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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Aaron Sorkin: Digital Shakespeare History, Legalese, TechTalk, College-speak, Savoir-Faire Unite in The Social Network Movie

I analyzed Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network Movie. Sorkin, our digital age’s Shakespeare, expertly educates and captivates the washed, the unwashed, the stylish, and the nerds alike. Sorkin’s use of accessible, engaging dialogue makes traditionally inaccessible, boring subjects like computer programming, venture financing, and even legalese beyond palatable to interesting. Sorkin further relies on transitions to pace the film and even director’s notes to make sure we get it right when we sit in the theater or lay around at home watching the film.

In the opening, Sorkin lets us know that Teddy Roosevelt was in Harvard’s Porcellian Club, and that his being in the club played a key role in his ascending to the presidency.

Even though the opening scenes are not my favorite, there are subtle references that require culture and context (e.g. ERICA – “What part of Long Island are you from–Wimbledon?” and MARK blogging – “It gives the whole thing a very ‘Turing’ feel”…).


Sorkin makes legalese palatable, even fascinating, via dialogue:


AMY
You’re a zillionaire.
SEAN
Not technically.
AMY
What are you?
SEAN
Broke. There’s not a lot of money in free music. Even less when you’re
being sued by everyone who’s ever been to the Grammys.”




References to “Apache servers” may send tremors of fear in the politically correct, but they light up geeks and internet historians. Sorkin is actually, rarely, wrong when he writes, “Flying by at super-speed on MARK’s computer screen have been commands and images that the rest of us can’t possibly understand.” Wrong! Even me, a non-techie, totally followed every single sentence onscreen, and in-script. However, later in the script, a deposition takes place next to “the behemoths of Silicon Valley.” I admit to not noticing this detail in the film. It makes me feel less savvy, admitting so.

I must admit to feeling like rube when Sorkin’s description indicts: “We should instantly know that this dorm room is different… with less character and history than the others.” I did not catch that, watching the film. However, I probably intuited it. I did figure out Sorkin’s intention for Caribbean Night at the Jewish Fraternity: “… The party is about as lame as it sounds. What’s important is that this couldn’t be less like the final club party we saw at the beginning if they were playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”

I ALSO FEEL LIKE A RUBE not understanding DIVYA NARENDRA’s name! WESTERN ME thought the name were “Vivian Orrender.” Sorkin misses an opportunity here, to rightly portray Harvard’s diversity: When I scout out Mr. Narendra? He is a first-generation American. This is an interesting factoid that might have added to TSNW, which, all in all, had too many privileged white guys in the mix. DUARDO should not stand alone!

Sorkin feels comfortable presenting frat-speak with little additional description. It works.


EDUARDO
I just got punched by the Phoenix. It’s just the first of the four-step process…
I go to the first punch party tomorrow and if they like me…”
MARK
You got punched by the Phoenix.


MARK then co-opts the exclusivity of “being punched” as a metaphor for FaceBook:

MARK
You’d have to know the people on the site to get past your own page.
Like getting punched… Wardo, it’s like a Final Club except we’re the president.


Also college “insider” language is provided with just enough framing to clue meaning:


MARK
I went to a 3-L at Student Legal Services and he told me to write them back.



Sorkin the Screenwriter-Director


Sorkin foreshadows his own dialogue. Sorkin writes in description “thick, wooden, red double-doors that lead to, believe it or not, one of the most exclusive clubs in the world.” Then a page later, the CLUB PRESIDENT utters similar words.

I like Sorkin’s directive pith. It is James Cameron-ish and powerful:

 
ERICA
On the other hand I do like guys who row crew.
MARK
(beat) Well I can’t do that.

 


Sorkin also sounds like his characters in the descriptions. “Its’ on.” he writes. MARK utters the same exact phrase. Reading the script, after having seen the movie perhaps a dozen times? I can hear it off the page.

Later in the script, the description writes “MARK is in his Operating Systems class. This is considered the hardest class at Harvard.” And then a few paragraphs later, Sorkin shows not tells us this, “Brighter men than you have tried and failed at this class…” However, as a viewer, I would personally have liked to have understood what Sorkin presents in the description a little more pointedly. Interesting!

Reading the script, I notice things that I did not realize. For example, the description notes that LARRY SUMMERS’ office features photographs with Bill Clinton and other notable people. I did not notice such.

Sorkin as The Master Transition-Threader

Another example, right after EDUARDO says, “This is an awful lot of traffic. Think maybe we should shut it down before we get into trouble.” The next scene is a literal wake-up call to Harvard administrator COX who is told “… There‘s a very unusual amount of traffic to the switch at Kirkland… This’d be unusual for halftime at the Super Bowl.”

Right after that scene waking the tech guy up, the script cuts to the flash-forward with DUARDO v. MARK in a deposition. I also love Sorkin’s description of Mark’s response to DIVYA NARENDRA’s question about why he gave away an app to users for free use, versus selling it to Microsoft:

“MARK gives a short shrug that says both ‘I don’t know’ and ‘Fuck You’ at the same time.

I also like this transition:


MARILYN
You must really hate the Winklevoss’s.”
MARK
I don’t hate anybody. The Winklevi aren’t suing me
for intellectual property theft. They’re suing me because 
for the first time in their lives, things didn’t work
out the way they were supposed to for them
CUT TO: INT TYLER AND CAMERON’S DORM ROOM


And this transition? Masterful:


CAMERON
Why Stanford?
DIVYA
Why do you think?
CUT TO:
INT. A GIRL’S COLLEGE APARTMENT (PALO ALTO) MORNING

This is another amazing transition:


EDUARDO
How much could go wrong in three months?”
EXT. PALO ALTO HOUSE DAY LOUD MUSIC… A zip line
is tied from the chimney and runs down over a small
swimming pool… DUSTIN, who’s on the roof grabs the handle, takes off
and jumps into the pool…. The handle gets pulled back on a rope, an
INTERN grabs it, jumps–and the brick chimney comes crashing down.
The INTERN drops into patio furniture as bricks…come cascading down.

With Sorkin’s masterful transitioning, Eduardo is a retro-Oracle. Immediately right after that “wrong?” Sean Parker comes over to Mark’s house from across the street.

This, too, is a great transition:

GRETCHEN
How did you feel the meetings went?
EDUARDO
Terribly.
GRETCHEN
Why?
EDUARDO
Mark was asleep.
MARK
I wasn’t asleep.
EDUARDO
Can I re-phrase my answer?
GRETCHEN
Sure.
EDUARDO
I wish he’d been asleep.
CUT TO:
INT. AD EXECUTIVE’S OFFICE – DAY
EDUARDO, in a three-piece suit is pitching the EXECUTIVE.
MARK… hoodie and flip-flops… completely detached and staring at the floor.

I never realized this, watching the movie, but Sorkin manages to thread back CHRISTY’S analogy of the 3,000-pound Marlin instead of 14 trout when EDUARDO is confronted about his having fed his chicken a meal of cooked chicken in his dorm cafe: EDUARDO – “Don’t fish each other fish? The marlins and the trout?”

I also really love the pace that is generated through rapid cuts between depositions citing and reading emails and cuts to historical goings on. Very effective.

What I Don’t Like

A transition that I do not particularly like, and think could have been a lot better:


AMY
Is everything okay?”
SEAN
Everything’s great. I just need to find you, Mark Zuckerberg.
CUT TO: 
INT. LARRY SUMMERS’ OUTER OFFICE _ DAY


Why do I not like the transition? Why not actually cut to MARK?

A few lines that I never liked in the movie:


AMY
TheFacebook? Stanford’s had it for like two weeks now…


This is not authentic. Amy would just say she has had “The FaceBook” for a few weeks. I don’t think Amy would care – or would even think about “Stanford” being the entity “having” TheFaceBook.

Other un-favorites:

SUMMERS
Anne, punch me in the face.
MARK
That would be impressive except if you’d known what you were looking for
you would have seen it written on my dorm room window.

 

This may be an embarrassing admission, but… I do not understand this line!

For the most part, the movie stays incredibly true to the screenplay. There are some exceptions, however. Consider this nice description of LARRY SUMMERS’ office and assistant: “The President’s office is in one of the two oldest university buildings in the country, and the SECRETARY sitting at the desk is even older. You get the sense that she thinks Harvard would be a better place if it weren’t for all these students.” The fact that Sorkin calls her a “secretary” and not an assistant?” Perhaps he is a slightly old, out-of-touch, privileged white guy! In the film, the woman is middle-aged and not elderly.

This script has several errors that I know were not executed on screen:

  • Erica: I did not slept with the door guy.”
  • CAMERON WINKELVOSS – We’d love fort you to work with us, MARK.
  • TYLER WINKELVOSS: Well you could take the Harvard Student Handbook and shoved [sic] it up –“
  • CAMERON – “Do you wanna hire and IP lawyer and sue him?”
  • “EDUARDO holds up a letter that’s on a lawyer’s stationary.”

Also it jumbles the order of dialogue (e.g. Mark apologizes for the BU comment, before Erica even gets angry about it.)

Also, I while reading the screenplay, I treasured Sorkin’s first reference to the parenthetical phrase “(beat)” as part of description. However, this is way too over-used. Everyone from MARK to SY to AMY to GAGE to even SEAN ends up “beat.” Also, I do not really feel this rings true in many to most of the circumstances it is supposed to be describing.

Winklevi Winklevi, Nudge Nudge Dislike 

And then there is the “Twin Talk:”

CAMERON
We’re genetically identical, science says we’d stay in one place.

To me? This is rare, heavy-handed writing. I felt it the first time I saw the movie, consider it so every time I subsequently watch it, and feel all the more so reading it in Sorkin’s script. What? Like we could not figure out that the two were twins?

I also dislike this “Twin Talk” pervading MARK’s introduction to the Winklevi:


MARK
You guys related?
CAMERON
That’s good.”
TYLER
That’s funny.
CAMERON
We’ve never heard that before.
MARK
You guys look like you spend some time at the gym.
CAMERON
We have to.
MARK
Why?
TYLER
We row crew.

Yes, they’re twins. Yes, they crew. Over-drilling Erica’s liking guys who row crew.

AND AGAIN with the TWIN-TALK:


TYLER
I’m six-five, 220, and there’s two of me.



The script’s biggest failing is continually emphasizing the “Wilkelvii,” while not differentiating their own personalities. The screenplay attempts to do this.


MARK
I’d raised concerns before.
DIVYA/TYLER (NOT CAMERON)
Bullshit./Not to Us.

When they discuss MARK with DIVYA, Cameron is the “softer” twin:

DIVYA
Then why aren’t we doing anything about it?!
Because we’re gentlemen of Harvard?!”
CAMERON
Because you’re not thinking about how it’ll look.
DIVYA
How’ll it look?
CAMERON
Like my brother and I are in skeleton costumes chasing the Karate Kid…

 


When with SUMMERS, Tyler is the hothead, Cameron the savior:


SUMMERS
You don’t get special treatment.
CAMERON
We’ve never–
TYLER
Start another project? Like we’re making a diorama for the science fair?
SUMMERS
Is there anything else I can do for you?”
TYLER
Well you could take the Harvard Student Handbook and shoved [sic] it up —
CAMERON
(Stopping him) Ty. (To Summers) Thank you very much for your time, sir.
TYLER closes the door… the brass doorknob comes off… drops it on the SECRETARY’s desk.

 


I did realize some difference between the characters, but, perhaps especially since “they” were both played by a single actor, it was hard to distinguish between the two. Perhaps the screenplay could have helped show their uniqueness more through personal quirks, fashion or acceessories idiosyncracies, hairstyles (they did this a bit, but not enough to be memorable.) I think this is somewhat a failing of the script.

Recommitment Ceremony: My Favorite Lines

Some of my favorite lines are even more favorite, reading the screenplay. What, to me is profound, is that the lines are not “ganged” or distributed to just a few characters. Sorkin shows, not tells, that Mark is not the only smart one in the room.


SY
You’re offering a conclusion not found in evidence.
GAGE
We’re about to find it in evidence.


EDUARDO
1. Harvard was founded in 1636, not 1638.
2. Harvard wasn’t founded by John Harvard
and
3. That’s not John Harvard.

MARK
Dustin, people don’t walk around with a sign on them that says

And MARK stops short right there. Because in his head, he’s just discovered the cure
for cancer… MARK… comes flying out of the building…

EDUARDO
(Reading) “Eduardo Saverin. Co-Founder and CFO.
MARK
Yeah.
EDUARDO
You have no idea what that’s going to mean to my father.
MARK
Sure I do.


MARK
Checking in to see how it’s going in Bosnia.
MARILYN
Bosnia?
MARK
MARK nods…
MARILYN
They don’t have roads but they have Facebook?


CAMERON
Yeah, Divya was just reading that 650 students signed up for it on the first day.
TYLER
If I were a drug dealer I couldn’t give free drugs to 650 people in one day.
DIVYA
And this guy doesn’t have three friends to rub together to make a fourth.

 

This dialogue is all the more brilliant reading it with the introductory comments. Having only watched the movie and not read the screenplay, I admit to having missed the “Stanford O.D.” in terms of the décor of Amy’s room:

 

AMY’s wearing nothing but a Stanford sweatshirt… There’s other evidence on the
walls that we’re at Stanford University…
AMY
You don’t know my name, do you?
SEAN
Is it Stanford?
AMY
I should just kick your ass. How can you go to a party, meet–
SEAN
Amelia Ritter but you prefer Amy. You’re from Orinda, your father’s in commercial real
estate and your mother’s 10 years sober.
AMY
(beat) What’s my major?
SEAN
Trombone… I remember something about a trombone…
AMY
… You’re unemployed.
SEAN
I wouldn’t say that.
AMY
What would you say?
SEAN
That I’m an entrepreneur.
AMY
What was your latest preneur?
SEAN
Well, I founded a… company that let [sic] folks download and share music for free.”
AMY
Kind of like Napster?
SEAN
Exactly like Napster.
AMY
I just slept with Sean Parker?
SEAN
You just slept on Sean Parker.


SUMMERS – “You might be letting your imaginations run away with you.”
TYLER – “Sir, I honestly don’t think you’re in any position to make that call.”
SUMMERS – “I was U.S. Treasury Secretary, I’m in some position to make–“

MARK – “I went to my friend for the money because that’s who I wanted to be partners with. Eduardo was the president of the Harvard Investors Association and he was my best friend.”
GAGE – “Your best friend is suing you for $600 million.


SY – “Eduardo, what happened after the initial launch?”
GRETCHEN – “I’m sorry, Sy, would you mind addressing him as Mr Saverin?
SY – “Gretchen, they’re best friends.”
GRETCHEN – “Not anymore.”


DUARDO – “From that point on it was the Sean-a-thon.”

DUARDO – “We have groupies.”

And this, my very favorite line in the movie:

CAMERON
What, do you wanna hire an IP lawyer and sue him?
DIVYA
No, I wanna hire The Sopranos to beat the shit out of him with a hammer.

Love the diction of this exchange:


SY – (beat) I’ve got 12:45. Why don’t we say that’s lunch.
GAGE – Back at 2:30?

 

Lawyers, lawyerly proceedings, and gentlemen of Harvard deserve 1.75 hour lunches!

ERICA – “It didn’t stop you from writing it. As if every thought that tumbles through your head is so clever that it would be a crime for it not to be shared…”
EDUARDO – “You didn’t bring down the record companies. They won.”
SEAN – “In court.”
EDUARDO – Yes.”
SEAN – “You want to buy a Tower Records, Eduardo?”
SUMMERS (into phone) – “Students. Undergrads. I don’t know, from the looks of it they want to sell me a Brooks Brothers franchise.”


And, of course, this stinging zinger. I still cringe hearing it and now, reading it:

GAGE – Mr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?
MARK – No.
GAGE – (beat) Do you think I deserve it?
MARK – What.
GAGE – Do you think I deserve your full attention?
MARK – I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition and I don’t want to perjure myself so I have a legal obligation to say no.
GAGE – Okay. “No” you don’t think I deserve your attention.
MARK – I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall they have a right to give it a try… You have part of my attention — you have the minimum amount. 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. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

SEAN – “It’s like you’re throwing the greatest party on campus and someone’s telling you it’s gotta be over at 11:00… You don’t even know what the thing is yet… A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool?
EDUARDO – “You?”
SEAN – “A billion dollars.”
EDUARDO – “He picked up the check, he told Mark they’d talk again soon and he was gone. But not before he made his biggest contribution to the company.”
SEAN (signing the check) “Drop the ‘the.’ Just Facebook. It’s cleaner.”



EDUARDO: The Movie’s Sweet Spot

Dwardo is the Hero’s helper – Regarding the incident with the Harvard Administrative Board, Duardo gently reminds: “I tried to stop you.” When Duardo learns of the cease-and-desist letter from the Winklevi’s attorneys and confronts Mark about it: “It there’s something wrong–if there’s ever anything wrong–you can tell me. I’m the guy that wants to help. This is our thing. (pause) Is there anything you need to tell me?”

And when Duardo sees Mark encounter Erica at the bar where Mark and Duardo just got serviced in the bathrooms: “Hey, that was great. That was the right thing to do. You apologized, right?” Again in a deposition: “I figured we were partners and I wanted to be  a team player.”


EDUARDO – “I’m being accused of animal cruelty. It’s better to be accused of necrophilia.”


CONCLUSION

Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network Movie elegantly covers high-tech, venture capital, legal, and other intense subjects in an incredibly interesting way. Sorkin, our digital age’s Shakespeare, expertly educates and captivates the washed, the unwashed, the stylish, and the nerds alike in the film through dialogue, transition, and director’s notations.

Source:
Sorkin, Aaron. “The Social Network Movie,” http://flash.sonypictures.com/video/movies/thesocialnetwork/awards/thesocialnetwork_screenplay.pdf.

Keywords: Film Criticism, Character Development, Hero’s Journey, Diction, Screenwriter-Director

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