What The Social Network Will Mean To Facebook And Mark Zuckerberg: A Film Review And Analysis

After months of anticipation and speculation, The Social Network has finally arrived in theaters.  In advance of the opening, many people wondered “could (the) film  affect Facebook's brand?” and it was said that “inside Facebook, they think the movie will not be good for Mark's image, and that worries them." It is easy to understand these questions and concerns considering how Mark Zuckerberg and the early days of Facebook are portrayed in the film, but having seen it for myself, my strong belief is that The Social Network will have no impact on people’s perception of Facebook.

In many ways, The Social Network is as much about Facebook as Titanic is about the White Star Line.  Certain aspects of the film’s fact-based but fictionalized plot may reflect badly on Facebook in a vague sort of way, but as with any great movie (and The Social Network is a great movie), the viewer is swept up in the human emotion of the story.  In a world filled with real-life cautionary social media horror stories of people losing their jobs, their marriages or their lives, the tale of how a few geeks and freaks got caught up in an entrepreneurial frenzy, cheated each other, and destroyed their friendships is hardly an indictment of Facebook.

Nor is it an indictment of Mark Zuckerberg—or much of one, anyway.  He doesn’t come off as the sort of guy you’d want to hang with, but neither is he the (only) villain in this story.  Rather than the back-stabbing, shifty and ruthless character one might have expected from the pre-opening buzz, the Mark Zuckerberg of The Social Network is instead brilliant, driven, hard-working and obsessed with keeping Facebook as appealing, useful and ad-free as possible. 

Zuckerberg’s character has quite a few unappealing traits as well: He’s misogynistic, passive-aggressive, fanatically obsessed with climbing Harvard’s social ladder and is so socially awkward he may have Asperger's syndrome. The worst you can say about Zuckerberg’s character is that he’s a lousy friend; or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the man who made collecting friends a national obsession is portrayed as having absolutely no interest in friendship himself.  In The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg is more akin to Mozart than Gordon Gekko.

So, if Mark Zuckerberg is not the villain of The Social Network, who is?  Perhaps that’s why this film is so brilliant and watchable; rather than make The Social Network an uninteresting and clumsy hatchet job of a company or person, David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin have instead created a fascinating and exciting story of people and change. None of the characters in this movie are left unscathed, even the two parties whose lawsuits against Zuckerberg drive the movie’s plot.

The Winklevoss twins are presented as privileged, arrogant and upset that the idea they first stole from Friendster and MySpace was stolen from them.  The Winklevi (as Mark’s character refers to them) are unable to see that their idea was worth very little without the vision and capabilities of others. It’s as if someone said the word “automobile” to Henry Ford and then sued Ford after he invented the assembly-line technique that mass-produced cars.

Perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film is Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s closest—or only—friend.  Both an emotional and financial supporter of Zuckerberg, Saverin is carelessly discarded (and, more to the point, cut out of his share of Facebook) once Mark is seduced by the heady world of VCs, money and fame offered up by Napster founder Sean Parker.  But even Saverin is no hero or victim in The Social Network—he’s portrayed as a risk-averse small thinker whose instant distrust of Parker causes him to miss the big picture.  By the end, the physical and emotional chasm that separates former friends Zuckerberg and Saverin is as much Eduardo’s fault as it is Mark’s.

If there is one clear villain in the movie, it is Harvard. In The Social Network, Harvard is less an institute of higher learning than an exclusionary, highly structured club for the wealthy sons of successful men to connect with gold-digging women willing to debase themselves for an opportunity to marry well.

One can fault the movie for this cartoonish portrayal of Harvard, but it reveals the true intent of the filmmakers; not to bring down Facebook or embarrass Zuckerberg but to convey the story of our generation: the transition of power from old money to new ideas; the flattening of social structures; how technology is altering not just the way we communicate but the way we live; and the quickening pace that leaves behind people who rely on old ways and favors those who rapidly adapt.

The Social Network is an exciting and entertaining film. It reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Frost/Nixon, which manages to make two guys chatting as exciting as any special-effects thriller.  And in the same way Frost/Nixon humanized Nixon without letting him off the hook for this horrendous mistakes of judgment, The Social Network makes Zuckerberg a flawed but very human character.

No one will leave The Social Network and cancel their Facebook account.  Nor will they see the movie and reevaluate their social behaviors. (For that, see Catfish.)  For many, this will be the most (and perhaps the first) they learn about Zuckerberg, and it is likely they’ll have a diminished opinion of the man, but a tarnished rep didn’t seem to get in the way of folks like Bill Gates or Donald Trump. Despite all the speculation, The Social Network simply does not seem destined to change many attitudes about today’s preeminent social network.

Comments

The Human Story

Augie, a movie reviewer to boot!

I have to admit, before the reviews came out, I had no desire to even see the movie. My mind had it categorized as sour grapes and villainizing Z. because it seems like an easy thing to do.

Your review shared that the real story unfolding is always a human one. Flawed characters aren't just in fiction. : ) And maybe it's a sort of redemption, that we all don't have billions, but we certainly could rustle up a few friends....

Liked the post!

Thanks, Katy

I don't know that I'm a movie reviewer, but I am a film buff. Thanks so much for the comment. If I motivate people to see the film who previously thought "The Social Network" is either a movie about Facebook or a hatchet job , then I feel pretty good about the blog post!

Thoughtful movie review

Thanks for sharing this context on the movie. I'm one of the people who was expecting it to be a hatchet job and to wallow in the snarky side of the SoMe culture. A great contemporary human drama is much more appealing. Interested to compare notes after I've seen it.

Let me know when you've seen "The Social Network"

I'll be very interested in your thoughts and whether you think the movie will have any impact on Facebook.

having a doubts about the impact? ;)

I have no doubts this film is a properly planned great PR action for Facebook, those smart guys have studied every moment of the film, every scene, every actor's behavior move and emotions. I can't think even for a minute that Zuckerberg wanna play himself true, knowing how he became Mr. Facebook ;), he's too much smart and money addicted. Now he's rich and wants to become also famous, it's classical... and the Facebook itself gets a super promotion.
Another detail is the title of the film, "The Social Network"- it's a classical marketing trick to say that the other Networks are nothing and Facebook is the REAL one. You will find it in most Social Networks' PR materials- "THE Social Network".
Bleah :(

Too cynical

Andrey,

I think you're view on the movie is a bit too cynical and not really supported by facts. The filmmakers wanted Facebook's involvement but moved on without it after the company asked for too much control. Since then, all the buzz has been about how Sorkin's script savages Zuckerberg. In Entertainment Weekly, Sorkin says he wouldn't doubt it if Mark has a Sorkin dartboard in his office.

Facebook had nothing to do with the making of this film and is said by reliable sources to be very worried about the impact. I don't think Facebook sees "The Social Network" as any sort of PR opportunity.

To think

I was actually eager to see this film until I got the end of your article and you mentioned Frost/Nixon as one of your 'favorite' films. Really? I fell asleep 3 times trying to watch that mess.

Frost/Nixon a mess?

Hmm, Frost/Nixon is a mess? You mean the movie nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted screenplay? The movie nominated for five Golden Globes? The winner of Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures at the Directors Guild Awards? Winner of two Screen Actor Guild awards? The movie rated 7.9 on IMDB (putting it just outside of the top 250 films of all time)? The film that earned a 92 on the Tomatometer, making it the 8th best-reviewed movie of 2008 with 200 reviews or more (right behind "The Dark Night" and in front of "Precious")? The movie included in the list of top 10 movies of 2008 by critics such as Kenneth Turan, David Ansen, Peter Travers and Roger Ebert? The movie selected by the American Film Institute as one of the best ten movies of 2008?

You may be correct. "The Social Network" may not be for you.

To think

You'd actually think I'd be impressed by the ramblings of someone who puts an incredible amount of time and energy into pleading their case by illustrating how many academy awards noms Frost Nixon received. Wasn't District 9 also nominated? Didn't Mira Sorvino and Marisa Tomei win Oscars? Sweet!

But I'm a fair man and therefore I'd like to use you form of reason for a moment.

Who won for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Frost/Nixon?
Frank Langella? Uh, No!

Sean Penn for 'Milk' a truly remarkable portrayal and one of the best of Mr. Penn's life.

How about supporting role? Oh, I'm sorry Frost/Nixon wasn't nominated.

Well, lets see. How about Supporting or Lead Actress? You've guessed it, not nominated there either.

Art Direction
Cinematography
Costume Design
Directing

Again? Not Frost Nixon.

Film Editing
Make Up
Music

Sorry Frosty the 'No' Man!

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire. A riveting film that literary takes you into the impoverished regions of Mumbai and leaves you there wanting to save the poor children in that world.

Frost Nixon? Still sleeping.......

Lets talk about Best Adapted or Original Screenplay. A category that I'm sure you as a writer would take great interest in;

WINNERS:

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE AND MILK! Truly excellent films.

But I will say this, If you adapt the philosophy that it's an achievement to have been nominated and be in essence, 'the first place loser' then I would think you are missing the true nature of capitalism in America and the real drive that sparks the entrepreneurial spirit of innovators. To be first, to be the best and to win! and please never tell me about what a critic thinks. Most of them or average who know far less than I do about film. Oh and Precious and the Dark Night are highly regarded films for a reason. Their GOOD!!!!

But I will live you with one kind remark. Ron Howard is a remarkable Director and his illustrious career represents as much.

Improved Opinion

My opinion of Zuckerberg was actually improved after seeing the movie this weekend. The information out there was fairly sketchy to begin with and putting flesh on his reputation helped me better understand how the FB story allegedly unfolded. The movie paints him as brilliant and naive (the Justin Timberlake character came off as being worse) so I can't imagine the real Mark Zuckerberg will suffer much.

Opinion of Zuckerberg improved

Thanks Dina, I can see how that could be a natural reaction to the movie. And I agree, Sean Parker certainly comes off as more of a d-bag by the end of "The Social Network!" I understand the part of the plot where he was caught at a party with coke and an underage Facebook employee is, in fact, accurate.

What The Social Network Will Mean To Facebook And Mark Zuckerber

I'm a 54 year old marketing research consultant with 3 kids (twins 24 and a 16 year old). My demographic (aging baby boomer) is the largest growing segment on Facebook and Generation Y's is the slowest growing (Facebook has lost its exclusivity).

After seeing the movie, I announced to all my "friends" that I was canceling my Facebook account (which by the way, is not easy nor timely - Facebook won't drop me for 14 days). I think Zuckerberg has deplorable ethics and I'm not going to support any product that he has anything to do with. I predict that Facebook is done. There will be another social networking site to take its place. Until then, it sure feels good to be disconnected from the daily word (The Facebook).

Canceling Facebook

Thanks for the input, Cindy.

Everyone's entitled to their reaction to the film, but I think not participating in Facebook because of Mark's actions as a college student is like not purchasing a Ford because Henry Ford was associated with an anti-Semitic publication in the 1920s or a VW because it was founded by the Nazi trade union.

I'll be curious as to your experiences being off of Facebook. Since Facebook continues to grow and there are no other real social networking options (LinkedIn and Twitter serve different needs), I don't foresee another social network option on the horizon. Plus, with today's announcement, Facebook is demonstrating a deeper commitment to transparency, privacy and user control. Obviously, nothing is forever and someday it's likely Facebook will stumble, but there seems little reason to think it will only grow more important and vital to interpersonal communications in the foreseeable future.

You predict "Facebook is done." I predict Facebook will grow to 650M users by this time next year. Time will tell!