The Social Network ★★★★

Aaron Sorkin demands that at each moment you recognize exactly how intelligent he is. Every turn of phrase, overlapped sentence, and twist in the argument screams to be heard as written by Aaron Sorkin. The obvious problem with wanting people to know just how intelligent you are is that people will find out just how intelligent you are. One surmises that everything Sorkin has contemplated in relation to technology, online/offline, class, social hierarchies, elitism is right there in the script, and Sorkin doesn't look the better for it.

For example, Sorkin ends his first scene with Erica telling Mark, "But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole." At this point, not only are we suppose to revel in Sorkin's intelligence (he has made a solid observation about people's tendency to self-deceive about why they are unliked) and his pointed way of expressing it, we are also supposed to see this as the motivating factor behind everything that Zuckerberg does from here on out. (The script states, "A fuse has just been lit.") This sort of reductive psychologizing limits the film throughout. Sorkin insists on presenting a single reason for each action. To him, this is the mark of intelligence because he is providing a precise insight into a murky new world of technological living. But the film suffers for these reductions. The viewer is discouraged from contemplating possible motivations and interpretations. Sorkin's insistence on his own points being heard muffles out any potential thinking in the viewer.

The greatest scene in the film is the opening credits, in which we are presented for exactly one time the opportunity to wonder just what Zuckerberg is thinking. Jesse Eisenberg's performance (elsewhere as straightforward as the script) here suggests the character through tight shoulders and walk-run-walk steps across the Harvard campus. It's the only time the film allows one to wonder about who this man is and what motivates him.

I'm dangerously close to arguing that art excels in ambiguity, an aesthetic principle I don't espouse (but I do flirt with from time to time). I'll restrain myself from making any general statements and maintain only that in this film a major flaw is that Sorkin's script is disappointingly reductive and his rat-a-tat dialogue and obvious psychologizing (ugh, that final scene *shivers*) reveals too much of what Sorkin is thinking.

Having just argued that The Social Network is not a great film, I should add that it is a good film. Intrigue, fighting, humor, personality conflicts writ large. Many scenes are masterfully edited to maintain coherency through multiple storylines. But I'm not now defending the film but addressing those who thought The Social Network was the defining film of its time, a deep insight into a chaotic new world. We have instead a good, straightforward story about a few people who refuse to believe the world is how it is presented to them and their petulant responses.