Movies

What can we learn from The Social Network in 2022? And what could it have done better?

Pros

  • dialogue cuts back and forth well
  • Honest, memorable message about social media and loneliness
  • Realistic legal scenes
  • Quick, witty dialogue and cuts
  • overall, this movie is about the importance of friendship and not just on social media

Cons

  • Female characters are poorly developed: they are either crazy, objectified, or just there to call men out for their bad behavior

“You betrayed me and I know that you’ll never feel sorry for the way I hurt.” Olivia Rodrigo sings in her song Traitor. Our culture is fascinated by betrayal. From Judas to Brutus to Benedict Arnold, betrayal sticks out as one of the worst things that a person can do to another. That’s because we never betray our enemies. It’s always our friends, the people we are supposed to love and care about us. Friends are supposed to be on our side, and we need to be there for them.

Even if we’re not always in contact, friendship is a bond, a statement of connection and promise of loyalty, an idea that we will look out for each other and each other’s best interests even if we’re not physically present. Betrayal fascinates us because it feels so horrible. It is used and discussed in fiction so often, and whether it is written well or poorly. It is no wonder that the top 10 anime betrayals have become a meme.

The words of hurt and betrayal are what captivates so many of us when we watch The Social Network. The movie contains one of the biggest betrayals of all movie history. When we think of betrayal, it is usually between two people: the betrayer and the victim. Betrayal often isn’t thought of as a group, or by a corporation. Even Ceasar addresses Brutus with “et tu Brute” and doesn’t even talk about the rest of the Romans who joined him.

I wanted to watch The Social Network because it talks about Facebook; I have a like-hate relationship with Facebook and social media in general. I have an account, and it helps me stay in touch with family and friends who live far away, but it is also involved in politics, data collection controversies, and more. When this movie came out, no one was fully aware of what Facebook was fully capable of, and impact it has on our mental health, our relationships with others, and about our view of facts and information. It seems like Facebook users are a victim more Eduardo the billionaire. Even though it missed quite a few critiques of Facebook, The Social Network is regarded as a good movie in 2022. I would agree. It has a fantastic beginning.

It all begins with a conversation between Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg, and his girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) about final clubs. He is obsessed with joining a college group associated with college elites. When she asks why he wants to join, he says:

“Because they’re exclusive, and fun and lead to a better life”

So, what exactly is this “better life” that Mark wants so badly? Well, we see a Phoenix club meeting occur shortly after. The film shows a group of women getting out of a bus to go to this party. The party gets started, and we see women dancing on tables in underwear, 2 girls kissing, and playing poker with guys. I wonder if these women enjoy this. Personally, this scene makes me uncomfortable. The Phoenix club is all about men’s desires and it gives them a sense of power, of enjoying the pleasure that would not be possible without their wealth. The whole scene feels over the top.

Throughout the movie, students are in the background and most people are drinking and stuff. Women are there. It seems that a “better life” is being part of a group that only the rich can join. He also wants fun, at least, he says he does, he only has one friend and doesn’t get out much. Fair enough. But overall, Mark’s life at the Phoenix club is status-based and the status is determined by wealth and privilege. He also isn’t concerned with building relationships within the group. He just wants to be on the inside and not standing alone.

But Mark doesn’t realize what he has already. He has a best friend that cares about him and a girlfriend who wanted to get dinner with him—until he lets desire for these clubs take over his life.

Overall, Mark’s desires feel shallow. His angry blog post about Erica talks about her looks because all he cares about is appearances. He might prefer a Harvard girlfriend to a girl who goes to BU, simply because Harvard sounds better. He demands her attention because, to him, he is more important because he is a Harvard student. Mark also never really cares for Erica as an individual, and she can’t take it anymore. I can’t blame her. Mark sucks, almost as much as the guys on the bus.

After Erica dumps him, Mark doesn’t admit to doing anything wrong in the relationship, gets drunk, and impulsively creates a site ranking women based on their school profile pictures. I just want to say that school profile pictures are some of the most awkward photos ever. They take a picture of their day 1 bewildered freshman self, and the guys take less than five seconds to decide who is “hotter.” So, right away, Mark’s first project refuses to dive below the surface, creates a judgmental atmosphere, violates the privacy of others, and encourages people to compare each other to their peers. Sounds familiar.

So, what about these networks are actually good? Throughout the film, the movie questions his ideals of a “better life” based on status. Zuckerberg hangs out with Sean and has people over to drink, but these things never seem to make Mark happy. He barely ever pays attention either, he’s always on his laptop. Still, he ends up choosing all this over the one friend that truly cares about him.

Mark also gives up on the Phoenix Clubs when he realizes that he can control the social system and create his own network. He loves feeling control, which he lost when his girlfriend dumped him. If he can’t get what he wants through groups in real life, he will create a digital one.

The network is meant to connect college students together, and it gives people who aren’t outgoing and aren’t in the loop an opportunity to join. Zuckerberg in particular talks about how Facebook’s relationship status feature can tell a guy if a girl is single. This social network allows us to have knowledge of others without ever talking to them or building a relationship.

By giving away our relationship status, we are giving up privacy, of allowing strangers to reach us that we may or may not want to hear from. We can talk to people and send requests to those we’re too scared to reach out to in real life. We are given a false notion that we know someone; it feels like a breach of privacy, even if we willingly tell them our personal information. Yet, today, we do it all the time. I do it. But looking on the outside, it is scary. The movie shows it all started with someone who felt like an outsider and wanted to get in.

Zuckerberg, with his technical talent and ruthless business sense, is determined he can make his own success. He can do it, and he can do it himself, well . . . almost. Zuckerberg can’t afford to pay for everything, so he asks his friend Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) to be his chief financial officer. He is Eduardo’s best friend. They say this several times. He seems like he cares for Eduardo, even if he doesn’t always show it.

Out of the two, Eduardo is emotionally supportive and kind. He doesn’t see his friendship with Zuckerberg as a purely business arrangement. He wants to make sure he’s doing okay too.

“If there’s something wrong, you can tell me. I’m here for you.”

I would argue that Mark’s relationship with Eduardo is the most heartbreaking part of this movie. Despite his desire to fit in with the Phoenix Club, Mark is quiet and introverted. Even when Sean has people over while they work on Facebook, Mark is on his computer rather than socializing. The Winklevoss brothers see him as a means to an end, and Sean only talks about business and parties with Mark. His parents and family aren’t even mentioned, and we don’t know anything about his home life. Eduardo is one friend who truly cares for him and his well-being. Erica might have cared for him in the past, but he lost her.

Mark is naturally disconnected from others, and when he does interact with others he rarely sees his friendships as options for emotional support. I think that he ignores Eduardo’s “I’m here for you” because he doesn’t realize that he has emotional needs that can’t be solved with money, power, and material success. In Mark’s mind, the way to fix his insecurities and difficulties connecting with other people is to be in the Phoenix Club. The club is later replaced by Facebook, which he can control better. He doesn’t need to rely on anyone for validation with Facebook.

Mark seems to be chasing the American Dream. He believes that with enough work, he can achieve his dreams. He doesn’t just want to join a club in Harvard, he wants to join the best one. He doesn’t fit into a group-fine–he’ll create his own. He just needs to prove himself, and all will be good.

The environment he lives in provides little opportunity to grow. The Social Network looks at a certain group the Harvard elites. These people only care about partying and money. He rarely, if ever, gets a outside perspective Even Eduardo mostly goes along with Harvard culture.

When he is talking to Erica earlier, it is clear he thinks the world works through these social power dynamics. He tells Erica she can meet people she wouldn’t normally meet through the Phoenix clubs. He genuinely thinks he’s doing her a favor. When he accuses her of sleeping with the doorman Bubby, it seems like he honestly believes that she did, and that’s why they’re allowed at the club. His comments are incredibly sexist, and Mark seems to genuinely believe them. The movie seems to say that that’s just the way he and the people who started Facebook were. The screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, defended claims that the movie was misogynistic.

“I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s. They’re very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now. The women they surround themselves with aren’t women who challenge them (and frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere near them.)”

Aaron Sorkin

Mark never considers that Erica could meet elites on her own merit. If a woman does have any power in this movie, it is presumed that it is because of her sexual appeal to men. So, they are left out of the business. Throughout the movie, women are either background characters or characters who exist to call out the men’s behavior. Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) appears intelligent and witty, but Mark doesn’t seem to care about her. He doesn’t listen. Even after she argues with him, he never apologizes.

The writers achieve what they’re trying to do. We, the audiance, rarely escape the Harvard perspective, except with Erica. She calls him out in one of the most iconic movie openings of all time. Mara is a fantastic actress and her acting carries this scene and Eisenberg is great at playing a self-centered and clearly oblivious Mark. One of my favorite lines is:

“Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster”

It sure seems like it. Although I’m not getting any endorphins from this guy. He is painful to watch.

Mark genuinely believes these false notions of success, and they are almost his downfall, but they’re actually not. While he loses his best friend and the only one who cared about him, Mark is making billions of dollars from Facebook. He is the youngest billionaire in the world. But is he happy?

Erica Albright

The final scene of The Social Network shows Mark requesting Erica Albright as his Facebook friend and waiting for the results. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I wondered why Mark wants to reach out to Erica. She is his ex-girlfriend and he seems to still have feelings for her. The creators intentionally never show Mark approach any other girls. Even in the scene where he and Eduardo meet Chrissy and her friend in the bathroom, we only see Eduardo and Chrissy together.

I have a few theories why. While much of the movie relies on male relationships to drive the plot forward, it is the female characters, rather than the female characters that call Mark for his selfishness. He comes to appreciate them a little, in the end. He likes Erica because she “had a nice face.” Still, of course, his feelings for him are focused on himself. She is a presence that makes him feel good and perhaps makes him feel like a better person than he is. But he never actually tries to ask for forgiveness or tries to be better himself. The same with Rashida Jones’ Marylin Delpy. She calls him out and rejects him when he asks her out, but she also has pity for him.

But, I’m not sure it is fair to say that Mark likes women who call him out on his bad behavior. I’m not sure he possesses enough self-awareness, but he does care for her. Erica is perhaps the only person left in his life, and he wants to hold onto someone familiar. He also puts a desire for self-improvement onto a woman. At least, the movie shows that it is not Erica’s job to make him better, as she never responds to his request. The ending also sums up Facebook. It is a program where people can send messages to people they recognize. A familiar face makes us feel less alone.

Is The Social Network a good criticism for Facebook?

I would argue that The Social Network isn’t a great criticism of Facebook. The loneliness that the app creates is accurate, but I would argue that it is more harmful to its users than to Zuckerberg. While Mark is staring at his computer alone, he is also alone and a billionaire.

Does it matter if he’s happy right now? He is rich. He could maybe date or interact with “women who don’t really challenge him”, like the writers say. I also feel like that statement is a bit sexist. He is still in power. He isn’t a powerless guy begging for his ex. I feel like the movie missed something here. They seem to ignore the consequences of Mark’s power on the general public.

He can start over. Mark can get a new girlfriend, and make other friends. I’ve always found it a weak argument when movie says “all the billionaires and rich people are secretly miserable and lonely inside because they have no true friends.” Plenty of millionaires and billionaires have friends, marry and have kids, and do not spend their nights alone.

And even if perhaps Zuckerberg is missing out, he still likes the power of owning his own company and creating a program that millions of people use. I also do wonder why the film ends with Zuckerberg himself alone. He is the only one who appears to suffer from Facebook. Erica Albright, it seems, is doing fine. The movie ignores the problems that Facebook creates for anyone else.

I looked at the screenplay for this scene, and I found a few lines that drew my attention:

“Mark smiles. She’s on Facebook”

“Mark is settling into his chair. He’ll wait all night if he has to.”

Mark’s actions don’t make sense; Erica clearly doesn’t want to talk to him. She has told him in real life, but he doesn’t listen. He thinks somehow she will be more attainable online, perhaps because she joined his app, but he is not the center of her universe. Facebook is a vast network and just because you can reach out to someone doesn’t mean you should.

If we want to criticize the real Mark Zuckerberg, it is difficult to do so in this movie, because the last scene portrays him as a sad, friendless, victim of his own creation. The story is beautiful in that way. It fits as a villain origin story, but what about everyone else? The movie ignores that Zuckerberg still wields a great amount of power. He owns this company– he makes everyone else see the world the way he does–as a social club. He also holds that he deserves what he has, the company rights, Erica’s attention, and the most shares in his company.

The Social Network‘s betrayal isn’t just about Eduardo. The company of Facebook betrayed its users when they gave away their data. It also leaves us with “co-comparison” to quote Olivia Rodrigo again.

Gender and The Social Network

Women are usually decorations. They exist at parties and drink. Sean lets girls into his and Mark’s house to drink alcohol and women are constantly just hanging around. The first scene of the Phoenix Club–the club Mark desperately wants to join–objectifies and sexualizes women for the men around them. Mark, however, doesn’t have a ton of women he knows in real life.

Erica is the first woman to criticize Mark (that we know of) but after that, she only appears when Mark chases after her. Her lack of development makes sense to the storyline– Erica is living her own life– and Mark is no longer a part of it. Neither Mark nor the audience know much about her. We at least, recognize that fact.

Another character is Brenda Song’s Chrissy, Eduardo’s girlfriend for some of the movie. She is the one to set a scarf Eduardo gave her on fire. I don’t particularly like scarves, but it is still a nice gift. It’s not necessarily a reason to be angry, it is not a bad gift. She is portrayed as the crazy girlfriend. She does whatever she wants, and she gets jealous easily. But Eduardo also deserves the blame for their relationship.

Should he have changed his status to-in-a-relationship on Facebook? Probably. I feel like this is a case of bad communication. If Facebook relationship status was important to her, perhaps they could’ve talked about it before. If he really didn’t know, he could have asked Mark of all things. And if Eduardo doesn’t like the relationship, why does he stay?

He tells Mark Chrissy is a “psycho” but stays with her, but never tries to work on the relationship. He almost detaches himself from the relationship, and he ignores her like she’s a problem rather than a person. I also found an article from The Business Insider that talks about women in The Social Network. The movie’s treatment of women feels disappointing, to say in the least.

I wasn’t that surprised that Sorkin defended the movie’s sexism years later. The men are meant to be misogynists, and we see it from their point of view, it isn’t nice to see, but it is what it is under their logic. Christy herself also seems like an exaggerated character. If women are more sexual, they are judged in this movie, but women who “know better” and break up with these guys like Erica are seen as wise and witty. Both of them are pawns in these men’s power plays. Eduardo just has better social skills than Mark. It doesn’t make Eduardo a better person or mean he respects women or cares about them more.

And the thing is, in a real-life story Zuckerberg didn’t go about setting the pieces for a revenge fantasy ploy. He was dating Priscilla Chan, who is now his wife. What about problematic men who are married and in power. Is their power only worthy of critique if they are overtly and obviously misogynistic.

Sexist nerds in media aren’t anything new. I just wonder how the movie would have gone if they ventured to explore Zuckerberg’s relationship with Chan. How does one balance a girlfriend and working long hours for what the movie showed as a primarily male-dominated industry? And why did the movie portray the industry all men? Women worked for the founding of Facebook. Why not include them as well? How did his friendship with Eduardo play out when he had his wife by his side? I’m not sure how the movie could have conveyed this, but it is important to remember that powerful men get married. Women are a part of these stories, and it feels lazy, and frankly, offensive not to not include them.

To reduce Mark to a revengeful, sexist nerd is to diminish real-life men in power. To reduce them to unlikable nerds is to pity them. And by focusing on pity, we miss how much power they hold, and thus avoid valid critiques of their actions. I’m not sure the movie goes that far. It clearly shows Mark is in the wrong not just because of his sexism, but because he is a betrayer. To harm your friend while working with them is one of the worst parts.

Mark betrays Eduardo not because of anger or a desire to get even. Eduardo asks Mark:

“Is it because I got into the Phoenix?”

Though Eduardo was kind to Mark and a good friend, Mark just feels jealous of him. The biggest tragedy of the movie is Mark’s misunderstanding of human relationships. He isn’t open to connecting emotionally with others, to him it is all business. But as we see at the end with the friend request to Erica–connection is something Mark desperately craves–even if he doesn’t know how.

He thinks that these groups will bring him a better life than he has, but it is there–right in front of him. If you watch the scene, you hear Eduardo’s voice as he says he dressed for both a business meeting and a party. Eduardo cared about Mark. There is an idea in life that if we earn things, if we work hard for what we want we’ll finally get somewhere better, but there are people right in front of us.

Social media creates a fake-closeness. If you have someone on social media, you might see them in a group and feel unhappy that you’re are not part of the in-crowd. Social possibilities seem to extend, but instead, they bend inward. Mark sticks with us at the end, because he represents all of us, reaching for connection. I just wish Mark had realized he had two people that cared about him.

Overall, The Social Network is still iconic and hits hard more than ten years later. The messages of social media and isolation felt too real. I also read that the law stuff was pretty accurate to real life. A current critique of Facebook would no doubt look differently, but the way the movie showed the harms of status and power stay with us. Also, it holds a message is helpful for all time: don’t stab your friends in the back–if that wasn’t obvious.

Other than that though, this movie played out like a lawsuit between people with far more money than most of us can imagine. In the end, Eduardo turned out okay. But Facebook? I’m not so sure.

Iconic Lines

The entire last scene is so iconic, and I could include it all, but I’ll add a few favorite lines.

“Sorry, my Prada’s at the cleaners along with my hoodie and my ******* flip flops you pretentious douchebag…”

Apparently, Zuckerberg did dress like movie Mark in college: in gap hoodies and flip flops.

“I was drunk, angry, and stupid.”

“And blogging”

“And blogging”

Mark and Marilyn

Life tip: Never blog drunk or else you may eventually become a lonely billionaire who accuses their best friend of animal cruelty for keeping a chicken in their room for a week to get into a club that rejected you.

Have you seen The Social Network? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.