hunter's line readings

This One Line From The Social Network Plays on a Loop in My Head

armie hammer the social network
Armie Hammer, and a slightly hotter Armie Hammer, in The Social Network. Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Sony Pictures Releasing

It’s impossible to pick just one perfect line from The Social Network. This is a movie that seethes, simmers, and boils with derision. The bitterness of one retort infects whatever comes after it until its cup runneth over with harshly lit scowls. Aaron Sorkin exclusively writes lines for clever characters on their clearest, cleverest days, so The Social Network’s sniping undergrads all speak in smugly boyish iambic pentameter. Writing characters that think they’re the smartest people in the room — in any room, ever — is one thing. But what this movie shows is how much these arrogant boys need to perform their smartness — for one another, for their girlfriends, for lawyers, for themselves.

However, this column isn’t about perfect lines. It’s about sticky ones. “You shouldn’t be upset that I fucked her — you should be upset that I had a laugh with her!” “Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off … but it’s better if you do.” “You best start believin’ in ghost stories, Miss Turner. You’re in one!” The only thing these lines have in common is that (a) they bounce around my brain and collide into its corners like an old Windows screen saver, and (b) that I happened to be on deadline when I thought of them. I’ve seen The Social Network so many times — too many times! — and yet there is one line, for all the ones that I know by heart, that I truly will never get over. Could never get over. Armie Hammer, six-foot-five, 220 pounds, preternaturally handsome, looks at another Armie Hammer, also six-foot-five, 220 pounds, just as preternaturally handsome but slightly less hot, and says: “Let’s gut the friggin’ nerd!”

I am fascinated by the things tall, glamorous people do. And here, in this movie, tall glamorous people say things like “Let’s gut the friggin’ nerd,” and they say them seriously. It’s disgusting. It’s unreal! And yet I kind of love that, for how big this script makes its characters, how huge it draws its friendship conflicts, it places something just out of grasp for the beautiful, rich people: a single fuck.

Poor Armie! Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing

Instead of being a straight biopic or origin story, The Social Network is a creation myth about the squabbling over ownership of that myth. A billion-dollar company sprung out of a college dorm room, causing a half-dozen boys to fight for credit. The Winklevii, plus their classmate and business partner Divya Narendra, had a rudimentary idea for a platform exclusively for Harvard students, which they shared with an underclassman named Mark Zuckerberg. When Mark launched Facebook without them some months later, they felt stiffed. They send cease-and-desist letters, flail their arms, argue with Harvard administrators, all to no end. Tyler Winklevoss wants to use their considerable privilege to launch a campuswide smear campaign against the geek that stole their idea; Cameron Winklevoss isn’t necessarily gentler, but he wants to be more discreet. After 90 minutes of watching Mark wear slide-ons and make millions, Tyler presses his brother one last time. “We tried talking to him ourselves, we tried writing a letter, we tried the ad board, and we tried the president of the university. Now I’m asking you — for the last time!” he pleads. “Let’s take the considerable resources at our disposal and sue him in federal court!” Cameron thinks for a moment: “Screw it. Let’s gut the friggin’ nerd.”

In a movie full of melodic insults, the line is a hilariously wrong note. The movie screeches to a halt in that moment. It’s like hearing nails on a chalkboard or one of those YouTube indie covers of a rap song: I don’t want to hear it because it hurts my ears!

Would “freakin’” have been any better? Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing

It’s clear how the line falls short, how it’s so obviously a bad decision. Nothing about it squares with how these characters have spoken to one another so far. Even if it was supposed to reveal them as some shade of geek, it’s not this shade of geek. The Winklevii are rich, tall, and hot; part of their coolness is from the way they exist in a Harvard — in a world — that Mark Zuckerberg can’t access. They have girlfriends, they row crew, and they’re in a final club. Everything is typically on offer for them. But a PG-13 movie can only drop “fuck” so many times before it’s slapped with an R rating, and The Social Network gets by with two just on the hair of its chinny chin chin. So the “fucks” go to Andrew Garfield (who deserves it) and Justin Timberlake (who decidedly does not deserve it at all). Poor Armie Hammer — and poor slightly hotter Armie Hammer — can afford everything in the world but a four-letter word from Aaron Sorkin. Even “gut” as the verb of choice rings sort of false, oddly tame. If we subbed in “Let’s eat the friggin’ nerd for breakfast,” the emotional payoff would be exactly the same.

I rewatched The Social Network the other night, the first time in a couple years. I still see why its glossy morosity (glossy because the guys were achievably attractive; morose because they were all desperate and ambitious and lonely) was enough to make me think that no better movie could be made about The Way We Live Now: the way we fought, the way we could be seduced, the way we could be hurt. It was the first movie I logged on to the internet desperate to discuss. (There should be veterans benefits for teenage girls on Tumblr that shared the same GIF of Andrew Garfield shimmying in his little luau outfit from the user lawyerupasshole.) There are still so many brilliant things in this script, so many discoveries in this cast, a score that slaps harder than ever — and this one line that I will never ever get over. Good luck with guttin’ that nerd you speak of.

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One Line From The Social Network Plays on a Loop in My Head