I love repetition. I can’t explain the neuroscience of why my brain responds so enthusiastically to the introduction then reiteration of things, be they tessellations in nature, rematches in sports, or the chorus of a song. Even on a subconscious level, when a taste or a smell hurtles me back to a practice field or a classroom or a kitchen, places I hadn’t realized I was nostalgic for until that moment, I’m always staggered. As I’ve gotten older, I have begun to appreciate what I’ll call a “delayed repeat”, where something (a term, musical cue, scene or setup) is introduced early in a work, with either portions of the whole or its entirety being addressed throughout the work, usually in a way that reinforces the original meaning, turns it on its head, or some variation of the two. In David Fincher’s The Social Network, the opening scene wherein Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg has a spirited back and forth with his increasingly weary, not-for-long girlfriend, (Rooney Mara’s Erica Albright) throws a considerable number of memorable terms and phrases at the viewer, almost all of which bear fruit throughout the rest of the movie. (I’ll admit, a few additional phrases take place after their conversation, though I’m lumping them in as they are more or less caught up in the intoxicating first twenty minutes).
Presented below are some key phrases doled out in the bar conversation. The first bullet point indicates the original context, while the second one explains its use later in the movie.
1) “You would do that for me?”
- Erica, when Mark comments that he would bring her to the Final Clubs gatherings
- Mark, to the Winklevii / Divya when the latter tells him Harvard Connection could help rehabilitate his image on campus
2) “I have no intention of being your friend”
- Erica, to Mark at the end of their conversation
- The movie ends with Mark “friending” Erica and impatiently refreshing to see if she’ll accept, which, given everything we’ve learned…I think not.
3) “…she’s getting all kinds of help from our “friends” at Victoria’s Secret”
- Mark, drunkenly blogging about Erica following their break-up
- Sean tells Mark the story of the founder of Victoria’s Secret at the nightclub. Mark seemingly takes the advice to heart and will work to make sure he doesn’t impede the growth of his own empire
4) “…well I can’t do that”
- Mark’s response to Erica’s statement that she likes guys who row crew
- Mark tells the Winklevii that he ‘has a minute’ to talk them after they reveal they spend time at the gym since they row crew
5) “Sometimes from a girl’s perspective not singing in an a capella group is a good thing”
- Erica, to Mark, when he is listing things which could distinguish himself from his peers
- Divya first learns that “the Facebook” went live during an a capella performance
6) “…it’s because you’re an asshole”
- Erica, the final comment to Mark on their date
- The counsel-woman at the movie’s conclusion tells Mark: ‘you’re not an asshole, you’re just trying so hard to be”
Sometimes intentionally recurring dialogue is a turn-off for me as a moviegoer. When done poorly, it screams of self-satisfied praise on the part of the screenwriter, that what they came up with is not only strong enough to make the final draft, but bears repeating. In the case of this movie, I wasn’t put off by any of this. One reason is that I probably, almost certainly, didn’t make all of these connections during my first watch. The insanely verbose protagonists of most Aaron Sorkin works draw you in with their eloquence and passion, though a great number of important points can actually be overlooked, missing the trees for the loquacious forest. Another reason I concede the serious talent on display in this few minutes of writing is that it manages to set up so many important themes of the movie (Mark’s self-confidence issues, his seemingly unnatural drive for acceptance and excellence, his reluctance to listen to, much less absorb, the very reasonable objections of those he’s closest to, etc.).
That’s it for concrete instances of set-up and payoff, though I have more to ramble about if you wish to continue. There’s a bit of a recurring theme in the movie where Erica incorrectly comments on what mark does. In the opening, she vaguely calls him a “computer person”. At the restaurant midway through she sarcastically wishes him luck on his “video game”. The theme being exposed is how Mark is being constantly misunderstood throughout the movie:
1) Divya / Winklevii think he’ll want to work on the site to rehabilitate his image
2) Eduardo thinks he’s the head of the financial aspect and Mark is content letting him handle the company’s image,
3) Sean thinks Mark is just a smart programmer who is pissed at a girl, while Mark is almost supernaturally motivated beyond Erica at that point.
Also more of an implicit idea, but the writing of the formula on Mark’s window reveals expectation about a match-up of two sides. It could be a comment on the movie’s main conflict, Mark vs. the Winklevii; new money / geeky vs. old money / classical hero archetype. If at the outset you had to guess, you’d say the Aryan Olympians from a millionaire family would be expected to win, but not in this instance. Mark sums it up pretty well with the line “The Winklevii aren’t suing me for intellectual fraud. They’re suing me because, for the first time in their lives, things didn’t work out the way they were supposed to for them.”
This one is more of a stretch, but in the advertisements when TSN came out in theaters, it was being hailed as a Citizen Kane for this generation, I’m guessing terms of the quality of the feature, and the similarities of story re: a driven man creating an empire while simultaneously alienating himself from relationships. One of Citizen Kane’s most noted scenes, aside from the “Rosebud” ending and the “dissolution of a marriage” montage set at the dinner table is probably Kane as a child playing in the background through a window as his mother and the men discuss how his life will play out. That sequence is set up with the camera staring through a window, and Charles building a snowman and enjoying his time out in the snow. There are two key bits of dialogue near the end of that scene which have very pertinent parallels to TSN:
1) “You’ll be the richest man in America someday, probably”, and
2) “You’ll never be lonely.”
If I can try and draw a parallel, it’s interesting that in Social Network, Eduardo wrote the chess-ranking algorithm in a grease pen on the window at Kirkland. Additionally, at two later points in the movie the significance of the formula is mentioned. First, when Mark explains to the head of tech security that if they had known what they were looking for initially, they would have found on his window at Kirkland. Secondly, while Mark and Eduardo are sharing a beer with Mark telling him he has to come back for the 1,000,000th member party, Eduardo mentions “Do you remember the algorithm on the window at Kirkland?”. At this comment a friend and fellow member of their mutual, successful enterprise would have joyously agreed and reminisced, though Mark almost doesn’t react. He’s come too far beyond that, but it’s also kind of his Rosebud moment as he recalls back to when Facebook was personal to him because of Erica and him, and his friends were creating because of the thrill of creation and the fulfillment of revenge. Either way, both movies deal in the corruption of individuals’ decency and social alienation, and I think it would be pretty coincidental that a key part of TSN‘s plot, a motif it returns to a number of times, was arbitrarily written on a window. Of course, it could just be that that’s what geniuses at Ivy League schools do:
Finally, and probably the biggest stretch is the tagline about ‘500 million friends’. There is a parallel with Sean’s story about Victoria’s Secret, when he explains after the founder sold it for a few million, a couple years down the road it was worth $500 million. Additionally, the movie’s story is primarily about the dissolution of a 2 person friendship. “You know what’s cool? $1 Billion dollars.” If Eduardo and Mark were really co-founders, then a $1B company split 50/50 = $500 million. Could certainly be coincidental, but in a movie with a director that meticulous and a writer so keenly aware of his words, I will give them the credit.