Last night — Thanks to Columbia Pictures and the Carolina Union Activities Board — about 400 UNC folks, mostly undergraduates, got a preview screening of The Social Network. Afterwards, I moderated a Question and Answer session with the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, the lead actor Jesse Eisenberg and two part player Armie Hammer. The audience was enthusiastic and responsive to the movie and the panel.

Our second question was: “Is it okay if I come onto the stage and hug all of you?” Then she did. Okay not all of us on stage — all but me. Sorkin smiled as the hugger returned to her seat and said “Nothing like that happened at any other schools.” “We’re very friendly here and we love you,” I told him (off mike).

The movie tells the story of the founding of Facebook through the eyes (mostly) of ousted co-founder Eduardo Saverin. Mark Zuckerberg, the coder the idea man the one still holding a 51% stake in Facebook, is seen as a highly flawed and tragic character. Most tragic toward the very end.

I can’t say much more without spoilers, but the dialog, the pacing, the well-drawn characters are what you would expect from a writer like Sorkin and a cast like the one assembled and directed by David Fincher. I will say that Justin Timberlake does an outstanding acting job as Sean Parker.

Later I imagined a different and truer movie. Not one that was informed by Saverin who constantly made wrong business choices (I can say no more), but one that looked at the most interesting character in life and in the movie — Sean Parker. Many things could have sunk Facebook — in fact Parker mentions a few in this interview with Ashton Kutcher:

But Parker managed several things almost unheard of in tech startups: he secured $1/2 million angel investment while keeping Zuck at 51% ownership, he managed to keep adverts off then added only in relatively unobtrusive ways (putting privacy issues aside. timing here is everything), he took the site international, he gave Zuck confidence to drop out of Harvard and more.

This interview from Vanity Fair (October 2010) with Parker gives you a taste of the complex successful and iconoclastic character that could have been in the movie.

The movie was a great, smart and often funny drama and well worth seeing — beginning October 1 in most theatres.

See also: The New Yorker profile of Mark Zuckerberg (September 20, 2010). No tragedy here.