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Mark Zuckerberg Gives 'Social Network' an Oscar Shove

Time Magazine

By naming Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg Person of the Year, Time ups The Social Network's Oscar odds a little, and clarifies the lies that make it great.

In what Steve Pond calls “the niftiest bit of Oscar promotion anybody has gotten this year,” Time's story demonstrates what the film gets artfully wrong. "The Zuckerberg of the movie is a simple creature of clear motivations: he uses his outsize gifts as a programmer to acquire girls, money and party invitations. This is a fiction." Real Zuckerberg already had the girl he lives with now in a preposterously modest house. "One of the interests Zuckerberg lists on his Facebook page is 'Eliminating Desire.'"

Jesse Eisenberg's movie Zuckerberg (which got SAG and Globe best actor noms this week) is an icy no-friend zone with eyes shifty as a Gila monster scanning for flies to seize with his cold, fast, sticky tongue. Real Zuckerberg, says Time, is "a warm presence, not a cold one. He has a quick smile and doesn't shy away from eye contact. He thinks fast and talks fast, but he wants you to keep up. He exudes not anger or social anxiety but a weird calm. When you talk to his co-workers, they're so adamant in their avowals of affection for him and in their insistence that you not misconstrue his oddness that you get the impression it's not just because they want to keep their jobs. People really like him."

But the real Zuckerberg on, say, 60 Minutes, is a genial bore. Movie Zuckerberg is fascinating, kinetic, a human Moebius strip with no inside. Writer Aaron Sorkin crafts reality into a soaring moral fable. Movies about real people need not be true. Jesus wears a crown of thorns in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. The real Jesus probably didn't, says Garry Wills: thorns didn't grow in Jerusalem, rulers didn't wear crowns but wreaths or diadems, and the bible's word "akanthon" can mean either "thorn" or "acanthus." So Jesus wore an acanthus-leaf crown. "I defer to the authorities," says critic David Thomson, "but when you're making a movie, a crown of thorns is a hell of a lot better."

The creation of Eisenberg, Sorkin, and director David Fincher is a hell of a lot better than real Zuckerberg. But people don't really like him. They like stuttering kings, struggling fighters, huggable lesbians, even unbalanced ballerinas. The Social Network's chillier, exquisite fiction may lose the Oscar precisely because it's such a ruthlessly beautiful untruth.