With 'The Social Network,' a New Subject for Aaron Sorkin: Youth


For one of Hollywood's few celebrity screenwriters, The Social Network is a pivotal film. Aaron Sorkin's new movie won't be career-defining simply because it may win him his first Oscar, or at the very least be his best reviewed work. It marks a significant departure in the kind of material and characters he writes about. In telling the story of Facebook's creation, Sorkin is finally writing young.

Known as Hollywood's go-to politics writer, Sorkin penned the screenplays to the (critical and financially) successful films A Few Good Men, Malice, The American President, and Charlie Wilson's War, as well as the first four seasons of the television series The West Wing. Add in the programs Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, two TV series about TV series which he also wrote, and Sorkin's specialty can be more specifically pinpointed as the "hyperspeed of the communications profession" (as a recent New York magazine profile describes).

But the films and TV shows on Sorkin's resume before The Social Network have something else in common. They're all about people in their 30s and 40s, established professionals navigating the pressures of their highly successful, highly white collar careers. With The Social Network, however, Sorkin is focusing on a younger generation. For the first time, Sorkin's trademark snappy, rapidfire dialogue will be spoken by 20-somethings. Not only is it a new culture and mindset for him to master, but a subject matter completely divergent from his traditional bread and butter: coming of age.

At its core, The Social Network is a film about a teenager—Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg—making life-changing decisions and, arguably, growing up. Zuckerberg's personality profile—arrogance and ambition mixed with ambivalent wit—makes him the movie character a "classic Sorkin creation," according to the New York article. But he is one in the most unclassically Sorkin way. The presidents, military officials, and congressmen that Sorkin wrote for screen were stately men who commanded respect, embodied by the stature of a Jack Nicholson, or a Michael Douglas, or a Martin Sheen. This Social Network "creation" is played by a gangly 20-something in a hoodie and relaxed-fit Levi's.

And because of this new character type, Sorkin had to draw from a different pool of actors. Typically the films he pens are cast from top to bottom of the call sheet with A-listers; Nicholson, Douglas, and Sheen are in the company of Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Julia Roberts, Paul Newman, and Sally Field. It's a trend that makes the casting of The Social Network remarkably unSorkinesque. Largely unknown or bubbling-under-the radar actors fill out a cast that presumably every young actor in the industry would be clamoring to join (Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, of course, as the exception).

Critics have relished discussing what The Social Network means for Mark Zuckerberg: how we'll view him, how he'll be portrayed, how it will affect what's next for him. But as a venture into unfamiliar territory for one of the industry's most seasoned writers, it will be just as exciting to see what the film could mean for Aaron Sorkin.

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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