Recent popular film The Social Network, revolving around the creation story of social networking website Facebook, has gained a lot of notoriety and won numerous awards, including a nod for Best Picture at the Oscars. At the Oscars, it won Best Achievement in Film Editing and Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures. It also won two awards at the Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture, Drama and Best Original Score (IMDb). As it has won awards for the film overall, and particularly its original score and exceptional editing, it lends itself to an aesthetic criticism focusing on the artistic value of the film. The aesthetic elements used draw the audience into the drama as the events unfold, revealing the creating and spreading of the social network site that encompassed the globe. The editing, music, and colors work together to pull the audience into the creator and protagonist Mark Zuckerberg’s world, one in which he ironically had few friends. These particular elements emphasize the depicted distance between him and people surrounding him.
Colors on the screen can cue audiences to unconsciously ascribe attributes to concepts and characters. Red typically represents strong characteristics such as power, danger, and caution. Grey is a dull color that does not stand out. Trustworthiness, friendliness, and genuine openness are associated with blue (Silverblatt, et al).
Music draws audiences further into the story by cuing their emotions and reinforcing images and actions on the screen. The rhythm can match the pace of the action on the screen, quickening when action increases and slowing when it becomes more stable. Whether the chords sound dissonant or harmonious can indicate the relationship between characters, hinting at the level of tension or connectedness (Silverblatt, et al). Music keys can play a similar role. Minor chords typically sound sad and can correspond to a mellow situation or character. Major chords match happy tones. The musical instruments used can also generate emotions, especially if used in specific ways. Piano typically has a soft, tranquil sound to it. Drums can intensify the sound as it reflects intensified feelings of characters. More electronic sounding tones are often associated with dance club style music.
Editing plays a crucial role in piecing the story together. The rhythm of the shots in each scene corresponds to the progression speed of the overall story. Shorter shot durations emphasize the tension building up, and longer durations let the audience take in more information as the events unfold and the characters reveal more about themselves. Scenes with higher emotional content, such as an argument, will have quicker shots back and forth between the characters. The general sequence of scenes relates the events to each other. A lot of times, the content in each scene fuels the next event, allowing them to build upon each other. Parallel editing lets two sequences unfold simultaneously on the screen, allowing contrasts to be seen. Spatial rhythm and temporal and spatial continuity provide cues to the passage of time and relationships between people (Silverblatt, et al).
The Social Network follows Mark Zuckerberg’s development of Facebook as told through the multiple lawsuits he faced following its success. The film depicts him as a distanced, unconnected yet brilliant Harvard student. A Rolling Stone magazine review of the movie points out how “the film draws much of its dark humor from a central irony: The awkward guy who changed our definition of ‘friend’ never seemed to grasp the word’s original meaning” (Hiatt). As the evolution of Facebook progresses, audiences see the tension that ensues from Zuckerberg’s conflict with others involved with the business and the lawsuits. Throughout the film, editing, sound and music, and color indicate Zuckerberg’s distance from the characters around him and the audience.
The award winning musical score in the background of the movie creates a dramatic tone underneath the visual drama. It sounds harsher and stronger than the typical soft, mellow instrumentals typically heard in movies, which coincides with the tension between characters and the in-your-face attitude found in some of them. Most of it keeps a fast-paced, upbeat rhythm as well, which matches the popular, elite group Zuckerberg aspires to join and corresponds with the rising intensity in the conflict and the ensuing tension between those characters (Reznor & Ross).
Several of the songs have elements similar to those found in a dance club. They have upbeat tempos, a bumping baseline in the background, and electronic sounding instruments (Reznor & Ross). That first sounds like the party scene to which Zuckerberg desires to belong. It corresponds to the added action in his life as Facebook’s success progresses. The second song, “In Motion,” sounds like it would be playing at one of the Final Clubs, an invite only fraternity-like group, he wants to join. It starts with a fast-tempoed bass beat with a techno sounding melody, accompanied with a piano in the background (Reznor & Ross). This plays after the opening scene when Zuckerberg is in his dorm working on his project leading into Facebook and when the edits go back and forth between that and people at a Final Club party (Fincher).
“Hand Covers Bruise,” the first song on the soundtrack, sets the movie’s tense tone and foreshadows the upcoming events. The piece begins with dissonant strings. Piano notes join the instrumentation with hesitant, soft sounds (Reznor & Ross). These notes symbolize Zuckerberg, his desire to connect with those around him. Throughout the song, the piano melody comes and goes, another way to represent Zuckerberg stepping into social circles as he finds success in Facebook yet still stepping back as he does not truly maintain any friendships. More dissonant sounding musical instrumentation gets added to the song around the middle of the piece. Dissonant chords, more than one note on top of the single note dissonant sound and the harmonious piano, represent the tension that builds between the characters. The deep, echoing boom sound that enters after that gives the song an ominous edge; it foreshadows the impending conflict (Reznor & Ross).
The color, particularly on Zuckerberg’s clothing corresponds with the depicted distance. His shirts consistently stays dull, typically grey; most often, he wears a grey hoodie and t-shirt (Fincher). This reflects his status as an unnoticed person since grey does not stand out.
In contrast, Zuckerberg makes Facebook’s banner blue, a welcoming color. Users will encounter the blue at the top of the page, inviting them into the social network (Fincher). While Zuckerberg never may find himself on the inside of a social circle, he creates this social network that draws friends together online. Ironically the man who creates this community creates a greater distance between himself and his friends as he gains more Facebook “friends.”
Blue makes appearances on characters in instances where they seek friendship or desire another person to trust them. The Winklevoss brothers in particular periodically wear blue shirts or ties. When they first approach Zuckerberg about their Harvard Connection idea, they have blue shirts on, an unconscious signal of friendliness (Fincher). The color portrays their desire for Zuckerberg to trust them so that he will help make their idea a reality.
While Zuckerberg typically wears grey clothing, he dons a red shirt in a scene or two. Red appears on him when he begins his creative process (Fincher). This represents the power he possesses as Facebook creator. He shows more confidence as he builds the business, attempting to step into an elite circle. However, his clothing goes back to grey shortly after Facebook launches, again emphasizing his eternal outsider social status.
The editing used throughout the movie also emphasizes Zuckerberg’s outsider status. From the opening scene when he creates his FaceMatch, the editing shows him outside the popular world he desires to join. The parallel editing there goes back and forth between him on his computer in his dorm room and the parties at the elite clubs, a group to which he does not belong (Fincher).
The events follow a sequence in present and past time as it goes between the two court cases in the present and the backstory of the actual creation and evolution of Facebook. The scenes in present day always take place in the court setting, the characters sitting at the table signifying this. The way the characters sit at the table again shows Zuckerberg’s distance from those around him. Cuts of him show a disinterested member of the discussion. Oftentimes, he leans back in his chair. Especially in the case between him and his best friend Eduardo Saverin, the table physically symbolizes the distance now between them; in this setting they literally have a table between them as they sit on opposing sides (Fincher).
Scenes that occur before the court cases, show Zuckerberg and Saverin much closer together, indicating their level of friendship. As they venture into their business of Facebook, they are seen on the same side of the table, or desk in many instances. They are seen side-by-side in crucial parts of the creative process of the website, and they sit beside each other at important meetings such as the one with Napster creator Sean Parker (Fincher). This contrasts with the present day at the court table, signifying the growing distance in the relationship as the conflict and tension plays out on the screen.
Discussion and Conclusion
Critically acclaimed movie The Social Network follows the evolution of networking site Facebook and the life of its creator Mark Zuckerberg; the aesthetic elements used throughout the film emphasize his distance from those around him. His grey clothing, because it does not stand out, makes it easy for him to drift to the outside of social events. The music on the soundtrack represents the tension generated by the conflict revolving around the business, making it harder for Zuckerberg to develop and maintain friendships. The editing especially emphasizes the distance between him and those around him as it cuts between scenes and sequences events. Further analysis could examine the composition of the frames used in each scene. The composition of the screen shots contributes to the distance and surface level depth of the characters, especially of Zuckerberg. The protagonist almost never stands in a central position of the screen. Relatively few shots show him up close. Him staying mostly off to the side of the screen reflects his status as an outsider in society. The film as a whole depicts Zuckerberg distanced from others. Though he created Facebook, the site with the welcoming blue banner that connects people to each other, it looks as though he does not have many friends.
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