Composers: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
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When Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails bandmates first hit the alternative scene, their incorporation of Goth, Metal, Techno and sampled nightmares hit listeners like a mass of pulsating icicles at the back of their spines, a throbbing that dug into their nastiest, rhythm-driven thoughts with the dark grace of a sub-sonic snake. It was exactly that growling, hallucinatory vibe that made a remix of NIN’s “Closer” the perfect anti-tune to open David Fincher’s SEVEN with. It was the gateway beat to a serial killer’s horrifying addiction, truly experimental music that captured the thought-addled, lethally perfectionist mindscape of a maniac.
That isn’t to say that Reznor and NiN’s frequent collaborator Atticus Ross have now turned Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg into a sin-obsessed mass murderer for Fincher’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK- though the film’s computer geek antihero has undoubtedly caused millions of followers to kill billions of hours wasting away in front of the keypads. But while Reznor and Ross’ NETWORK isn’t nearly as dark as the metallic gristle of their individual, trailblazing works for LOST HIGHWAY, NATURAL BORN KILLERS and THE BOOK OF ELI, their first teaming together as movie composers has all of their previous obsessive-compulsive intensity. For THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a meeting of the musically innovative minds that’s pitch-perfect in embodying the relentless, cerebral-electro drive that’s changed the way we communicate with each other- or some might say have lost our ability to personally relate in favor of the faceless, heartless net.
If you’re looking for an antecedent to the sound of THE SOCIAL NETWORK, perhaps no films or scores loom larger than WALL STREET and HACKERS. Director Iain Softley and composer Simon Boswell captured the frenetic pulse of the youth-driven Internet boom, whose hip users saw and heard life in flashy pulses. Then there was Oliver Stone and his rhythmatist Stewart Copeland, who used equally overt, state of the then-art style to brilliantly map the frenetic nature of the economy and its Young Turk relentlessly on his way up the ladder. While THE SOCIAL NETWORK might not use graphs, and is definitely more highfalutin’ than seeing a squadron of rollerblading computer nerds, it conveys both the wonder of the net for its technical and capitalistic opportunities. Except here the action is machine-gun intelligentsia dialogue, as opposed to the flashy auteur stylism we’d usually expect from David Fincher.
Where so many of today’s electronic scores tend to use hyperbeats as a way to plaster scenes with desperate energy, there’s rhyme, reason and variation to Reznor and Ross’ work. For in much the same way that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and actor Jesse Eisenberg paint the Facebook founder in Asperger Syndrome shades of brilliance (as mixed with the particularly nasty brand of social ineptitude), the composers conjure their musical antihero from chilly, agitated rhythms- at first straight up in “Hand Covers Bruise.” Yet there’s also something subtly tragic in the piano melody that will instrumentally vary as the score’s strong thematic cement in such cues as “Painted Sun in Abstract” and “Penetration,” music whose melancholy almost sees tragedy in an “asshole” that can’t seem to behave like a human being, even if he wanted to.
But while Zuckerberg is Mr. Freeze to the outside world, there’s a dancing, rave jumble in his head for “In Motion” and “Intriguing Possibilities” where electric guitar overload mixes with the kind of retro, 8-bit video game bleeps and bloops that propelled Nigel Godrich’s equally imaginative score to the far more innocent, computer-addled youth of SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. The grinding rock guitar of “A Familiar Taste” is about as close to SEVEN grunge as the NETWORK gets, while sounds that seem like they came from underwater typewriter fills “3:14 Every Night,” even as simmering wolf-howl synths percolate through “Eventually We Find Our Way.” Though it might not be as much on the surface as the Dust Brothers’ hilarious psycho-rock score for Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB, there’s a similar, malicious humor to the wondrously bizarre sounds that Reznor and Ross are conjuring here, speed-freak music that’s as much SOCIAL NETWORK as it is social commentary for a rogues gallery of the young and ruthless. But where FIGHT CLUB’s insane grooves fit in a film with considerably more seditious action, the fact that SOCIAL NETWORK’s score is as cool as it is borderline intrusive in a dialogue-driven film comes across like Fincher’s snarkiest musical joke yet.
Among its many retro-revisionist highlights, the best WTF? moment in THE SOCIAL NETWORK just might belong to Reznor and Ross’ deconstruction of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” The escalating orchestral piece (originally written for Henrik Ibsen’s play “Peer Gynt”) has often been used for playfully dark effect in the likes of such scores as NEEDFUL THINGS (not to mention what seems to be every third comedy movie trailer). But here, the composers turn Grieg’s jig macabre into distorted electronic fuzz for a rowing competition- their bizarro rendition a seeming homage to the kind of classical inversions that Wendy Carlos helped signal the synth revolution with in her album “Switched on Bach”- let alone her hilarious manipulation of Beethoven’s glorious Ninth for her soundtrack to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.
Yet for all of the insane, percolating moves that Reznor and Ross make here in their mad science lab of sound, the emotional arch of SOCIAL NETWORK’s music ends up with a purposeful whimper instead of a bang. The rolling pianos of “The Gentle Hum of Anxiety” show how, in time-tested movie moral tradition, that easy riches will inevitably turn to shit (or at least make a nick in Zuckerberg’s seemingly ill-gotten fortune). By the time the child-like bells of “Soft Trees Break the Fall,” Reznor and Ross have devolved the computer savant into the little boy who just wanted to be loved. It’s at this point that THE SOCIAL NETWORK shows its allusions as a Gen-X CITIZEN KANE, except there’s no Rosebud as such. Only a brilliant man-child who couldn’t give a crap about any “lessons” he’s learned. It’s a nice, melodically organic, downbeat finale to all of Reznor and Ross’ preceding wizardry. That for all of their gear, and computations, what’s left is a stripped-down, and haunted musical soul- a character and score contemplating a future as technically marvelous as it is emotionally hollow, no matter how many people they’ve seemingly connected to. As technically dense as Reznor and Ross’ music is, it’s this feeling of emptiness that might be the biggest triumph of their score to THE SOCIAL NETWORK.
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Composers: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross