July 14, 2020

The Social Network’s Natalie Portman Reference Explained


David Fincher’s The Social Network owes a lot to Aaron Sorkin’s razor-sharp script — and Natalie Portman’s insight, which is why she gets a reference in the movie. The Social Network centers on Mark Zuckerberg’s creation of Facebook during his time at Harvard. The film is littered with easter eggs, but one that audiences might have missed is Sorkin’s nod to the A-list actress, and fellow Harvard alumn, Natalie Portman.

The Social Network has remained firmly in film conversation over the last decade or so. This is thanks to Fincher’s heightened direction, Sorkin’s subliminal script, and the incredible performances anchoring the whole production. One thing the film may not be, however, is too accurate; whilst the authenticity of the narrative has been a little up in the air since its release in 2010 (Mark Zuckerberg certainly felt it wasn’t an accurate biopic), the film does get some things right. The Social Network may occasionally take a more stylized approach to its material, but Fincher and Sorkin ensure the story still remains a grounded endeavor, thanks to its attention to its real-world details — particularly, its treatment of Harvard culture.

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There is a line in The Social Network in which a character talks about how Harvard’s students include “Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, future Olympians, and a movie star.” Whilst the bit of dialogue doesn’t divulge any further information on who these aforementioned people are, it has since been revealed that the movie star being referred to was Natalie Portman. Portman, who plays Jane Foster in the MCU, was studying an undergraduate degree in psychology at Harvard in 2003 when the film takes place; she was also acting in the Star Wars prequel trilogy at the time, hence her status as a “movie star.”

Natalie Portman as Padme Amidala in Star Wars and Jane Foster in Thor

The Natalie Portman reference is more than just a neat piece of trivia — Aaron Sorkin referenced Natalie Portman in his script for The Social Network because she had helped him during the writing process. The film continually references the exclusivity of Harvard’s clubs; this exclusivity meant that Sorkin —who had not attended Harvard — was limited in the information he could acquire for his research. Portman called the screenwriter when she heard of the project and met Sorkin for dinner to discuss life at Harvard. She had dated a member of the Porcellian club, and, having been a student at the school herself, had lots of observations to offer. The pair apparently discussed all sorts of stories about the culture of Harvard students that went on to inform a great deal of the screenplay (via Entertainment Weekly). The purpose of the line, then, was not only to ground the film with accuracy through subtle details, but it was also acknowledging Natalie Portman’s involvement in the process — Sorkin tipping his hat to her for her assistance through the film’s dialogue.

The accuracy of The Social Network will be hotly contested for years to come; it may not get all the details spot-on regarding how things went down for Mark Zuckerberg, but the film certainly offers an honest look into college life and culture. The lifestyle of Harvard, in particular, seems to be quite an elite and unique one. The film benefitted from Natalie Portman’s insight, and it’s that subtlety and attention to detail that keeps films like this one talked about. It’s no wonder Aaron Sorkin decided to reference her; without her input, the Harvard portion of the screenplay would lose the authenticity that maintains the film’s relevance today.

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