By now you know there’s a movie about the origins of Facebook. It’s called The Social Network. I saw it a few days ago. It is the best movie I have ever seen.
Pause to digest that.
I’m not saying you’ll like it as much as I do. Art is personal. And you might wonder how I can put one movie above all others, even on my own personal list. Actually, I couldn’t do that until I saw this movie. It grabbed me in the first minute, and hasn’t released me yet, several days later. It’s actually getting better as it ages in my mind.
To begin, I appreciate the movie for what it did not do. It did not rely on special effects in a way that was obvious to the viewer. It wasn’t in 3D. There was no violence. There was no car chase scene. If you make a list of all the elements that can make a movie predictable and lame, this movie had none. That’s at least partly because the story is inspired by reality.
If you have ever studied the art of script writing, you might know that movie studios expect scripts to fit a fairly specific sort of formula. For example, you have your “event” early in the movie that changes someone’s life, you have the so-called “third act” where things appear impossible to fix, and your main character needs to “change” as a result of his experiences. There are a number of other story requirements, but you get the idea. Normally a writer pushes these must-do elements right in your face. For example, how many movies open with loved ones dying?
The Social Network hits all of the required story elements, but with a subtlety that can only come from reality plus extraordinary writing skill. It was only after the movie was over that I realized all of the elements were in place. Normally the writer’s craft is so obvious that it buries the art. When the art buries the craft, you have something special.
Speaking of reality, the fact that much of the story is real – it’s not clear how much – added the extra level of fascination to put it over the top for me. I enjoy non-fiction more than fiction, and this had just the right mix of both.
The movie’s writer, Aaron Sorkin, is one of the best writers of this era. And he’s at the top of his game with this movie. If you can find an online betting site that takes bets on who will win the Academy Award for Best Writer, this is easy money. And I say that without even seeing the other movies that will get nominated. If you’re one of the other contenders, you’re feeling pretty bad that your movie came out in Sorkin’s year.
There has been much curiosity about the degree to which the story is accurate, and how the main character, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, feels about his portrayal. Apparently some moviegoers feel the script treats Zuckerberg poorly. I didn’t see it that way. All I saw was massive respect from a genius in one field (Sorkin) to a genius in another. The story was as close to self-love as you can get. As written, the Zuckerberg character does change, a little, but he does so in a context of changing the social fabric of the entire world. It is almost as if the world was broken, and Zuckerberg fixed it, like a super hero with a hoodie. He can’t be too unhappy about that.
Someone once told me that when a movie works, you believe all of the elements were excellent at the same time, even if that wasn’t true. I suspect the writing elevated the other elements in this case, but even so, the directing, casting, and acting came across as superb. Place your second bet for an Academy Award on the casting director.