Many of the reviews and articles I’ve read on The Social Network, a film based on true events surrounding the creation and creators of Facebook, address claims that the events depicted in the film are either inaccurate or exaggerated. While most critics agree that the film is well made, the fact that they question the factual accuracy suggests that the film or the audience is hindered by artistic license. I see this issue arise when a film claims to be based on true events, so I’ll address this by briefly analyzing 1982’s Amadeus, a film notorious for blatant historical inaccuracies.
The plot in Amadeus centers not on Mozart (Tom Hulce) but on another composer, Salieri (F. Murray Abraham in one my favorite acting performances), who’s driven insane by jealousy for Mozart’s talent. Many of my music history professors derided the film for its countless inaccuracies. Whenever they discussed Mozart’s music, the film typically came up and they took this opportunity to remind us Salieri did not kill Mozart. After hearing three or four rants on the film, I watched it and decided it doesn’t matter if the events in the film really occurred. The film is not about Mozart. It’s a film about mediocrity and jealousy. The facts regarding Mozart’s personality, compositions, and even his death don’t matter to me because they serve the plot. In fact, I didn’t even look up the facts regarding Salieri and Mozart because I am not writing a thesis on Mozart, I’m reviewing a film. If I want facts, the last place I’m going to go is a movie.
The same goes for The Social Network. Some of the facts surrounding the creation of Facebook didn’t concern the screenwriter – Aaron Sorkin – because he isn’t a journalist or an historian, but an artist attempting to tell a story and portray something about the human condition. In less compelling films based on real events, facts have a way of interrupting the theme. The question, “Why was that put in the film?” is inevitably answered by, “Because it really happened.” And so often the question, “What is the relevance?” isn’t brought up. Many of the best biopics leave out huge events in the lives of their characters in the interest of story (Walk the Line, A Beautiful Mind, et al.).
Ultimately, whether Mark Zuckerberg has had the same girlfriend since before he started Facebook (true) or if a break-up inspired him to start Facebook (artistic license) shouldn’t matter. Sorkin wrote the scene to set up the film. If there are any screenwriters out there who can think of a better way to establish Zuckerberg character as an antisocial genius, I challenge them to write a script half as interesting.