THE SOCIAL NETWORK: The Art of Opening Scenes
How do you establish the most central theme of a movie as dense as “The Social Network” in under five minutes?
The opening scene of “The Social Network” is one of the most technically praised beginnings to a movie in recent film history. Countless YouTube videos and articles have been posted about all aspects of the 2010 movie, acclaiming its quick, smart editing, writing and directing. The opening sequence, however, remains one of the most iconic features of this rich piece of work from director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin.
Opening scenes must communicate the most essential and intriguing aspects of the movie to the audience. Another highly-regarded intro scene, the heist sequence of “The Dark Knight,” quickly establishes the morals (or lack thereof) of its main villain, the Joker. The Joker’s actions and elaborate crimes determine the plot of the movie, so introducing the audience to this dark and unpredictable villain is paramount to include in the first scene. If the opening scene serves to establish the essence of the story, then “The Social Network” presents the most essential aspect of the movie to be the personality of its protagonist, Mark Zuckerberg.
Before I begin dissecting this scene, I have to mention that this movie is an interpretation of Mark Zuckerberg’s personality and the alleged events that led to the invention of Facebook. When I refer to the character of Mark Zuckerberg, I am referencing the fictional portrayal of him as established in the book “The Accidental Billionaires” and the movie “The Social Network” and not making assumptions about the real-life person or considering the events outlined in the book and movie as reality.
The movie opens to a dimly lit Boston bar where Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, sits mid-conversation with his girlfriend. Immediately, the viewer is bombarded with Zuckerberg’s rapid-fire explanation of why he considers getting into one of the “final clubs” (exclusive batches of Harvard societies) necessary to his future. He speaks quickly and with intense gravity, moving on from one topic to the next, articulating his train of thought in lightning-quick sentences. Across from him, his girlfriend listens to his focused rant, occasionally chiming in with lesser intensity, but her comments do not seem relevant to Zuckerberg because he has already sped past every point she brings up.
“Sometimes you say two things at once and I’m not sure which one I should be aiming at,” she exclaims, irritated with his annoyance at her for not following his thought process. The conversation continues, and they grow increasingly frustrated with each other; Zuckerberg believes she is insulting his abilities while she thinks he is being overtly rude. Eventually, he inadvertently offends her intelligence but does not realize the sudden change of tone she takes on, seemingly missing the sarcasm in her cold retorts. The conversation spirals. He makes more offhanded insults about her intelligence and she storms off, first warning him that his rudeness will become a hindrance to him in the future and that he should not forget it.
The scene paints an image of the character of Mark Zuckerberg, originally portrayed in “The Accidental Billionaires,” the book after which “The Social Network” is modeled. Three important facets of Zuckerberg’s identity emerge from this scene: his intelligence, his arrogance and his ambition.
Despite the brevity of the opening scene, there is an impressive number of words stuffed into the script. Zuckerberg seems to never quit talking, and his words fire in rapid succession. To the audience, it is clear that his brain functions at very high levels and at a fast pace. He is clearly intelligent, if not abrasive, but at the same time, his social disconnect is obvious. He appears blind to his girlfriend’s anger and fails to understand her reason for storming out, making a terse, robotic apology that he sincerely believes will resolve the situation.
He is logical to a fault but at the same time utterly absorbed into his independent goals to the point where he feels leagues ahead of everyone else. While in some senses, he is more advanced in certain fields than most, he fails to recognize intelligence in anyone except himself, and in turn, insults whoever can’t keep up with his thought pattern. His arrogance chafes against whomever he faces in conversation, and his pride is enormous. When his girlfriend asks which final club is easiest to get into, he considers the question a slight against his intelligence and reminds her of his high SAT score and genius wit.
The final theme of Zuckerberg’s personality as revealed in the opening scene is his ambition. Every time he speaks, he is leaning toward the future and alluding to his plans. He does not bring up the final clubs to make conversation: he brings them up because he is obsessed with joining one for his future benefit. He thinks constantly about how he can reach where he wants to go and becomes annoyed when asked about the morals of his behavior. He is not interested in the ethics of his actions and is instead purely focused on his singular, selfish goals.
The character of Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network” is at the core message of the opening scene. The movie is not just about the founding of Facebook; it is almost entirely about the three defining characteristics of Zuckerberg. In the story, his personality defines the whole plot, and the viewer understands exactly who he is in the first five minutes.
Three Movies You Should Watch
“The Hurt Locker”: This Oscar-winning movie opens with the quotation “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug” and proves this statement throughout the entire story. The film follows a bomb diffusing unit of the US military stationed in Afghanistan where the soldiers are constantly faced with the pressure of defusing a bomb, and the rush of adrenaline they get when they evade death by successfully disassembling the explosive. This is a harsh and entirely stunning, stressful movie that left me understanding the quote above much more deeply than I did before.
“Jojo Rabbit”: Takia Watiti crafted a beautiful, intelligent and deeply funny movie this year. Set in Germany at the end of WWII, the movie gracefully navigates the sensitive subject matter with ease and delivers a story that constantly pivots from deep heartache to laughter without the viewer even realizing it. In summary: this film communicates that, though seemingly impossible, joy and sorrow are perfectly capable of existing simultaneously.
“Parasite”: Please watch this movie without knowing anything about it; you want to go in completely ignorant to what you’re about to see. Yes, it’s that good.