I finally got the chance to see The Social Network when PJ ordered it from Netflix and we watched it on Friday. He had already seen it when it was still in theaters, but I had been too busy at the time to go with him.

It’s won nearly, if not all of the critics awards this season, and it’s nominated for multiple Oscars. The primary film site that I read, Awards Daily, has been championing it for Best Picture, Director, etc. and readers there have been adamant about its superiority over The King’s Speech, a film that I really enjoyed. So, I’ve really been looking forward to seeing it so that I could judge for myself.

Here’s the trailer:

As I’m sure everyone knows, The Social Network depicts the foundation of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg and suggests that he succeeded at the expense of his friends. The frame story is that he is “now” being sued by multiple people, all of whom claim that he stole their ideas and/or illegally screwed them over. The film further suggests that Facebook is the product of Zuckerberg’s efforts to impress women and to be accepted by the monied elites at Harvard and that when these goals aren’t achieved Zuckerberg decides to make his creation even bigger in order to show the girls and elites just what they’re missing.

Overall, I think this movie has to be evaluated on two different levels. The first is just as a movie. On this level, The Social Network is a tale of greed, computer nerdiness, and revenge with Zuckerberg as the anti-hero who uses his computer savvy to pave his way to fame and fortune. Along the way, he screws over every friend he’s ever had, but, since he only cares about his creation, his lost friends don’t really phase him.

On this level the movie really works. It’s fast-paced. The actors are all very good. And the story is engaging and suspenseful — will “Zuckerberg” get his comeuppance? Will his friends and enemies win their suits? Did he really create Facebook just to impress a girl? Will Eduardo, played by Andrew Garfield, have a hot sex scene? Ok, maybe I was the only one asking that last question, but the point is that the movie keeps our interest.

As storytelling, The Social Network succeeds. Other than the score, which irritated me at times, I was completely engrossed in this movie and was disappointed when it ended — I could have kept watching for another hour at least. I especially liked that Zuckerberg was never redeemed. Rather, while we understand him better by the end, and the film clearly argues that he’s not really just a jerk but someone who single-mindedly worked to create Facebook and then to make it successful, he’s never made to be the misunderstood victim of others’ machinations.

In fact, I loved this character. I thought he was hilarious, and I never thought that the movie or Jesse Eisenberg ever made him one-dimensional or simply the villain. He’s a complex character who uses his talents to make himself a name, to make himself rich, and to piss off the people he thinks are stupid or who don’t share the fanaticism of his vision. That he changed the way people communicate suggests that his fanaticism isn’t entirely a bad thing. I actually liked him and found him rather sympathetic (if that’s the right word).

But the film also has to be viewed on another level, the historical one. Everything I’ve read about the film suggests that it makes little effort to explain the historical details and facts of how and why Facebook was created and then became a social phenomenon. In fact, the film leaves out key elements that contradict its storyline. This short Q&A with the real Zuckerberg suggests one such missing detail:

But a film in which Zuckerberg is happily partnered with the same girlfriend doesn’t fit with the motivation the film gives his character, so she’s left out. Real life isn’t as “interesting” as the make-believe of cinematic storytelling, so historical facts are changed to accommodate the film’s story. It appears that lots of other people and historical details are also left out so that the film could be streamlined to focus on one topic: Zuckerberg’s screwing over his friends and acquaintances.

Ultimately, the question is whether the inaccuracies of the second level hurt the quality and entertainment value of the first one. Is a good film less good because it makes up huge parts of its “true story” and leaves out huge parts of the “true story”?

Part of me says yes. It is less good because of the inaccuracies. While I understand the desire to create an interesting story, I think points have to be deducted, so to speak, for the seemingly misleading depiction of these events and characters. Wouldn’t there have been a way to create an interesting, engaging, and entertaining movie without misrepresenting the basic facts? Surely there must be.

But part of me also says no. I really enjoyed this movie as a fictional account of the creation of Facebook, and no film ever fully captures historical truth. I guess that’s really what it comes down to: as fiction, this movie is superb, one of the year’s best; as nonfiction, it doesn’t work.

The Social Network blurs the boundary between truth and fiction. I’m not entirely comfortable with this blurring — it doesn’t seem honest enough — but the result is an entertaining tale of greed, friendship betrayed, and entrepreneurial greatness. I really liked it and am pretty sure it will be on my list of the year’s best.

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