Aaron Sorkin on the Nuances of Historical Accuracy

Be sure to check out Mark Harris’s profile of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin in the September 17 issue of New York Magazine. Harris gives readers a fascinating glimpse into Sorkin’s mindset and philosophical approach to squaring the facts behind the birth of Facebook and the story he wanted to tell about its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, in the new movie, The Social Network.

Every historical novelist and screenwriter who adapts true stories to film will empathize with the issues that Sorkin had to wrestle.

For a critique of Sorkin’s approach, see Luke O’Brien’s post on Slate.com titled Facebook Fakery: The alternate reality of Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network.

And so, the time-honored fight rages on between 1) those in the balcony who cannot understand why reality–whatever that is–cannot be neatly fit into the Procrustean bed of mythic structure for two hours in a film or 400 pages of a novel, and 2) writers in the trenches who struggle daily with the irreconcilable demands of art and “facts”.

I have no doubt that Homer was pestered by some gadfly in the agora who kept pointing out that neither Helen nor her beauty really launched a thousand ships, and that Shakespeare suffered cads in the cheap seats at the Globe who kept insisting that Sir Henry Percy was never called Hotspur, nor was he rash or impetuous.

Perhaps Sorkin can take some small solace from the English historian John Julian Norwich, who summed it up best in his study of Shakespeare’s factual inaccuracies: “Whatever liberties Shakespeare might take with strict historical truth, in the essentials he was almost invariably right.”