The Social Network and Narrative Structure


TheSocialNetwork A few weeks ago, we covered a little know fact about The Social Network. That is, the screenplay was actually based off of the book proposal of Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires, rather than the manuscript. 

I finally got a chance to see The Social Network over the weekend, and noticed some things that also pertain to our discussion about creating original characters and plot lines from last week, and decided that a follow-up post was in order. 

First and foremost, I thought the movie was very good, and well worth the price of admission. Aaron Sorkin (who also penned A Few Good Men, The West Wing, and Charlie Wilson's War) fills every scene with the witty dialogue for which he's known. Plus, it's a well-told and interesting story that was easy for me to connect with. 

The reason I connected so well with The Social Network was because it operated within a very clean narrative structure. The major thematic question of the film—whether or not Marc Zuckerberg was a bad person—was addressed openly in the first and last scene, while everything in between illuminated the issue. The film developed clear protagonists and antagonists, escalated the conflict in steady increments (using a clever flashback technique), and came to a satisfying conclusion after almost exactly two hours. All things considered, it was a expertly told story. 

This was interesting to me on two levels. First, (and this related to the previous Social Network post) I am virtually positive that the reality of Facebook's creation did not have such a well-defined narrative arc. Part of being a good storyteller (like Mezrich and Sorkin) is molding events so that an audience can connect with them better. I think this is why The Social Network drew some criticism about being inaccurate, but I also think its the main reason I enjoyed watching it.

Second, (and this relates to the original character and plot post) the structure of The Social Network is entirely unoriginal—you could almost call it 'cookie-cutter.' And the plot, while certainly original, is also extremely well-known. I went into the movie knowing how it was going to end. Zuckerberg was going to be sued by his best friend (and a few others) and he was going to make an out of court settlement.  

On paper, this should be a disaster—a familiar story told in a familiar way. However, Sorkin made each main character at least somewhat complex, and he infused every scene with dialogue that left you grinning and giddy. As I said before, richly drawn characters are all a story needs to draw me in. I was sold.

Did anyone else see The Social Network? Do you agree with this assessment? Disagree? If you have't seen the film yet, does this make you more or less inclined to see it now?  If none of these questions interest you, how about just shouting out your favorite Aaron Sorkin script?

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  1. Good post. Haven't seen the movie, but have to agree. Going into the Lord of the Rings trilogies, knew the plot, but was really drawn in by how well the characters were developed. Contrast with the most recent Star Wars movies... Didn't really know the plot, but was totally turned off because the character development was so bad. Since you mention BMezrich ... same thing for Bringing Down the House. Knew the story, but loved the book anyway. Maybe that's one sign of a great movie/book. If you know what's going to happen, but you still love the product. Think really good non-fiction writers excel at this.

  2. I have not seen this movie, but I had already been interested in it. As a fan of 'A Few Good Men,' I am certainly more intersted than I had been before. I don't mind seeing a movie that has a plot that I've seen at least tweny times (an exaggeration), but I am glad that these characters are supposedly very interesting.

  3. Lyle Blake Smythers26 October 2010 at 09:30

    That Facebook movie, The Social Network. Really, really good. Brilliant writing, some of the best dialogue I have encountered in a long time. I love all kinds of movies, including crude comedies and action movies with stuff blowing up, but it's so refreshing to be on the receiving end of intelligent dialogue.
    People who have been pooh-poohing the notion of building an entire movie around an Internet site ("what are they gonna have, a lot of shots of guys typing at computers?") need to see this. Conflict, drama, emotion, the need to be loved, the need to be noticed, loyalty to your friends, great music by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Edvard Grieg, who wrote Peer Gynt. Excuse me, I'm getting carried away here.
    You might like it.
    Lyle Blake Smythers

  4. Aaron Sorkin's Sport Night was a sitcom which was light years ahead of its time. In the age of the Office it would fit in perfectly, but a smart comedy with no laugh track... American audiences weren't ready for it.
    That is all.

  5. I've seen a few episodes of Sports Night, and I very specifically remember the absence of the laugh track.
    It was definitely way ahead of it's time...probably a little too far ahead for it's own good. The filming style of sit-coms back then lent itself much more to Seinfeld-esk stuff.
    Glad that Sorkin kept at it.


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