Six Things Learned Watching 'The Social Network'

By Sree Sreenivasan on September 28, 2010 1:57pm 

By Sree Sreenivasan

Contributing Editor

"Every creation myth needs a devil," one of Mark Zuckerberg's lawyers tells the Facebook founder toward the end of the new movie, "The Social Network." It's a great line that captures how Zuckerberg is portrayed in the film. But, like many aspects of the movie, it isn't quite real. 

It's been widely reported that the line was actually uttered by a Facebook executive after reading a draft of the script. It was such a good line that the filmmakers put it into the movie.

There appears to be a lot of dramatic license taken in the production, though I don't know enough about the backstory to determine what's 100 percent real and what is not. 

However, here are six things I took away from "The Social Network": 

1. They can, indeed, make a movie about Facebook.

Like a lot of people, when I first heard about the project, I was skeptical, though I did love the tagline: "You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies."

Visions of "The Net" with Sandra Bullock and "You've Got Mail," starring Meg Ryan, filled my head. I expected some corny thriller or love story set in Facebookland with lots of extreme closeups of computer monitors and fast-paced typing.

Instead, in a smart move by the makers of the movie, "The Social Network" focuses on Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook, based on the book "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich. What drives the Zuckerberg played by actor Jesse Eisenberg, is his desire to simultaneously fit in and outsmart everyone else at Harvard.

The backdrop and narrative arc for the story is provided by two lawsuits.  One lawsuit involves his best friend and the founding CFO of Facebook, Eduardo Saverin, who is played by Andrew Garfield in the film. The other suit was filed by three Harvard students who hired Zuckerberg to work on their idea for an exclusive version of Friendster and MySpace. Best of all, there aren't as many closeups of computer monitors as I expected.

Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the company's Palo Alto headquarters in August.
Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the company's Palo Alto headquarters in August.
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

2. This movie will make a lot of money.

"The Social Network" could rake in at least $200 million in the domestic box office. Facebook has a huge built-in audience of more than 130 million users in the U.S. Even people not on Facebook might be tempted to see the film thanks to  great advance buzz from critics. I am not a movie critic and, thanks to my 7-year-old twins, I don't get to see a lot of non-animated movies. However, even I know good movie-making when I see it and this is just an excellent film. Don't just take my word for it, see the reviews aggregated at RottenTomatoes.com and MetaCritic.com

3. There isn't a good movie in the founding of every major tech company.

There are many books about the founding of many major companies, including Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc. But no other story has the ingredients that this particular tale has: ambition, sexcapades, Ivy League betrayal and a service that has changed the world.

These ingredients undoubtedly helped lure some big-name Hollywood names. "The Social Network" was directed by David Fincher, of "Se7en" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" fame. Heralded screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote a terrific script and Oscar winner Kevin Spacey is listed as a producer. 

4. Justin Timberlake can act.

Timberlake is best known to some as the other participant in Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl. Here he plays  Napster co-founder Sean Park, who injects himself into the early days of TheFacebook.com. Parker helps speed up the estrangement between Zuckerberg and Saverin in the movie and also suggests changing the name to just "Facebook." Timberlake is a scene stealer. The pop star appears to  had a lot of fun playing a guy out to make lots of money without much regard for morals and rules.

5. Not everything that looks like a goody bag is one. 

As we left the advanced screening, a friend and I noticed a table with neat rows of small brown paper bags. We each thought it was some kind of goody bag, perhaps little Facebook-themed chocolates. It turned out the bags contained smartphones confiscated from those attending that screening. It was both amusing and ironic that the they didn't want people Facebooking or tweeting during the movie. Though, clearly, a lot of people did manage to take hones into the theater, as there were various glowing screens in the darkened theater. A security guard marched up and down the aisles and shined a flashlight on the offenders until they put away their phones.

6. The timing of Zuckerberg's $100 million gift to Newark's public schools isn't a coincidence.

"The Social Network" will, for years to come, define how Zuckerberg is perceived by the public and even those who love his service. The full-length profile of the Facebook founder in the New Yorker by Jose Antonio Vargas, his recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, and his sudden philanthropic spirit appear to be a concerted effort to show other sides of Zuckerberg leading up to the film's release. 

The Facebook folks insist the timing of the donation to the troubled Newark school system and the film's impending release is a coincidence, but I don't buy it. It's wonderful that he's giving away $100 million to a worthy cause, but I want to see what else he does over the next few years.

Zuckerberg should follow the lead of Bill Gates. The Microsoft founder was once considered a ruthless billionaire who wanted to rule the world, one PC at a time. Now, thanks to his philanthropy, Gates has reinvented himself as someone trying to save the world instead.

Monday's advanced screening, hosted by the social media news site Mashable, was packed with a crowd that lives and breathes social media.

"She is doing social media training for affiliate marketers," one movie-goer said before the film began.

"What's the hashtag for tonight?" another asked.

It was exactly the kind of audience the film is geared toward. And, as the applause at the end attested, "The Social Network" didn't disappoint its base.

Will you be seeing this film? Post your comments below or on Twitter @sreenet.

Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan shares his observations about the changing media landscape.

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