Aaron Sorkin on 'The Social Network': It's not meant as an attack on Mark Zuckerberg
I won't be seeing "The Social Network" until later this week, but it's clear that the film's acidic portrait of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg will be endlessly debated and dissected in media circles, especially because the film is based on "The Accidental Billionaires." The book has been criticized for using composite characters and re-created dialogue and doesn't exactly offer much of a balanced account of Zuckerberg's controversial college years.
The New Yorker has just put up a nice new profile of Zuckerberg, which, in addition to being really, really long, devotes considerable space to Aaron Sorkin's explanation of how he came to write the script for the film, which will open in theaters Oct. 1.
When you put Sorkin up against Zuckerberg, it's a ridiculously unfair fight because even in interviews, Sorkin can effortlessly spew forth sparklingly quotable dialogue, while Zuckerberg comes off as a hapless, wildly inarticulate computer nerd. (When I once interviewed Sorkin at a deli, I found myself hastily transcribing the conversation with our waitress.)
After the New Yorker's Jose Antonio Vargas notes that the film's image of Zuckerberg as an "unsmiling, insecure and sexed-up young man" will be hard to overcome, Zuckerberg offers perhaps the most sustained response he gives in the entire article, saying, "I think a lot of people will look at that stuff, you know, when I was nineteen, and say, 'Oh, well, he was like that. ... He must still be like that, right?'"
Truer words were never spoken. As for Sorkin, he freely admits that, at age 49, he has a deeply held distaste for the blogosphere and was practically a virgin when it came to the whole idea of social networking. Or as he tells the New Yorker: "I've heard of Facebook, in the same way I've heard of a carburetor. But if I opened the hood of my car I wouldn't know how to find it." While insisting that the film is not an attack on Zuckerberg, Sorkin admits that Zuckerberg "spends the first one hour and fifty-five minutes as an antihero and the last five minutes as a tragic hero."
If I may translate that from screenwriter-ese into plain English: Zuckerberg is portrayed as a jerk for the first hour and fifty-five minutes, but in the last five minutes he gets to show some vulnerability.
Perhaps the oddest twist in the whole article is the revelation, culled from Zuckerberg's own Facebook profile, that Sorkin's "The West Wing" was one of Zuckerberg's favorite TV shows. At least until Vargas prodded him for details about his favorite episode from the show ("Two Cathedrals"). A few days after Zuckerberg discussed the show, he changed his Facebook profile, removing "The West Wing" from his list of favorite TV programs. It's a neat trick, but it'll be a lot harder for Zuckerberg to erase the bad buzz he's going to get from the way he's portrayed in "The Social Network."
Photo: Mark Zuckerberg at the Cannes Lions 2010 International Advertising Festival in June. Credit: Sebastien Nogier / Reuters