“I have to tell you,” he says, “I don’t feel like I had any trouble getting information before. Every morning two newspapers were literally thrown at my house. All I had to do was open the door and get them. Anyway,” he says, sighing and finally, gracefully touching down, “I’m not quite getting the Internet.”
It’s a lovely ride, reminiscent of one of those shots in The West Wing in which Josh and Toby would fulminate with escalating irritation and articulation as they ambled down a White House hallway, although in this case, they would have walked halfway to Georgetown before they’d blown themselves out. It almost doesn’t matter that it ultimately circles back to the exact spot from which we’d launched—that it is what Sorkin would call “all middle.”
“I’m really weak when it comes to plot,” he says bluntly—a startling self-assessment from the creator of three television series. “With nothing to stop me, I’ll write pages and pages of snappy dialogue that don’t add up to anything. So I need big things to help my characters—a really strong intention and a really strong obstacle. Once I have those, I feel I can write.” That self-knowledge has turned Sorkin into one of Hollywood’s most sought-after—“overemployed,” he jokes—screenwriters. Having rebounded from the quick death of Studio 60 into an exceptionally robust second (or is it third?) act, he now has a ridiculously full dance card: a new TV pilot (he won’t yet disclose the subject), the book of a Broadway musical (ditto), a script about the Supreme Court case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, and an adaptation of Andrew Young’s book The Politician, about John Edwards, which he plans to direct. It’s a surprising roster for a writer who insists that he is primarily interested in politics because “it’s just a great place to find stories” and who says that he’d “really like to get out of the nonfiction business for a while.” That seems unlikely, since Sorkin himself knows just how good a source real life is for what he needs as a screenwriter. With The Social Network, he has found the protagonist of his dreams—a man who is so single-mindedly the embodiment of intention that he comes close to reducing anyone who doesn’t think like him into an obstacle. And because he is such a convincing writer, many of us may walk away from the movie not simply thinking that he has created an extraordinary character but that we are, in fact, seeing the real Mark Zuckerberg.
Is that fair?
Sorkin pauses before answering, which is not a rhetorical device he often employs. “When you’re writing nonfiction,” he says, “that’s always a question that you’re wrestling with, especially when you’re writing about people who are still alive. On one hand, you don’t want to screw around with people’s lives, you never want to say anything that isn’t true, and you don’t want to mess with history. On the other hand, this isn’t a documentary. Art isn’t about what happened, and the properties of people and the properties of ‘characters’ are two completely different things. There’s a set of facts I’m dealing with, and I try to imagine motivations and fill in blanks that none of us can see. But the question of truth … the very first words out of Mark’s mouth in the present-day part of the movie are, ‘That’s not what happened.’ And that’s my signal to the audience that there are going to be any number of unreliable narrators. This isn’t the movie that’s going to tell you ‘Mark Zuckerberg stole Facebook,’ or that he didn’t. But,” he says, “we would sure love for those arguments to happen in the parking lot.”