The movie tells the story of a socially inept but brilliant computer geek studying at Harvard University, who agrees to write the code for a couple of preppy, privileged jocks, who think of themselves as “gentlemen of Harvard.” He then steals their idea for a Harvard-only social network, improves upon it, and creates a site initially called “The Facebook,” which eventually becomes the massive global success we all know today.
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a session at the Cannes Lions 2010 International Advertising Festival.
In the movie, the Zuckerberg character is a shrewd and conniving genius, but portrayed as a nebbishy shy student at the hallowed Harvard, he also gets much of the empathy. The movie portrays the strapping, athletic Winklevoss twins, or the Winklevi, as Zuckerberg refers to the them, as smooth elitist snobs. I was rooting for Zuck most of the time.
During the scene when the twins first talk to Zuckerberg and ask him to write the code for their ConnectU website, they invite him into the entry hall of their exclusive final club, the famous Porcellian Club. He can’t go inside because he isn’t a member, and they hand him a wrapped sandwich from the refrigerator. Status and elite club membership still matter, at least within the boundaries of the Cambridge, Mass., campus.
There are debates ad infinitum in the media and the blogosphere over how accurate the movie is in portraying the origins of Facebook and the people involved. Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin say the movie is nonfiction, while Facebook and Zuckerberg himself have disavowed the movie, which is doing well in theaters. Read more about the Facebook’s ticket sales.
The Mark Zuckerberg portrayed in the film doesn’t seem much like the one we see on stage or in TV interviews. His public persona is so incredibly scripted that we rarely see glimpses of the genius and arrogance (and yes, the ruthlessness) that are written into “The Social Network.” Many are saying that the movie portrayal is not the Zuckerberg they know.
“He is shy and introverted and he often does not seem very warm to people who don’t know him, but he is warm,” Facebook’s chief operating officer and No. 2 exec Sheryl Sandberg recently told the New York Times.
Zuckerberg no ‘friend’ of movie
Facebook appears to be in damage control mode over the portrayal of founder Mark Zuckerberg in a new movie about the company, trying to deflect attention to Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s schools. Julia Angwin discusses.
Last Friday, techies and reporters were invited to watch the movie in Redwood City, Calif., by Eastwick Communications. In a panel discussion afterwards, Matt Cohler, an early Facebook employee and now a partner at Benchmark Capital, said the Zuckerberg portrayed in the movie was not at all like the guy he knows. Kara Swisher of All Things Digital, agreed, noting that the movie character talked a lot, “and Mark does not.”
Cohler also said the basic premise of the movie, that Zuckerberg created Facebook to impress a girl who had dumped him or to get into an exclusive final club “that’s just wrong.”
The Winklevoss brothers who eventually sued Facebook, alleging that Zuckerberg stole their idea, told the Southampton Press this week that the movie is “actually more of a generous picture of him than he really deserves.” Facebook settled with the Winklevosses, in an agreement valued at about $65 million, but they are now disputing the settlement, saying Facebook misled them about the value of its stock.
Even better than the real thing
The Zuckerberg portrayed in the movie is driven, wickedly smart, and sometimes reminiscent of the young and arrogant Bill Gates. Of course, the snappy dialogue written by Sorkin is sharp and sarcastic and we have to remember it is a movie, written to entertain. “You have part of my attention, you have the minimum amount,” Zuckerberg responds to a lawyer in one of the film’s many deposition scenes. “The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.”
But in TV interviews and on stage, the real Zuckerberg doesn’t appear to be as witty or snarky. In an interview at the D8 conference earlier this year, Zuckerberg rambled and was so nervous he was sweating profusely when being asked about Facebook’s privacy policies. Is he being held back by handlers and teams of PR people, who advise him to be nice and to stick to a boring script, and to keep his sarcastic zingers to himself? Or is the movie character mostly fiction? Who is the real Zuckerberg?
I liked the guy in the movie better.
Therese Poletti is a senior columnist for MarketWatch in San Francisco.