Sorkin v Zuckerberg: The Facebook Movie

Even though he generally vilifies conservatives and lionizes liberals, I like Aaron Sorkin’s movies and TV shows. Though he and Ayn Rand are ideologically polar-opposites, Sorkin comes closer than anyone else today at living up to her definition of romanticism:

“Romanticism is the conceptual school of art. It deals, not with the random trivia of the day, but with the timeless, fundamental, universal problems and values of human existence. …The events of their plots are shaped, determined and motivated by the characters’ values (or treason to values), by their struggle in pursuit of spiritual goals and by profound value-conflicts. Their themes are fundamental, universal, timeless issues of man’s existence—and they are the only consistent creators of the rarest attribute of literature: the perfect integration of theme and plot, which they achieve with superlative virtuosity.If philosophical significance is the criterion of what is to be taken seriously, then these are the most serious writers in world literature.”

– courtesy of The Ayn Rand Lexicon

I think Sorkin pulled this off best in A Few Good Men, where he defined about a dozen different well-defined value systems, created characters around each of them, put them in a compelling situation, and sent them off to collaborate and clash. He cheats sometimes, to make sure the audience arrives at Sorkin‘s decision of which represented value set is evil. For example, the movie would have been better had Sorkin refrained from having the militant colonel sexually harass the by-the-book Navy lawyer. Even so, Sorkin remains the most honest and compelling romanticist out there.

So it wasn’t surprising that Sorkin turned the story of the founding of Facebook into a series of compelling clashes of characters with different goals and values. There appears to have been a significant amount of truth-bending to make it a romantic story, as Sorkin truthfully says “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling.” And Sorkin redeems his lead character, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who in Sorkin’s words “spends the first hour and 55 minutes of the movie being an anti-hero, but the final five minutes, the most important five minutes, being a tragic hero…” Mark shows remorse, is declared “not an asshole,” and (despite the billions earned) seems to have suffered sufficiently for his sins.

Sorkin claims “When it comes to the character of Mark in the movie, people’s reactions have been uniformly that they want to give him a hug.” Which I think is true. The movie comes off as Zuckerbashing but at the end Sorkin redeems the character.

In interviews Zuckerberg‘s money line has been that Sorkin has to believe that Zuckerberg created Facebook to meet (or to take revenge on) women because Hollywood types can’t understand that in Silicon Valley people just want to create things. Like the movie, the line has more punch than truth. Sorkin claims that Mark is the character with whom he most identified:

“I felt like an outsider. I’ve felt like I’ve had my nose pressed up against the glass of some cool party I haven’t been invited to. I feel that the world has reflected back to me that I’m a loser. Purely in terms of the legal controversy, of the Winklevosses saying, “Hey, it was our idea; you’ve stolen this from us,” any time anyone writes a movie or a TV series that has any kind of profile, you can count on 10 people coming out of the woodwork saying “I had this idea 10 years ago, you stole it from me.” When I did The American President and again when I did The West Wing, there were people who said, “He stole that from me. I wrote this thing that never got done that was set at the White House. And look at the similarities! They both have scenes that take place in the Oval Office.”  When Mark has a line in the  deposition room scenes—“You guys don’t need a forensics team to get to the bottom of this. If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you would have invented Facebook”—that was coming right out of my blood. Aaron Sorkin gives Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg a poke (Q&A)

I’ve been enjoying the Sorkin – Zuckerberg feud in the blogosphere as much as I enjoyed the movie, and I’ve been finding them similar. It’s a dog and pony show, loosely based on the truth. Sorkin has been cast as the bitter old media guy taking pot shots at the new media hot shots who  founded Napster and Facebook. It’s Hollywood vs Silicon Valley, and old media vs new. Educational, fun to watch, and a value clash that’s better than a true story.