I’d previously heard various people talk about the film, including a very enthusiastic review on the Guardian Tech Weekly from Jemima Kiss, Gia Milinovich and Charles Arthur. I’d also listened closely to the thoughts of Leo Laporte and Jeff Jarvis on This Week in Google – neither of whom were so glowing, and who gave a reasoned discussion towards the view that the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is in fact “anti-Internet” in his portrayal of the themes. I was impressed that Leo had producer Dana Brunetti take him on during net@night that same week. The film is based on a book by Ben Mezrick and also, apparently, real interviews with a couple of the “injured” parties. Given the advance chatter, I was keen to see it for myself.
Firstly I will say this – the film was gripping. I was not bored at all, even though it was a couple of hours long. The music by Trent Reznor was great, and almost all of the performances were excellent. Before anyone comments, I also know it’s a dramatisation / fictionalisation… so I wasn’t expecting to go in to the cinema to watch a “true facts” documentary. I’m also not sorry to have been to see it!
It’s very hard to say what disturbed me or put me ill-at-ease. Anyone who thinks that Mark Zuckerberg comes off as some kind of injured genius good guy here is clearly not looking at the movie through the same lens as me. As presented, he’s not the nice guy that he claims to be at the end of the story. He betrays his closest friend – admittedly the man whose testimony much of the source material is based on – despite several acts of generosity on Eduardo’s part, including the way he apparently overlooked Mark’s personal flaws. The Winkelvoss guys do not come over well in the script, and I did wonder whether part of what I thought was a flawed performance there came from having a single actor play both twins, which must have been technically tough.
I guess I got the uncomfortable feeling that the film was a pop at geeks, a pop at privilege as well, and the female characters were all pretty poor (either Sorkin hasn’t read up on how to create strong female roles, or felt they are not relevant in this geeky collegiate techy world). I think the multiple betrayals were probably what left me with the ultimate sour taste in my mouth. Maybe I’m not cut out for hard-nosed business :-)
For all of that, there were some great comments… I particularly felt resonance in the discussion of how a site, a social model like Facebook, like the Internet itself, is never finished – like fashion, it evolves.
I’m still mulling my reaction, and may have to watch it again to rebalance (or perhaps reinforce?!) my views.
Footnote: did you know that IMDb is 20 years old today? Wow. That’s one of those sites that has showcased the power and changing nature of the Internet over time, emerging from the embers of Usenet lists, crowdsourcing people power to generate an amazing treasury of information, going commercial, and then acquired by Amazon in 1998. Congratulations!
Update: a day later and I’ve thought about this a little more. I think there are two other things that bother me about the film. Firstly I can certainly relate to Zuckerberg’s lack of social comfort in the rowdy college party culture, so I think looking at that made me a little uneasy too. Secondly, the film presents the genesis of Facebook / Facemash as a reaction to a break-up and fundamentally something of a revenge-driven science project… something that Zuckerberg has dived into as an attempt to recreate the college social experience so that other people will think it is cool (and presumably by extension, that he is cool), an attempt to boil it down to algorithms, rather than through a real desire to engage in that space himself. Perhaps the infamous privacy incident where he took his own content private when he couldn’t drive the new controls on the site a few years ago is a sign of that. Now, I know that the authors and filmmakers can say well look, we have the original blog post as evidence here… and I’m not denying that’s the case. I think that if that is all Facebook is, though… well it makes me feel pretty strange about using it and other similar sites to the degree that I do.