Raiders of the Lost Overture
The Social Network annotation
The Social Network’s overture is driven by dialogue. We are first introduced to Mark Zuckerberg’s character while he is speaking with his girlfriend in a bar, and subsequently dumped.
Content informs context
The Social Network gets started before the first frame of the actual movie, with Jesse Eisenberg’s dialog beginning over the Columbia logo. Director David Fincher reportedly wanted to push the idea even further, with the dialog running over the end of the trailer of whatever movie was being promoted in the theater before The Social Network started. The point is the frenetic nature of Zuckerberg’s character, one that can’t distinguish between what is appropriate or not, and one that operates at a pace far beyond most people’s ability to handle, at least politely. However, the message to the audience is again un-mistakable: pay attention, or you’re going to miss a lot.
Demonstrate the experience
Rapid-fire dialog is the action here, with multiple topics running in parallel and intertwining in ways that make sense only to Zuckerberg. The conversation and the girlfriend are completely fictitious, but invite the audience to both marvel at and pity Zuckerberg’s combination of arrogance, anxiety, intelligence, and cluelessness. The girlfriend character is a proxy for the audience, so even if the viewer is new to the elite Ivy League setting or Internet start-ups, their own sensibilities will be represented in this movie. All of this level-setting is best achieved through demonstration, not direct narration or klutzy expositional dialog.
Set the scene
Usually, the insights and vulnerabilities that Zuckerberg’s character reveals in this dialog would make for an endearing mix. But, Zuckerberg somehow manages to make insightful comments about the nature of social politics and the power of being popular while having no practical awareness of how rude his behavior is in presenting them. The setting in a lively bar, the tight intimacy of the framing, and the body language of the actors are all orchestrated to ask the central question upon which the whole movie will be based: how can a guy completely understand and be ignorant of social behavior at the same time?
Align the audience
In the climax of the scene, Zuckerberg gets his comeuppance. He is dumped in a manner that is both immensely satisfying and pitiable, establishing the other main tenet of the rest of the movie: his popularity and loneliness are intertwined. More importantly, no matter how irritating his character had behaved up to this point, the scene ends with him being simply human. This gives the audience permission to care about the character (necessary for the movie to succeed) without having to approve of him. That’s the technical challenge that this “overture” accomplishes, and the transition into the movie’s world has been accomplished.
Prepare the audience
The opening credits begin to roll as Zuckerberg makes his way from the bar to his dorm, alone. Again, he’s moving faster than everyone else, and not particularly aware of his surroundings. He is immersed and detached in his environment at all times. Nothing crucial to the plot occurs in this entire sequence, but the audience is now educated and prepared to experience the story in the most effective frame of mind possible. The remaining 90% of the movie has yet to be written, acted, and produced, but in a little over seven minutes, the overture has done its job. On with the show.