The Social Network: A Parable of Selfishness By Gabriella Basile

David Fincher’s, The Social Network (2010) is based on a true story and focuses on the drama filled lawsuits of Facebook’s co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. In the film, Mark is a prodigy Harvard student creating the social networking site Facebook. The movie is not a biography on Mark but rather focuses on the journey he has while creating Facebook and the hardships he encounters. This three time Oscar award-winning film observes the impact of social connections and what they mean in the digital age. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin portrays Mark as selfish, power hungry, egotistical and one who betrays those around him. Mark is selfish while creating Facebook in order to gain power, status and acceptance. By using the people in his life he ends up exactly where he started, alone.

The movie opens with a shot of Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) sitting in a local pub engaging in a conversation about multiple topics. Fincher chose to open with this shot to show that this is the most important relationship in the film. This is a word heavy scene where the audience learns about the unique personality of the protagonist Mark. Fincher meticulously starts the film with a wide two shot as we are first introduced to Mark and Erica. The dialogue begins with Mark asking Erica how is one supposed to distinguish themselves in a population of people who all got perfect scores on their SAT’s. This question is imperative and drives the entire movie and how Mark tries to distinguish himself from everyone. It eventually becomes clear that this obsession takes a toll on his relationships.

There are fast cuts of over the shoulder shots which Fincher uses to show that both characters are reaching at different topics. In this scene Mark discusses various subjects at record speed confusing Erica and the audience. Once Erica brings up the topic of final clubs (well-known Harvard fraternities) there is a close up on her which shows this idea is something of importance. Though it does not last long as the conversation goes back to jumping around multiple topics at once. In the conversation if Mark feels at all insulted he will immediately feel the need to bring up his strengths. For example, Erica jokes about liking guys that row crew. Mark answers that he cannot but immediately reminds her that he got a perfect score on his SAT’s. While he already mentioned this to her, he must repeat it again in order to strengthen the perception of himself after feeling inadequate by her remark. Mark then calls Erica delusional as she answers him on one topic when he is thinking of another. Her response is that he talks about two things at once and she is unsure of which she should be aiming at. Fincher then cuts to a closer two shot now that the audience knows the characters.

During the entire conversation Mark is constantly insulting Erica’s intelligence and questions everything she says. She explains to him that she is not speaking in code, she cannot even keep up with the discussion. This is due to the fact that Mark communicates strangely and is socially awkward. The topic of final clubs is voiced again and Mark states if he gets into one he will take her to the events and gatherings. He tells Erica she will meet a lot of people she normally would not get to meet. The audience learns here that Mark believes he is intelligently superior to those around him and that he has opportunities that others would not have unless he gives it to them. However, Mark’s goal is not to be rude it is to put himself above others because he is self-centered. This causes the climax of the scene where there is a close up on Erica as she tells Mark they are not dating anymore. This part gives the impression that Mark can rapidly ruin a relationship as only four minutes of the movie has passed. Mark gives the feeling that he is not a good person considering he proceeds to offend Erica further. She tells him he may think girls will not want to be with him because he is a nerd but it is actually because he is disrespectful. As she walks away the camera takes a high-angle shot looking down on Mark who is left lonely. He is upset and begins to move around not knowing what to do with himself.

It is an incredibly important scene that sets the tone for the entire movie. This scene foreshadows the way Mark’s relationships are going to be throughout the film. The opening scene was shot 99 times as a result of Fincher needing to get it perfect (Muse). Fincher once said, “People will say, ‘There are a million ways to shoot a scene,’ but I don’t think so. I think there’re two, maybe. And the other one is wrong,” (IMDB). Fincher is known for being a meticulous director which we can see why the opening scene of this film took several tries. The camera movements used by Fincher are fast-paced, organic, and edgy just like the main character. Fincher is known for his dark psychological thrillers yet this film proves he is not a genre specific filmmaker. One of Fincher’s well know trademarks is that his films include people with poor social skills and few friends, which summarizes Mark perfectly. IMDB reports, Fincher often starts his movies with creative title sequences that express the theme of the movie (IMDB). The title of this film fits this idea since the theme of the movie is about social connections. Fincher is known for the use of wide shots which is a shot he uses at the start of the next scene.

A wide shot of the bars exterior is pictured as Mark leaves. Mark begins to run home showing he is extremely affected by his ended relationship and his inability to make social development. As Mark arrives at his Harvard University dorm he heads straight to his computer and cracks open a beer. Since Mark is the narrator in this film, we are able to repeatedly see the way he thinks. He begins typing in his public online blog and though he is not speaking, we hear his thoughts while he makes an entry. His entry is dedicated to attacking Erica and speaking about her breast measurements. We are told the time has elapsed over an hour and Mark is now writing another entry about Erica. He is fixated on not only needing to strengthen the perception of himself but needing others to fail.

The famous hacking scene begins as Mark demonstrates to the viewer that he is a genius at using computers, hacking, coding and creating a website. Which is the reason he ran home to a computer after being broken up with because needs to feel a sense of control. Mark begins hacking every student house’s online directories in order to retrieve pictures of female students. Then creates the website “FaceMash” where male students are able to choose which female student is more attractive. As he creates this website he objectifies women since one just made him feel insufficient. At one point comparing women to cattle, he is seen as a misogynist. In this scene, the audience is introduced to Mark’s friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) who helps Mark predict how the guys are going to choose the women based on an algorithm used for chess players.

During this scene the viewer gets to analyze the main character in great detail. Mark is a college student with slightly pale skin and dark curly hair and is wearing a light gray Gap sweatshirt. The camera angles in this scene are mostly medium low angle shots (Sikov, 11-13). The background emulates the inside of a traditional college dorm. The dorm consists of Mark’s roommates, is small and bare and has dim lighting. In these shots Mark is always in focus while the background is frequently out of focus. The props used in this scene are a bottle of beer, a computer and a computer mouse. The actor Jesse Eisenberg performances his role of Mark with much accuracy to Fincher’s vision. Computer savvy individuals are stereotyped as being socially awkward, strange, incredibly intelligent and lacking fashion. This is exactly how Mark is introduced and is portrayed throughout the entire film.

FaceMash goes viral at Harvard during the night hours and ultimately crashes Harvard’s computer network due to the amount of traffic the site collects. Fincher disorients the audience by cutting to Mark in the middle of one of his lawsuits from Eduardo. The audience is then announced Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) who hear of Mark due to the creation of FaceMash. Fincher again cuts to Mark in the middle of a lawsuit, now from the Winklevoss twins and Divya. The spectators finally understand who Mark is being sued by and that the story will be told through the depositions testimonies. This informs the viewer that the movie is now going to cut between the past and present. The past shots are going to describe the backstory of how Facebook came to be and why Mark is currently going through lawsuits. The present shots are going to depict the process of the lawsuits and what the results from them are.

There are various types of genres in film. Film scholar Ed Sikov states genre means, “a type of category of film that has its own recognizable conventions and character types,” (Sikov, 143). The Social Network is categorized as a drama film which is one of the largest genres that contain both mystery and film noir genres (Sikov, 144). Each genre has its own conventions, repetitions and variations. Drama films concentrate on “serious presentations or stories with settings or life situations that portray realistic characters in conflict with either themselves, others, or forces of nature,” (AMC Network Entertainment). The plots of these films are dramatic and usually teach a lesson to the audience. What makes this film a drama is that it is based on a true story which includes many conflicts. Based on a true story means that the storyline was changed in order to entertain the audience with dramatization. The conflicts in this film are seen through the depositions testimonials. The lessons this film teaches are the parables of selfishness and power.

In the film, The Winklevoss twins find Mark on campus and ask for his services to help them create a social networking site called The Harvard Connection. Mark meets with them and their friend Divya to discuss the details of the site. Mark agrees to work with them but he then ignores them as he begins to create his own social networking site, using their idea. Again evidencing the point that Mark does not just need to succeed, he needs others to fail. He essentially takes their idea except uses different coding to make “The Facebook.” The way Mark is interpreted throughout the film may not be exactly how he is in real life. Sorkin mentioned in an interview with Lesley Stahl that he has never met Mark before (Alexander Street). Sorkin created this character to exemplify the type of people he sees our society creating by entering the digital age. Another plot line in the film is that computers, and the internet, give massive amounts of power to individuals who have never had power before. This changes people, creates chaos and changes the dynamic of social connections.

Sorkin composes Mark as being disconnected from emotions, speaking at a fast pace, self-absorbed, arrogant, power hungry and yearning for acceptance. Sorkin told Lesley Stahl in the same interview that he took many of the communication approaches of Mark seen in a Sunday Morning interview and used them for the movie (Alexander Street). IMDB states, Sorkin is known for often employing non-linear storytelling methods and using legal proceedings as plot devices. This film completely embodies these specific techniques of Sorkin by switching between the past and present during Mark’s lawsuits. Sorkin is also known for writing characters with sarcastic dispositions and has protagonists that are intelligent and conceited. The way Mark is depicted in this film is extremely intelligent, arrogant and almost everything he says is impolitely sarcastic. Another trademark of Sorkin is that he writes characters that have fast-paced tightly scripted dialogue (IMDB). Sorkin wrote the dialogue of Mark in this film fast-paced and puzzling.

In a Behind the Curtain interview, Sorkin explains he received the opportunity to script this film because of Ben Mezrich. Ben wrote a book proposal, The Accidental Billionaires, about the founding of Facebook. His publisher wanted to set up a simultaneous film deal, which led the giving of Ben’s book proposal to Sorkin. After reading a few pages Sorkin wanted to write the movie, one which captures our time. There were three conflicting versions of the truth in the lawsuits and Sorkin found it important to include them all. Sorkin states he loves courtroom dramas that is why he focuses this drama film on the depositions themselves (YouTube: Behind The Curtain). Sorkin was able to read Mark’s published journals and legal documents along with speaking to those who were present when these events took place. He states that he does not try to tell the audience who a character is but instead tries to show the audience what a character wants (YouTube: Behind The Curtain). Throughout this movie the audience sees that Mark wants Erica which leads him to want power, status and acceptance. For Sorkin, the movie was never about Facebook but rather about friendship, loyalty, power, betrayal, class and jealousy.

The film goes on to display Mark building his website almost every second of every day. He asks his only friend Eduardo to take 30 percent of the company by being the CFO. Mark owns the other 70 percent and is the one who creates and manages the entire website himself. When he publishes The Facebook at Harvard hundreds to thousands of people join. One night out, Mark spots Erica in a restaurant and immediately approaches her. The music during this encounter is spooky and mysterious heightening the viewer’s curiosity. Mark wants to speak to Erica privately since she is sitting at a table with her friends. She says no and he instantly brings up that he launched a website. She says she did not know about it and expresses she is mad at him for writing poorly about her on the internet. Erica states he did not write about her in pencil but in ink. Making the point that what is published online is forever. She states that he wrote she is unlikeable, made fun of her family’s name, discussed her bra size and then rated women based on their hotness. Mark is very upset by her response and is on the verge of tears. The only time he has expressed emotions thus far is when it involves Erica. After their chat Mark walks over to Eduardo and says they need to expand the website. This is because Erica did not care about his site and he needs her to care and accept him.

Mark eventually expands the reach of his site by having other universities such as Stanford, Boston, Yale and Columbia join the network. Once The Winklevoss twins realize Mark stole their idea they try to figure out what they can do to get it back. One day Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) founder of Napster finds The Facebook and sets out to meet Mark. Mark and Eduardo meet with Sean to discuss business but right away Eduardo has a bad impression of Sean. Eduardo is keen on monetizing the business by adding advertisements to the network. Yet, Sean gives the complete opposite advice to Mark which leads Eduardo to not want Sean involved in the business at all. Oddly, the only time Mark is pictured as non-arrogant is in his dealings with Sean. Even though Eduardo has a share in the company Mark makes the final decisions and is intrigued by Sean. At the end of the meeting, Sean tells Mark to delete “The” and only have the site be called “Facebook.” Mark does exactly that and begins to see Sean as a mentor by following everything he says. At this point in the film, Eduardo has invested $19,000 into the business while Mark has not financially contributed at all.

During the summer Mark lives in California to grow the business, per Sean’s guidance, and lives off of Eduardo’s investment. The company has interns helping Mark in California while Eduardo is in New York trying to acquire investors for the site. After failing to obtain investors Eduardo flies to California to work with Mark. Again, we see Mark as an egocentric character when he forgets to pick Eduardo up from the airport. Eduardo walks into the house soaking wet due to the weather and Mark shows no care at all. At this time Sean announces that he just landed a huge investor, Peter Thiel, who is offering the company $500,000. The three eventually meet with the investor, documents are signed and Sean obtains 7 percent of the company.

An extremely climactic and emotional scene occurs where Eduardo visits the office that Mark opened for Facebook with Sean. During this visit Eduardo is made aware that the documents he signed during the investor meeting has taken away all of his shares in the company. Fincher specifically follows Eduardo speed walking towards Mark in rage with a tracking shot. The tracking shot gives the audience the feel that they are speed walking next to the character. Eduardo smashes Mark’s computer, explains that Mark betrayed him and tells Mark to lawyer up. After Eduardo’s departure from the office, Mark shows a slight emotional reaction. This shot along with the two shots with Erica are the only times where Mark shows emotions. This is another scene where Mark exerts his power, is selfish and betrays the relationships in his life. He basically used Eduardo for his money and decided to let him go when he no longer needed him. Previously, we knew the Winklevoss twins and Divya were suing Mark for taking their idea. But it was not until this moment that the viewer understood why Eduardo was suing Mark.

In one scene Sean explains a story to Mark about the founder of Victoria’s Secret. The story is that the founder Roy Raymond sold his business too early and lost out on major profits which led him to commit suicide. Mark responds to the story by asking Sean, “was that a parable?” A parable is, “a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels,” (Oxford Dictionary). A parable often uses exaggerations in order to direct our thinking in a different direction. In theology being selfish like Mark is criticized. The Bible states, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor,” (1 Corinthians 10:24). Another statement, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice,” (James 3:16). These verses stand true in the film as Mark looks to his own interest instead of others and hurts people instead of helping them. The scripture of James fits well with the focus of the film being on the depositions which is the disorder that occurs due to Mark’s selfishness.

Throughout the film we see Mark as selfish, power hungry, egotistical and one who betrays his relationships. This film displays a parable of selfishness and also a parable of power. Mark deceives and cheats everyone in order to be the sole person that gains the resulted status and control of Facebook. He loses good relationships in the film because of his actions. Mark originally starts Facebook to gain the acceptance of Erica and to show the world that he is more superior and competent than anyone else. He even verbalizes that he is more superior and competent than others in one of his depositions. Yet, he learns status does not buy happiness, acceptance or love. It is extremely ironic that Mark acts this way considering the platform he built is intended to bring people together. Instead fueling his creation was his ego, yearn for acceptance, status and control. This parable of selfishness teaches the lesson to look out for others and not just oneself. Mark should have focused on what is good for the future of society, that is bringing people together on a digital platform. The parables found in the bible discuss helping others and being a moral person, not greedy. Mark was more captivated in developing his company than he was in who it may hurt.

Fincher takes Sorkin’s screenplay to film impeccably with his auditory and visual approaches. There is a vast amount of dialogue in this film in a short amount of time and an overlapping of dialogue too. The film’s sound team recorded sounds from Boston, the Stanford campus and Bay Area companies to add their specific tones into the film (YouTube: SoundWorks Collection). This would be known as non-diegetic sound, meaning the sound is not sourced within the world of the story (Sikov, 78). In an interview one of Fincher’s sound mixers, Ren Klyce, states that Fincher wanted to produce an electronic music score. This is why artists Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were asked to compose music for the film. Klyce also mentions that sound was hard to produce in the club scene where Mark and Sean are supposedly having a business meeting. The scene consisted of loud music and shouting actors during their dialogue. Klyce explained, the music needed to be loud but the dialogue also needed to be heard clearly (YouTube: SoundWorks Collection).

Cinematographer of the film, Jeff Cronenweth, states this movie was the first to use the newest RED one camera with the Mysterium-X chip. He chose to shoot with this camera because, “this camera allowed a much greater range and color spectrum… and its latitude was increased quite a bit so highlights didn’t quite clip as easily as in previous versions of this camera and all other HD systems,” (Luzi). In an IndieWire interview he explains, during night scenes they added lights behind street lamps such as the opening scene where Mark runs home after being dumped by Erica. “The showiest sequences for the lighting team were lighting Sean Parker as Mephistopheles in the Ruby Sky Bar... The production designer came up with a table with plastic light boxes as a light source,” (Thompson). They wanted to portray Sean as an evil influence in Mark’s life. During the testimonies Fincher wanted the light coming through the room to transition from morning to night. Cronenweth explains for these scenes glass was used to alter the sun’s position. The camera movements throughout this film are highly controlled. Except the use of a handheld shot in one scene, where Sean was caught by the cops with drugs at a party. Fincher chose a handheld shot for this scene to symbolize the main characters losing control.

The Winklevoss twins were played by two actors, Armie Hammer and Josh Pence. Though on screen they look and sound only like Hammer. Entertainment Weekly reports, “Hammer played the main twin in each shot. For shots that included both twins at the same time, Pence stood in for the second twin,” (Markovitz). Hammer then went into the studio to film his voice with his head in a harness in order to get a picture of his face. Fincher then digitally covered Pence’s face with Hammer’s face in the footage in order to create the appearance of two identical twins. What Fincher used to complete this task was computer-generated imagery (CGI). CGI means, “any image that has been created by or manipulated by the use of a computer and software,” (Sikov, 164).

In an interview, Cronenweth said the film was about the origins of Facebook and how it is important to our culture and time (British Cinematographer). Fincher and him produced a visual which was naturalistic and included bold undertones. This visual was created to represent the reality of the adolescence in Ivy League schools. He states Fincher and himself discussed the personalities of all characters and how to present them accurately. They wanted to create a modern visual and shot in locations such as Cambridge, California, England and others (British Cinematographer). Cronenweth expressed the movie was filmed with mostly dim lighting except for the depositions which showed the tough realism of the lawsuits. He mentions they muted colors heavily in the college scenes to make the dorms feel confining. He explains the story is “about friendships which led to betrayal and it raises a significant question about what's fair and what isn’t fair,” (British Cinematographer). The movie engages the audience to think about the important advancements happening in the world without taking a certain stand.

The film portrays a story of selfishness, power, control, betrayal and what it is like to enter the digital age. During the film there are many parabolic themes that are highlighted through the depositions. In the end Mark’s selfish approach to creating a company caused him to lose his only friend Eduardo. Mark not only lost his relationships but some of his financial success as well. He had to settle his lawsuits which resulted in paying Eduardo $2.18 billion (Solomon) and the Winklevoss twins $65 million (Fitzgerald). The end scene of the film displays Mark, a lonely genius ending up where he first started in the film. Left lonely in a room with only a computer, he sends Erica a friend request on Facebook. Mark repeatedly refreshes the page to see if she has accepted him. This is ironic as Mark started the site in order to gain acceptance from her. Regardless of his financial success throughout the film he is unsuccessful with his social progress. The parabolic themes have Mark and the audience questioning if his actions were worth it. By focusing on his individual needs and not others, disorder and disruption occurred.

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The essay fulfills the requirements set for the Final Project for Parables in Pop Culture (T/RS 228) at The University of Scranton, under the direction of Dr. Cyrus P. Olsen III, for spring semester 2020, under the conditions of COVID-19 lockdown.


All photos were taken from Google Images