Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Every Creation Myth Needs a Devil."

I finally saw The Social Network yesterday. Yes, I know I'm well behind the times. But, you know, these things happen. There were many fascinating aspects to the film. I see why they have continually pointed out that this is an unauthorized version of events, and that these are characters based upon the real people, not representations of the people themselves. I see exactly why it has been winning awards left and right. There are great things I could mention about the writing, the directing, and the acting - but those are all well-discussed elsewhere. I don't need to.

Instead, I've been dwelling on one line that caught in my memory, which in the context of the story being told is directed at the main character, Mark Zuckerberg: "Every creation myth needs a devil." The phrase is stated to Zuckerberg at the end of the film, following the depositions which have been used as the framework device to communicate the tale of the origin of Facebook. The character speaking is saying that Zuckerberg himself will play the role of the devil in that particular creation story - that is, the version that arose from the depositions. But what fascinates me is the layering of this creation story throughout the film.

Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter, and David Fincher, the director, have managed, in a single film, to tell at least two creation myths for the phenomenon which is Facebook. Atop the myth that reveals itself through the depositions in the film, casting Zuckerberg as the devil, is the myth revealed by the film overall, in which identifying the devil is more complicated.

In the film's version of the creation story, Zuckerberg certainly is one candidate for the role of devil. He begins the film by eviscerating an ex-girlfriend in a blog; he promises three other students that he will build a website for them, and instead builds Facebook for himself; he begins the company with his best friend, and then dissolves his friend's ownership share in it down to nearly nothing, while keeping his own share absolutely intact. There's plenty of evidence for the deposition version of the creation myth.

But there are enough nuances throughout the film which raise doubt about Zuckerberg's role. When he meets the girl he wrote about in the blog later in the film, he goes to speak to her. He does not apologize, per se, but the audience is not quite sure whether he would have had he been able to. His attitude is such that we think he might truly regret his actions. When he reneges on his promise to build the website, there's a certain amount of understanding we have for him. He was 19 years old. He talked with some guys who had a great idea for a website. He said he'd help them out. Then he started thinking more about it, and came up with a better idea - yes, inspired by the first, but bigger and broader - and got excited about it. Perhaps the fact that he didn't follow through on his promise was not, after all, deliberate perfidy, but rather the immaturity of a teenager who has a brilliant idea. The betrayal of his best friend is, perhaps, the hardest element of Zuckerberg's devil-role to poke holes through, but the film brings in other characters whose influence over him could be the reason for it.

It is one of these characters, Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, who is, in the end, the other best contender for the devil role in the film's version of the creation myth. I was reminded every time Parker came on screen with Zuckerberg of a snake fascinating its prey before it strikes, weaving to and fro before it, beautiful and dangerous. The character Zuckerberg is on the one hand, lured into a world he doesn't really care about.

But here's the thing about humankind: even when they are archetypes in a creation myth, they don't stop being human. Zuckerberg is not innocent. While the character is portrayed as not caring about the money his new company will bring him, he is consumed with a desire for prestige on his own terms. We see that he was not deeply involved in the dissolution of his friend's shares in the company, but we also see that he allowed them to be dissolved. While Parker fascinates him, he buys into the fascination, because he sees in Parker something of what he wants to be.

In the end, the film leaves us with a creation myth that needs a devil, and Zuckerberg is probably the best option for the role. But it also leaves us with questions about the nature of mankind, about brilliance without guidance, and about the idea of influence and power.

And, finally, we're left with a character who could be any one of us: a young man who had a great idea and was capable of accomplishing it. And we're left asking what the cost was for him to do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting on my blog. This is a place I hope to explore thoughts on life and the world. I hope you'll join me in doing so.