Mark Zuckerberg Gives 'Social Network' an Oscar Shove
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.
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Scott Feinberg, the lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, is one of the entertainment industry's most experienced and trusted experts about the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. He started on the awards beat in 2001, writing for independent websites including his own ScottFeinberg.com before joining the Los Angeles Times and then THR, for which he writes “The Race” blog, which won the LA Press Club’s National Entertainment Journalism Award for best entertainment blog of 2012-2013. A voting member of both the Broadcast Film Critics' Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, he is also writing a book about film history for young people for which he has interviewed more than 500 high-profile Hollywood figures whose careers span the silent era through the present.
Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scottfeinberg.
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