It’s a Good Thing Trent Reznor Hates Facebook
Oct 2010 11

It’s a Good Thing Trent Reznor Hates Facebook

Posted In Blog

by Brett Warner

“When the music changes, so does the dance.”

– African proverb

In a recent interview with Pitchfork, former Nine Inch Nailer Trent Reznor promoted his score to the Columbia Pictures financed, fifty million dollar film The Social Network with a typical amount of brutal honesty:

“Originally, when I heard the phrase ‘Facebook movie,’ I thought, ‘Is it just going to be a bunch of people on Facebook?’ Facebook sucks, so it just felt like: ‘Ugh.’ But then David [Fincher]– who’s somebody I’ve always respected as a director and also as a friend– gave me Aaron Sorkin’s script, and I wasn’t worried about the Facebook aspect anymore. But still, when David first approached me about doing the score last fall, I couldn’t do it because I was burnt out… But, a few months later, it was still nagging me. I felt like I’d let David down, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I just felt like a fuck-up. So I got back in touch with him and said, ‘I want to reiterate how sorry I am about not doing the score, and keep me in mind if anything comes up in the future.’ And he was like, “’I’m still waiting on you to say yes.’”

Anyone who’s seen the film understands that its soundtrack (by Reznor and frequent collaborator Atticus Ross) is responsible for much of the film’s ominous, subtextual undertones. In the same interview, director David Fincher admitted that he “wanted to do an odd John Hughes-style movie, but it needed to be a little meaner than what that would imply.” Reznor added, “I saw a rough cut of the title sequence and they had some jangly college rock temped in that immediately gave the film this John Hughes vibe. I thought, ‘Hmm, I hope he doesn’t want anything like that.’”

The very non-John Hughes final score (available online now and in physical formats October 15th) is a typically post-millennial Reznor effort, a sinister tide after tide of ambient textures, treated piano, and analogue, synthesized menace. A few of the cues are pieces adapted from the instrumental Nine Inch Nails collection Ghosts I-IV, and the soundtrack shares that album’s preference for texture over tectonics. Like Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s work on The Dark Knight, the music in The Social Network rarely draws attention to itself, but gives emotional directions to material that could have been molded and presented any number of ways. Substitute Reznor’s “Hands Covers Bruise” piece that plays over The Social Network’s opening title sequence with “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and suddenly we’re watching a very different movie. With a feel-good collection of rock tunes, the film could easily have played more like 21, another film based on a Ben Mezrich book about collegiate anti-heroes.

It’s a solid score that holds up outside of the film, but what gives Reznor’s contribution an added layer of interest is his initial reluctance to participate and a general distaste for the subject matter. Trent Reznor flat out hates Facebook, and one can’t help but wonder how those feelings influenced his music, which, in turn, gives subliminal cues to the viewer as to how they should feel about the founders of Facebook. Substitute Reznor’s music with a soaring orchestral score, and audiences are rooting for Mark and Eduardo to succeed… but with this music, we instinctively feel like something bad is going down. Go by Aaron Sorkin’s typically expert screenplay alone, and it’s unclear where our sympathies should lie. But throw Reznor into the mix, and suddenly we understand that Mark, Saverin, Sean Parker, and the entire cast are caught in an unstoppable chain of events beyond any of their control, a cyberspace Apocalypse Now in which it only gets more dangerous the further down the DSL we go.

Had Trent Reznor, David Fincher, and Aaron Sorkin been more compassionate in telling Mark Zuckerberg’s story — or, even worse, had Facebook itself had been involved in its production — then The Social Network would not be the film that it is. Critics and fans are quick to praise the “passion project” – instances in which a filmmaker, actor, musician, or writer tackles something very close to their hearts and presents it with an energetic fervor that’s easy to recognize and praise. Oliver Stone seems to only make passion projects. But Fincher, Reznor, and (I suspect) Sorkin loathe Facebook, and though The Social Network steers clear of any judgments about the site’s social or moral implications, the product must ultimately be viewed through that biased prism of artistic intent.

Director J.J. Abrams made it very clear in promoting his Star Trek reboot that he was not a fan of the original series or the films, that he took on the project as a personal challenge to make the franchise relatable to a wider audience. So when David Fincher says that “The simple-minded always look for something – if it’s not pornography, it’s DVDs or the Internet or video games – but I don’t think there’s anything inherently evil about Facebook… Human beings are amazing at finding ways to waste their own time”, you have to wonder what his intentions were in making The Social Network.

When you venture that a notable percentage of pop culture is created by people who’d rather be doing other things, it becomes clear that reservation, reluctance, or all-out contempt can be just as (if not more) powerful than true blue enthusiasm when it comes to creating good art. How many of the classic Baroque painters were simply trying to make a buck or two – and had contemp for the subjects of their work? I suspect Trent Reznor was eager enough to collaborate with David Fincher that he soldiered up and half-embraced the “Facebook movie” as his own, something that now aligns itself in the same artistic output as Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. “I think the whole aspect of social networking is vulgar and repulsive in a lot of ways,” Reznor says, “But I also see why it’s appealing– I’ve had that little high you get from posting stuff online. But then you think, ‘Did I need to say that?’ I’ve explored that enough to know to stay kind of quiet these days.”

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