The Austrian historian and writer Doron Rabinovici, says that historical research gives us an account how things could have been, while good literature (including a good play or film) tells us how it may well have been. This is because good literature (including a play) can give a rich and deep account where the gaps in our factual knowledge can be filled with empathy and imagination by the writer (director, the creative team, the actors).
Based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, the film is a very successful fictional account of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's days as an undergraduate at Harvard. It shows his journey as a budding entrepreneur to the point where Facebook reaches 1 Million users. At the time of this review there are about 500 Million users, and so the films tag-line is “you do not get to 500 Million friends without making a few enemies.”
The film touches on many human topics: life at an elite university in the USA, the best qualities of a WASPy upbringing, the WASP vs. Jewish and Chinese Harvard experience and the surprising extent to which the common Harvard elite identity pushes aside long-held prejudice; (or is this the writer's wishful thinking?).
The genius of Sorkin's (The American President, The West Wing) writing and of Josh Eisenberg's acting is that while Mark Zuckerberg is very much present and quite communicative, the viewer can come out of the film with a range of interpretations on how Zuckerberg ticks and what his character is like. At the one end is “he is not really an a**hole, he is just trying very hard to behave like one”. At the other end of the scale is a person most fiendishly able to seek out the weaknesses in the personalities of friends and business associates and most ruthless in exploiting them for his own economic and reputational gain.
Today Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest multibillionaire, his share in face book is worth in the 10s of billions of US Dollars. All this value - is it real value, one may well ask after the experiences of the internet bubble and the credit crunch - was created between 2004 and now. The enemies he made have been sprinkled with so much “angel-dust” in the form of money, that on may well dearly wish to be one of them. But they did have to engage Zuckerberg in legal action in order to get it.
Zuckerberg says about the film that it is not a true account of what happened. His erstwhile friend and business partner Eduardo Saverin helped in the making of the film and so it is not surprising that his character comes out as rather morally superior. Saverin did get more than a billion USD worth of shares and his name was restored to the founders list on the Facebook website. So his parents can indeed be proud and the extent to which I can feel sorry for him is limited.
As to Mark Zuckerberg's mom, she does not figure in the film, but one can just imagine her sitting in a house in the New Jersey suburbs and wondering as every good Jewish mother would: but is Mark happy? Funnily enough, he probably is.