This is an idea that has been sitting in my mind for a while. Breaking down a film scene can be superficial and numbing, but can also open up film to a whole new realm of ideas. What I am going to attempt to do is break down a scene from a film shot by shot and admire the film-making behind it. This means that instead of a surface review, I can really look at what the director is trying to do. To start, I’m going to analyse one of my favourite scenes of all time from one of my favourite movies of all time; The Social Network.
In context with the rest of the film, this scene comes after the cold open of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenbeg) breaking up with his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). This has some significance because this is Zuckerberg’s direct reaction to that, a reaction to a key part of his character.
It opens with the camera tracking down a bus full of girls. Dark lighting, like much of the film and following on with David Fincher’s typical green/brown boorish filter. There is a non-diegetic soundtrack of a heavy techno beat. The camera moving and the music pumping is key to feel of the scene; instantly Fincher has your strapped in and engaged in the action. It is fast paced and the music is dragging you along to keep up. Then it cuts to a time stamp ’10:17 PM’, cementing that pace. Eisenberg’s trademark geeky voice is then heard to start the ball rolling: ‘Yea, it’s on’. Suddenly the music is background and Zuckerberg is brought to the forefront of the scene as our narrator, taking our hand.
He then spats out lines and lines of a dialogue in a few seconds, that is expertly said and is totally gripping. His arrogance is shining through and the Zuckerberg persona is being drawn. The camera is cutting between typing and the screen, focusing on Zuckerberg when it is present on the tangible world. Fincher is doing a great job of keeping your attention on a series of copy and pasting. ‘Let the hacking begin’ and it cuts to bouncer allowing the party bus in, bringing us as the audience to a new location. The beat is ongoing. Back to Zuckerberg, now the cuts are quick and frantic. It goes from screen to typing to close up of Zuckerbergs concentration in seconds and the pace of the scene picks up even more. ‘Kids stuff’ and it cuts back to the party bus embarking. A film student here would compare how Zuckerberg’s line represents his distaste for college life, how his fellow students are out partying while he is coding, and effectively tearing them apart. This is granted through the Kuleshov effect, the idea of editing two shots together to create meaning, and consequently allowing those themes to open up by cutting that dialogue to that shot of them leaving the bus.
Even the cuts at the party are in a jump style, not giving the audience a chance to breathe or lose focus on the point of the scene. From here some serious juxtaposition goes on, where the scene cuts from party to coding. One second we are with Zuckerberg’s dialogue and fingers, then we are with the frat party dancing, drinking and taking drugs. The scene takes a minute breather to allow one of the frat party leaders to give a speech about how exclusive the club is, a theme that will appear later on in the movie. However the music quickly takes over again and the shots of the party are rich but slow, creating that hypocrisy felt by Zuckerberg as it cuts back to him. He is talking faster and jumping over problems with his coding reaching its climax.
Finally, though it has only been a couple of minutes, the scene draws down to a toned down moment. We are with Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) as he enters Zuckerberg’s building. Again a film student would attribute this to Eduardo’s character, a calmer influence on Zuckerberg’s life. The music is quiet now as he enters to room, firstly asking if Zuckerberg is okay post his break up and then reminding them that they are ranking fellow students not just ‘girls’. Eduardo’s character and the relationship with Zuckerberg is key here, as it highlights his greater moral sense and therefore starts the ball rolling for Eduardo being the hero of the narrative. This does not last long as Zuckerberg is repeating that he ‘needs the algorithm’. Then my favourite shot of the whole film occurs where Eduardo writes the algorithm on the window. As soon as it cuts to outside the window looking in the music picks up again. The shot is breathtakingly cool and there is this wonderful focus pull to inside the room when Eduardo is finished. Suddenly we are in awe of the pairs genius.
This scene is not only exciting in every way, but also integral to the film. It opens us up to Zuckerberg’s character, his ignorance conflicted with his brilliance and his relationship with Eduardo. Fincher is a master at work here and makes a scene about a small computer program incredibly compelling.