Why This Scene From the Social Network Is the Best
Aaron Sorkin films have become overly pretentious, and unfortunately that’s an understatement. Sorkin, who has penned such classics as A Few Good Men and Moneyball, has a prolific history and a seemingly unequaled reputation. I’ve never seen such excitement from internet commentators for any other screenplay writer as when Aaron Sorkin gets on board to write for a project.
When it was reported that Sorkin was going to write Jobs, a movie that follows the story of the father of personal computing, it seemed that everyone lost their minds. After all, this was the Screenplay God who brought us The Social Network, one of the most heralded and highly regarded films of the 21st century.
The problem with Aaron Sorkin films is that they always say more about him, the writer, than they do about the titular characters. The dialogue in a Sorkin-written screenplay, like The Social Network, is snappy, yes, but jarringly unrealistic. It’s rapid-fire dialogue at its best. Every character, no matter how unimportant, always knows what to say and says what’s on their mind at lightning quick speed without any forethought or hesitation.
It’s always smart and quickly forgettable.
Unlike the rest of us mortals that usually agonize over things that we should have said in an previous altercation, Sorkin-written characters are always pre-equipped with a slew of perfect responses.
I was having dinner with one of my brothers a few weeks ago and we somehow got on the subject of The Social Network and the conversation turned to the grievances we had against the film. We talked about Aaron Sorkin’s writing style and its associated pros and cons. Eventually the scene that revolved around the Winklevoss twins and Harvard President Larry Summers was brought up.
The scene follows the Winklevoss twins, portrayed by Armie Hammer in both roles through camera trickery, presenting their case before Harvard President Larry Summers who is played to perfection by Douglas Urbanski. Thinking that they have a surefire way to get the president to take action against Zuckerberg via codes of conduct in the Harvard Student Handbook, the two are surprised to find that Summers isn’t too keen on taking any action at all in support of the self-assured twins.
The entire scene is thoroughly enjoyable and always stood out to me as a great section of an otherwise forgettable film.
After talking about the scene with my brother for a bit I expressed that out of any scene in movie, this was my absolute favorite.
My brother then asked me if I knew why this was my favorite scene. I responded that I hadn’t really thought about why it was the best, and then he answered that it was probably because it was the only scene in the entire movie where the characters didn’t know what to say and were at a loss for words.
After a moments reflection, I realized that he was right. During the course of The Social Network, the characters experience a myriad of emotions, but they’re still on top of the ball when it comes to dialogue.
They’re never at a loss for words.
They always have a response to any given situation.
Sorkin’s characters get angry and violent at times, but it’s not often in a Sorkin screenplay that characters become flabbergasted. And that is what makes this scene with the Winklevoss twins so special. The snappy and witty dialogue is still there, mind you, but there’s also a level of fluster as well.
There are quick moments when the twins just sit there agape at the unexpected resistance from the Harvard president.
It’s a beautiful level of frustration with a dose of witty repartee.
There’s a difference between getting angry and getting flustered, and that is what this scene demonstrates so well. Anger is an extremely base emotion that is easy to sink into, whereas frustration is a more nuanced and everyday emotion that we as humans experience on an almost constant basis. That is why it is much easier to connect with this scene than other heavily emotional scenes. We can relate to it because we’ve all been there, done that. It just works because we can all feel it. Compare it to the scene featuring Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker in the restaurant.
Notice the difference?
Unlike the Sean Parker scene which is smooth as butter, the Winklevoss scene shows true character, because it’s not just about witty dialogue, it’s about two characters trying to overcome an obstacle, and failing in their attempt. It shows the twins’ different personality types and how they try to work the situation in their favor.
There aren’t too many other scenes in The Social Network that shows true character development. The rest of the movie just breezes along, sometimes dipping into a flurry of emotions, but only for the characters, never for us, the audience.
That is the failing point of Sorkin’s writing style. It’s hard to sympathize with characters when we don’t see them struggle. Did we actually see Zuckerberg struggle in The Social Network? Sure, Eduardo got angry and yelled at him at one point, but that wasn’t a struggle. He had already succeeded by that point. There was no effort. But just as soon as the Winklevoss twins realize that their idea has been potentially stolen, that is when we see a real struggle, and the film is all the better for it.
I don’t expect for Aaron Sorkin to ever change his writing style, it is what it is and it has its place, but the real takeaway is that underneath the smooth film of a Sorkin screenplay lurks some true gems of genuine character growth.