The Social Network never hides the fact that the story it’s telling isn’t entirely true. As is the case with almost every film based on fact, liberties have been taken, dramatic licence called for. But in the 10 years since the release of David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s account of the creation of Facebook, the relationship between its subject and the notion of truth has become somewhat more complicated.
When The Social Network was released, it was rightly praised as a classic creation story that epitomized a generation, and it has only grown into that stature even more across the years. While it may not have won the Best Picture Oscar that year, The Social Network was a film on everyone’s mind. There are many places you can point towards as to why the film has such lasting power, from Fincher’s virtuoso technique, to Sorkin’s trademark acerbic dialogue. But for many, this writer included, its lasting power lies in the film’s subtle yet searing indictment of what Facebook was to become.
In more recent years, controversy surrounding Facebook has focused around the means in which it can be used as a tool to spread false information, particularly in regards to deliberately misleading political campaign ads. As Facebook has grown and the number of users has ballooned, it has only come under more scrutiny. This, coupled with the breach in user’s data and information surrounding the Cambridge Analytica scandal as well as Zuckerberg’s own attitude of denial of culpability has made many re-examine their own ties with the site and their opinion of the man behind it all. In light of this, the film has become much more of a cautionary tale.
Fincher and Sorkin demonstrate that this was a once in a generation idea and give the creators their due by expressing their overwhelming intelligence and tenacity to do the incredible amount of work needed to make a project of that scale work. The environment and circumstances surrounding the creation though is what makes Fincher and Sorkin’s take so intriguing, and particularly in light of recent events. The environment in question is shown to be toxic and misogynistic from the very genesis of the idea, beginning with FaceMash. There are also many cases of individuals stubbornly refusing to accept responsibility for their actions in the film.
Facebook is a product of toxic behaviour, an addictive way of life that was never built on a foundation of admirable values. The greed, jealousy and betrayal that ends up being wrapped into the tale of Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg and the lawsuits from Andrew Garfield’s Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevoss twins, played by Armie Hammer, demonstrate a rotting at the core of it all before it had even reached its peak. In light of the recent history of Facebook, it is startling to see how much Fincher and Sorkin seemed to have a sense of the darker paths that Facebook was all heading towards.
While some argue that the film positions Zuckerberg’s motivation to build Facebook for social status, spurred from being dumped, I would argue his point of view is never made explicitly clear. Most of the film’s events are experienced in flashback, brought on by the testimonies of Zuckerberg’s enemies, who are attempting to make him look bad for their own gain, potentially staining the flashback’s integrity as we never see the events unfold naturally, but only in the context of the legal proceedings. It is hard to trust that any versions of the characters that we’re seeing are true to fact; as Rashida Jones’ character puts it “when there’s emotional testimony, I assume that 85% of it is exaggeration.” The other 15%? Perjury, but the ending of the film calls into question everything we’ve just seen and the only genuine moment we spend with Zuckerberg is him forlornly in a room, rich beyond his wildest dreams, but alone.
There’s a deep sense of loneliness undercutting the whole film, but particularly at the end, expressed in the final moments scored to The Beatles’ ‘Baby, You’re a Rich Man.’ It is an ending that operates perfectly within the film’s telling of events, but it also makes you speculate how the characterisation of Zuckerberg might be different if Sorkin had written him today. I used to read the ending as the filmmakers wanting for us to pity a very lonely man. But with 10 years having passed, it’s now an ending I read as simply showing a man detached from any kind of normal life, consumed with his creation and lonely. He may not be the real villain of this story, but there’s certainly a note of caution at the end that wasn’t there before.
The film leaves you with a question; where does Zuckerberg go from here now he’s the youngest billionaire alive? As fate would have it, the lawsuits covered here were only the beginnings of the controversy surrounding Facebook. With more and more question marks surrounding user data, and even threats to democracy, the notion of Sorkin and Fincher going back to this story is certainly a tantalising idea. Time has shown that their collaboration has aged exceptionally well, with its legacy holding out to be widely considered as one of the best films of the last decade. What the next 10 years will do for it is anyone’s guess, but the film stands as a modern creation story that only becomes more and more relevant as the history of its subject deepens and becomes all the more complex. The Social Network’s legacy has only just begun.