Monday, January 24, 2011

The Social Network

With the film having just won a slew of awards, including four Golden Globes, I feel The Social Network is an appropriate choice for my first review. And let me begin my review by stating that in a vacuum, The Social Network is a good film. Really good. It has strong, relatable themes of competition to gain social status, the lighting and editing are superb, Eisenberg is very good and Trent Reznor's score is perfectly pitched. But, as a journalist, I can't put my seal of approval on such a libelous film.

The film treads the murky waters between fiction and nonfiction, drama and historical documentary. The film introduces into the history of the founding of Facebook fictitious characters, such as Erica Albright, whom the real Zuckerberg has said he never dated, but also uses real names and real events. This creates a question within the viewer's mind over how important the film's historical accuracy is and should be, and whether the film is to be treated as fiction or nonfiction.

The flirting with this line also has the potential to paint the real people behind the film in a very false light. The film paints Zuckerberg as a selfish, take-no-prisoners businessman who is only driven to create by the need to attain social status. It paints Sean Parker, who has voiced clear objections to his portrayal, as a partying playboy version of Zuckerberg. These two portrayals don't bother me too much, because both Zuckerberg and Parker are public figures, and therefore are susceptible to greater scrutiny by the media.

What truly bothers me are the portrayals of Eduardo Saverin and especially the Winklevosses. The film paints Saverin as a naive friend who can't see that he's being forced out of the company right in front of his face, and it paints the Winklevosses as silver-spooned rich kid jocks who throw their father's money around by suing people when things don't go their way. Especially the Winklevosses would have a good case if the were to sue screenwriter Aaron Sorkin for painting them in a false light, since the information in the film may be technically true but misleading.

There is solace to be had, I guess, in the fact that no one does care about libel. The voters behind all the awards the film has won don't seem to mind. Zuckerberg, Parker and Saverin all acknowledge the film as fictitious, and although they, especially Parker, have expressed concern with the film, they seem for the most part willing to accept the film as a product of Hollywood, and are comfortable leaving the film as that.

Cameron Winklevoss has described the film as nonfiction, and feels it's more or less accurate. He and Tyler have appeared at screenings of the film, and show no hostility to the makers of the film despite their depiction (although they are still sore over Zuckerberg's betrayal). They even have joined Facebook following their Olympic effort in Beijing.

I reiterate that The Social Network is indeed a good film in a vacuum. But films do not exist in vacuums. They exist in the real world, and bring with them real emotions and consequences. Even though David Fincher and everyone involved showed great filmmaking skill in The Social Network, I cannot ethically approve of a film that begins with the premise of truth and twists, stretches and alters the truth this much because of the potential impact it has on the real people involved in its story.

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