The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, October 04, 2010

“The Social Network”

Over the weekend I saw two films, “The Social Network” and “Let Me In” and loved them both. It would be instructive to look at them from the perspective of our core model: the Hero’s Journey and the Chakras. And we’ll do that a bit this week.
“Social Network” is the brainchild of Aaron Sorkin, creator of the “West Wing” and his screenplay is crackerjack. Let’s forget the question of whether this tale, about the creation of “Facebook” is historically precise. Like it or not, that is not the primary job of a theatrical film. The primary job of a theatrical film is to be entertaining and return the investment of the studios…and factual accuracy is often secondary.
Nonetheless a film must have at least the appearance of reality…verisimilitude, and here “Social Media” holds up fine. The basic idea that Sorkin seems to be promoting is that, in terms of the charkas, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was a borderline Asperger type with an enormous hole in his heart, which he tried to fill with his brain. A guy who never got invited to parties…and so decided to throw the biggest party in the world.
The confusion between head and heart is central. Does it ring true? To anyone who has been around nerd (or, say…science fiction fandom?) knows a lot of “Zuckerbergs.” Brilliant but socially inept people, the kind who believe you can be “too smart.” My position: intelligence is problem solving. The only way that can be a problem is if you aren’t aware enough to actually select the right problems to solve. Given this basic premise, we watch Zuckerberg march through the steps of the Hero’s Journey—
Confronted with Challenge: To mature as a human being, to be able to form genuine relationships and advance as a human being.
he is asked to program a social network for fellow Harvard students.
Rejects Challenge: he decides he doesn’t respect the people who proposed this.
Accepts Challenge: to steal this idea and go in another direction.
Road of Trials: A gigantic amount of programming, team building, genuine brilliance and hard work, against the backdrop of shifting social connections. Learning to respect boundaries and promises, to understand what is and is not “honest” or appropriate…in other words, to grow up.
Allies and Powers: his friend and Chief Financial Officer is his only real friend (within the context of the movie). Mark is drop-dead brilliant, no question, and has creativity to burn and an instinctive understanding of the needs of others…if not himself.
Confront Evil-Defeat. “Evil” in the film context is Sean Parker the co[creator of Napster (played beautifully by Justin Timberlake, who continues to impress.) Remember: this is a guy who convinced an entire generation of impressionable young people that stealing wasn’t stealing. And this man dazzled Mark and became his moral guidepost! It is notable that Mark’s parents never appear in this film. He has no family, no outside friends. The social isolation is phenomenal. Mentally, he is dazzling. Emotionally, he is an empty vessel.
Dark Night of the Soul—the success of his empire accompanies the collapse of his personal relationships and the revelation of his emptiness.
Leap of Faith—he does not, cannot take it. He is pursuing success monomaniacally, and has no real concept of the damage he is doing.
BECAUSE he cannot take the leap, he collapses back to the prior emotional level, where he becomes obsessed with winning back the girlfriend he lost and shamed at the beginning of the film, as if understanding that this is the road to redemption.
There will be many who think that his financial success, or his transformation of the cyber-landscape compensate for any failings. That is fine: those people have simply defined their own morality, and there are plenty of ‘em. You need to decide, for yourself, what YOU think the morality of all this is. Zuckerberg ended up the youngest billionaire in American history. He has plenty of time for therapy and growth, and will probably do fine. Even the people he hurt, he made staggeringly rich. So he isn’t really a “villain” even in the context of the film…although Sean Parker certainly seems to be.
What do you think?


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

"Remember: this is a guy who convinced an entire generation of impressionable young people that stealing wasn’t stealing."


Sam said...

From what I've read, the plot device in the movie where he wants to get back at a girlfriend who dumped him is flatly false, and that there was no such person. I certainly don't know, but I'm curious if you have other information that contradicts what other knowledgeable reviewers are saying. said...

This can't work in fact, that is exactly what I consider.