many commentators say that, in viewing The Social Network , the actual
Zuckerberg is quite beside the point. Like Sorkin, they view the film
as a creative act which (to use a Graham Greene distinction) either
provides excellent "entertainment" or, for some, achieves cinematic
"art." They view the story of friendship, obsession, jealousy, revenge
and betrayal—set in the internet age—as a modern parable with many
dimensions and implications.
For these commentators, accuracy
about facts is not important; the human truths told in entertainment and
art are more profound than whether certain scenes or events in the film
are the literally correct. Two examples:
- David Denby, reviewing the film in The New Yorker, writes: "The debate about the movie's accuracy has already begun, but Fincher and Sorkin, selecting
from known facts and then freely interpreting them, have created a work
of art. Accuracy is now a secondary issue."
- The New York Times' Joe Nocera, one of the best business columnists, criticizes Mezrich ("he amps...events up to the point where the final product is an indistinguishable blend of fact and fiction") and praises Kirkpatrick ("a business journalist of the old school...would never take the kind of dramatic liberties taken by Mr. Mezrick and Mr. Sorkin"). But, he says that The Social Network
is "possibly the finest film about business ever made" because the
arrogant, unpleasant obsession it portrays is so essential to starting a
new venture and because, despite Kirkpatrick's fair points about the
movie's errors, Sorkin captures that "deep lasting truth." (Nocera's pen would disembowel any CEO who ignored facts in attempting to portray
some larger corporate "truth.")
Yet, should entertainment or
art about contemporary events that presents itself, as The Social
Network does, as a "real" account of people and events—and not as
parody or satire or cartoon—strive to be accurate, to strive for some
deference to journalistic or historical accuracy in addition to skillful
Sorkin actually says that he does owe
Zuckerberg some balance. In a New Yorker piece by Jose Antonio Vargas,
Sorkin states: "I don't want to be unfair to this young man whom I
don't know, who's never done anything to me, who doesn't deserve a punch
in the face. I honestly believe that I have not done that."
Yet, he has also says in the same piece that, while he has tried to
reflect many different points of view in the film, Zuckerberg "spends
the first one hour and fifty-five minutes as an antihero and the last
five minutes as a tragic hero." Fairness?
I find Mark Harris'
observation in New York important on the dangers of poetic license in
this type of film:
Sorkin's most daring decision, to turn
Zuckerberg himself into a "character" complete with a set of personality
traits—prickliness, intelligence, verbosity, wit, arrogance, and
occasional dead-eyed blankness—that make him a classic Sorkin creation
but also represent a big leap of imagination...
to seeing movies reprocess history and even current events into
drama...But it's one thing to play with Tony Blair or Bill Clinton. It's
a new kind of license to turn a real-life 26-year-old whose most
life-changing decisions were made as a teenager into an incarnation of
Silicon Valley killer instinct, undergrad dorkdom, impatient brilliance,
and middle-class Jewish-American aspiration fighting the Wasp
Establishment...It's a great idea for a character—but you don't have
to be particularly sympathetic to Zuckerberg to understand his likely
horror at having an entire set of motives, flaws, and vulnerabilities so
publicly and permanently ascribed to him.
So, for me, one of
the more interesting questions raised by the film is whether works of
entertainment or art presenting themselves as real accounts of
contemporary events owe fidelity, not just to story-telling, but also to
a search for truth in a journalistic or historical sense. Certainly
some of Sorkin's own statements suggest that he didn't want The Social
Network just to be story-telling. And, if that is so, then he had an
obligation to get closer to the facts.