What Makes the Social Network Soundtrack Great?

Historically, scores and soundtracks have been one of the most key elements in filmmaking. Even during silent films, there was often an accompanist in the theater, making music prevalent before spoken dialogue was. Though they may not be frequently recognized by the average audience viewer, they carry large responsibilities; whether that be effecting listeners’ emotions, foreshadowing future events, or displaying characters’ thoughts and feelings, that would have otherwise been hidden. Because of the large impact they can have, I find that brilliant scores are often behind brilliant movies; and it’s difficult to think of a bad film backed by great music (I suppose maybe the Star Wars prequels might count).

When looking to potentially my favorite film, the Social Network (2010), this is no exception. I hold a strong appreciation for each individual aspect of the movie, and this is especially true of the score. Despite me enjoying several film scores, the masterpiece from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is the only soundtrack or score downloaded onto my phone, and frequently listened to. But this love sprouted during my first viewing of the film; before analyzing it, researching it, or even knowing the composers. I was just naturally drawn to this specific score. So, for my own personal knowledge, and for anyone reading this right now, I thought I would analyze it to find out exactly why I found it so great.

Perhaps one of the reasons this score stuck out to me, was due to its presentation in the film. If you think of some great Star Wars compositions; songs like Duel of the Fates are often placed behind an epic action sequence. And while it does create a feeling of grandiosity, people might often be distracted by what they’re seeing, rather than focusing on the score itself. In the case of the Social Network, this is rarely an issue. The first song, “Hand Covers Bruise,” accompanies the opening credits, and several shots of Jesse Eisenberg’s character; Mark Zuckerberg; walking back from the bar to his dorm. It doesn’t have to compete with anything here; and instead, it feels almost like the main focus. The shots are artistic, and beautiful in many ways, but because there isn’t a whole lot going on, you focus on something else; what you’re hearing. This seems to be true with many of the tracks on this soundtrack. Most of them are put behind otherwise-silent, emotional moments; without much, if any, dialogue. Even the second track, “In Motion;” despite being put behind a party scene, and narrated over; is highlighted, due to its deafening volume. I think the score is more recognizable in this film than many others, because of the simple fact that, well, it often accompanies very little; and when it does rarely get thrown behind something a little louder, it is still given its main stage.

But since it’s easy to key in on, it’s given much more pressure than other scores. If it were to suck, that’s all you would notice. It wouldn’t be able to hide behind some action sequence, or long monologue. It’s at the forefront of the scene, and therefore has to be quality. Not only that, but it carries a bigger responsibility than certain scores as well. While I talked earlier about how all scores are key in setting moods and telling stories, the less you’re given visually, often-times the more you need to make up for it in other ways. When Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are told to accompany these; not dull, but sometimes uneventful; shots they have to provide meaning. I find that it’s what I’m hearing that often gives me insight into what I think Mark is feeling, throughout the entire film. Whenever it seems Mark is anxious or angry, it’s illustrated incredibly well through the music. And even if common sense would give me this information in some of these scenes, in others, I think it’s incredibly necessary. So while I suppose it’s given the spotlight due to the nature of the film, it thrives in it, and provides quite a lot that other scores do not provide.

Now, to actual music talk [Warning there will probably be many spoilers in this section]. This score, to me, does the best job at clearly demonstrating emotions through sounds, in almost the simplest ways possible. For an example, I’ll go through the first track, “Hand Covers Bruise,” as I feel like it’s almost a microcosm for what the rest of the soundtrack provides. It immediately opens up with some of the most unnerving strings I have ever heard. The subtle, but ever-present chords cut in and out to create almost a sound of static in the background. After a long while of that, to assure you’re not happy or comfortable, there’s two sets of slow, descending piano notes just to hit your heart strings. And of course, as you go throughout the rest of the track, the background gets louder, adding more high-pitched layers, along with an occasional deep, aggressive humming. Not incredibly complex for a composition in a film score; certainly nothing John Williams-esque. But nevertheless, effective.

Put this into context, and it makes almost perfect sense what’s happening here. Following the immediate shock of his girlfriend breaking up with him, he doesn’t know what to think. That being said, there’s obviously some inherent background sadness and anxiety that’s associated with the event. This is exactly what the strings provide; the silent, yet present anxiety of everything. Afterwards, once he begins to process everything, he feels a deep sadness towards everything; which is shown by the piano notes. Finally, as he begins to think, he starts getting angry, and incredibly motivated to prove something; which of course later, would turn into the beginnings of Facebook. This is illustrated with the slow buildup of the background, combined with the angry, but almost determined-sounding hums. Each and every element of his complex internal struggle is somehow created by a four minute song, that is pretty simple when you break it down.

Fast forward to almost any point in the movie backed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and you’ll probably find similar illustrations via their score. The next track, “In Motion,” would probably be written off by many as a simplified, electronic beat that you could find at any party, but there’s even small details that helps make the audience aware of what Mark is feeling. Behind the forceful beats and bass of the party, are many, little sequences of ascending notes. These represent Mark’s motivation to work on his Facebook project. Meanwhile, almost out of place piano is another representation of his melancholy self. And the sudden silence in the middle of everything, to me, shows he still took a little time to reflect on everything that happened, as well as what he’s doing. Once again, at almost any point, you can do this. I just don’t really have the time, or the patience, to dissect all nineteen tracks at the moment. Maybe I can make that a long and ongoing project if anyone would ever be curious.

Wholistically, that’s the main gist of the soundtrack’s greatness, but there’s also a laundry list of smaller things I think make it great as well. Firstly, the immense juxtaposition between the first and the second track; as well as a few others. It plays with your emotions and does a really good job at switching things up. Speaking of playing with emotions; I think some songs like “Hand Covers Bruise,” “3:14 Every Night,” and “The Gentle Hum of Anxiety,” have some of the saddest, most harrowing pieces to them. Another big thing; the instrumentation. While there are often pianos and guitars, a large portion of the soundtrack sounds very electronic, and I think is incredibly fitting with the technological themes associated with the movie. Finally, whatever they use in “3:14 Every Night” to simulate raindrops is genius, and incredible. Many other things like that exist in the soundtrack, and are great.

Each score plays a pivotal role in the film they’re in, but I think there’s few that are more important than the Social Network‘s. It’s clear from the start that they put a lot of effort into making it shine, and it does a lot more than pull its own weight. It’s less of a driving force, and more of a story-teller which is in my opinion, much harder to accomplish. Looking into each track, it seems each detail was carefully crafted to not just imply a mood, but individual emotions as well. But not at any point does it seem too complex, or overwhelming. And while most people aren’t going to go through the effort of individually dissecting everything, I think it still comes across when you’re viewing the film. Put that in combination with some great direction, and you have yourself a deadly duo. Some of you may think I went a little overboard on the analysis, and overthought it, but the English teacher in me says everything was put there for a reason. And if it’s true, it’s damn impressive. If you need any more proof of its greatness, several times throughout the film, I felt a lot of empathy for Mark Zuckerberg; and if anyone knows anything, it’s that Mark Zuckerberg; both in and out of the film; is definitely not human.

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