generation whose social lives take place online. The question The Social Network asks is whether this makes them bigger arseholes than the previous generations. Is there something more horrific about people who rate each other's hotness and friend/defriend each other out in the open, versus those who carried on their sharkish popularity games behind the closed doors of final club houses? The answer is more complicated than you might think, which is what makes this such a delicious script.
The more we understand Mark, the more obvious it is why we can only get to know him via testimony at depositions. This is a guy who only relates to people within rigid social systems and hierarchies - as names in a database or as players in a legal proceeding. A deposition is about as real as it gets for Mark. As alien as this seems to us, we also learn that Mark has some of the same desires that kids throughout the past century have had. He wants to be a superstar, to be recognised and get laid and have enviably giant parties. Most of the script's second half focuses Behind the Music-style on Mark's crazy rise to mega-fortune with the help of scammy business dude Sean Parker (who helped found Napster).
Dropping out of Harvard, he relocates to Silicon Valley, coding between pool parties and sucking up half a million in angel investments between bong hits. This is the new rock star lifestyle, Sorkin seems to be telling us, and it's just as seductively empty as going on tour with Lady Gaga. Just like a pop idol, Mark screws over his old friends and steals ideas to make Facebook a household name.
Make no mistake: Mark is guilty as hell of all he's accused of in the depositions we're watching. We see him deliberately robbing his loyal friend Eduardo of the 30 per cent of Facebook he was promised. And we also see that the rich Winkelvoss twins, who tried to become his business partners back at Harvard, did in fact come up with the idea of putting student profiles online. Sure, their idea was a lot lamer than Facebook - but still, Mark hadn't thought of doing it until they mentioned it to him.
So what makes Mark different from the attention-seeking pop stars and power-hungry elites who came before him? For one thing, Mark does not come from a position of money, nor does he have any social graces to set him apart. He's got ideas, he's a little computer savvy, and he has a lot of ambition. He's a self-made socialite unlike guys he envies in the final clubs. And another thing: Mark is completely open about his ambitions. He blogs about being dumped. His life, at least in the film, is an open (face)book. He's transplanted his social life online, but that leaves him vulnerable to being seen for what he is - whatever you think that might be. Indeed, the entire film is in some sense testimony to the social transparency Mark Zuckerberg has made possible.
In the end, we can all sit in judgment of Mark. But the film itself offers its own judgment, hinted at in this final scene where one of Mark's lawyers tells him he's not an arsehole - he just wants to be one. Maybe to be a true arsehole, you have to have a kind of privacy that's no longer possible in the Facebook era. Or maybe Mark's very loneliness and lack of real-world social skills prevent him from becoming the arsehole his counterparts in the final clubs no doubt became.
Either way, this is a movie you'll be talking about for years.
Thanks to Macchianera for sharing the script - you can read the first 10 pages over there.
Republished from io9.