The alternate reality of Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network.

What really happened.
Sept. 30 2010 6:58 PM

Facebook Fakery

The alternate reality of Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network.

(Continued from Page 1)

The movie alleges that Zuckerberg and his best friend (and Facebook co-founder) Eduardo Saverin fell out, to a large extent, because Saverin was "punched" for the elitist Phoenix club, which the movie fatuously represents as a lusty den of vice where gorgeous co-eds dance in their underwear on tables for lecherous clubmen. This is a world Zuckerberg can't access, according to Sorkin. As The Social Network accurately depicts, Zuckerberg forced Saverin out of Facebook, and Saverin sued Zuckerberg. The dispute between Zuckerberg and Saverin has been litigated to such an extent that we may never know the exact truth of how Zuckerberg felt about his friend. This impasse is something The Social Network banks on. You can't question what you can't know. You can, however, write a story about it.

Ultimately, both Sorkin and Mezrich are responsible for The Social Network's storytelling. While Sorkin has denied looking at The Accidental Billionaires as he wrote his script, the Mezrich book is listed as source material in the movie's opening credits. There are also scenes in the movie that couldn't have come from anywhere but Mezrich's book. The Social Network leaves out some of The Accidental Billionaires' most inflammatory material—you won't see Zuckerberg and Saverin feasting on koala meat on a yacht in San Francisco, for instance— but much of Mezrich's juiciest, least substantiated material reappears in the film. The wild scene in which computer-science groupies approach Zuckerberg and Saverin for sex in bathroom stalls remains. So does a concocted scene in which the Winklevosses and Narendra learn about Facebook's expansion into Europe in the summer of 2004, when they're at England's Henley Royal Regatta. Facebook hadn't crossed the Atlantic at that point.

Advertisement

Sorkin, too, bends truth to narrative. He adds anachronistic references to MySpace. He invents a scene in which early Facebook investor Sean Parker happens upon Zuckerberg's rental house in Palo Alto, Calif., only after a zip line tears off the chimney. And Sorkin creates a climactic, computer-smashing confrontation between Saverin and Zuckerberg that I've been unable to find any reference to in the various Facebook lawsuits.

Let's accept petty deceptions like these as a necessary ingredient in a dramatized story. The problem is that Sorkin doesn't gloss over facts to get at any truths about Facebook's founding. He is trafficking in dramaturgy.

The Social Network's most honest moment comes in the movie's closing scene, when a lawyer played by my Harvard classmate Rashida Jones tells Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg that she doesn't think he's a jerk. It's just that, as she puts it, "creation myths need a devil."

Sorkin, too, has left us with a myth, and the mythmaker has washed his hands of the mythmaking process. Some critics call this a brilliant meta-disclaimer, an acknowledgment that there is no universal truth in the Zuckerberg story. It's not. It's an abdication of responsibility for a story that pantomimes Zuckerberg and is poised to transform Mezrich and Sorkin's version of reality into whatever passes for truth these days.

Alas, here's the rub: The Social Network is also a lot of fun. Go buy a ticket. Just don't buy the story.

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

AP Video: Jesse Eisenberg on The Social Network

Luke O’Brien is a writer in Washington, D.C.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories to the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
Quora
Oct. 22 2014 9:51 AM What Was It Like to Work at NASA During the Challenger and Columbia Disasters?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 9:54 AM The Simpsons World App Is Finally Here I feel like a kid in some kind of store.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 8:43 AM Thunderstruck: Rock Out With Mother Nature’s Evil Side
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 9:39 AM Gertjie and Lammie, a Magical (and Bizarre) Friendship
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.