Film and TV

Trent Reznor's Unraveling Compositions a Perfect Fit for Gone Girl

The release of the David Fincher film Gone Girl, featuring a soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, continues a trend that began a few years ago: prominent electronic/industrial musicians from the 1990s and 2000s carving out a new niche for themselves by scoring feature films. The big beats of The Chemical Brothers seemed to perfectly suit the frenetic energy captured by director Joe Wright's 2011 action thriller Hanna. LCD Soundsystem mastermind and musical savant James Murphy fashioned a soundtrack that perfectly fit the world of Noah Baumbach's titular sarcastic grouch Greenberg. Daft Punk pursued their dream project with mixed results by not only composing but making a cameo appearance in the sci-fi sequel Tron: Legacy.

This new direction in millennial cinema reached a zenith when Reznor, the man who rose to prominence by screaming "I want to fuck you like an animal" with his industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, walked upon stage at the Kodak Theater and thanked the Academy for recognizing his and his frequent collaborator Ross' efforts on Fincher's acclaimed 2010 film The Social Network. Somehow the man who fleshed out his anxieties so bombastically with the albums Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral was able to quietly capture the underlying sadness that made Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg resonate so strongly with critics and audiences.

Reznor's and Ross' skills in encapsulating the darkness behind the boy genius from Harvard is apparent during the track "Hand Covers Bruise," which features a dark piano melody sparsely played over an escalating droning sound. As Eisenberg's character runs across campus after being rejected by a fellow student for his exhausting and insulting style of conversation, the drone culminates just as the idea for the social networking website Facebook is born. Fincher bookended the film with a slightly different take on the track. One chord change and the cinematic version of Zuckerburg is now lonelier than ever as his best friend Eduardo Saverin has chewed him out for betraying him by diluting his shares in Facebook.

This initial collaboration between Reznor, Ross, and Fincher has proved to be as fruitful for these artists as Alfred Hitchcock's work with composer Bernard Hermann or Tim Burton's use of Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman's talents, but this wasn't the first time Fincher used Reznor's music for one of his films. A remixed version of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" plays over the haunting opening credits of Fincher's breakthrough film Se7en. It also wasn't Reznor's first time dabbling in the world of cinema either. The frontman's production talents were well-suited for the nightmarish soundtrack of David Lynch's Lost Highway, which features the hit "The Perfect Drug."

What makes the score for The Social Network so unique is that it feels like a continuation of what Reznor was attempting to achieve with his later work with Nine Inch Nails. The 2007 high concept album Year Zero showcased Reznor's ability to weave in textures and sounds to tell a dystopian story. He and Ross evidently used many of the same techniques here and used the confines of Fincher's striking visuals to their advantage. There's no lyrics or pomp here, but listening to the film's score on it's own will still stir the feelings of darkness and emotion that made Nine Inch Nails such an visceral experience to begin with.

The acclaimed director knew that Reznor and Ross were perfectly suited to the task of scoring his adaptation of Steig Larsson's worldwide bestseller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The duo's use of sparse ambience seemed perfectly suited in capturing the feeling of the cold snowy Swedish landscape that the characters, tarnished reporter Mikael Blomkvist and the titular computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, occupy as they investigate the disappearance of the grandniece of a prominent businessman. All that dramatic aura goes away during the title sequence as Karen O's screeching vocals emulate the pierced tortured soul of Salander during Reznor and Ross' version of the Led Zepplin's "Immigrant Song," which sounds like a throwback to Nine Inch Nails' heyday.

Now Reznor and Ross are pushing themselves sonically with their score for Gone Girl by working with a full orchestra for the first time. Fans of the bestseller by Gilliam Flynn know that one of the book's main theme's is about maintaining appearances, and listening to the soundtrack, the duo's signature dread is hidden underneath the cheery synthesizers. There is obvious inspiration found in the score Angelo Badalamenti composed for Blue Velvet, but according to an interview in the Wall Street Journal, Fincher told Reznor and Ross to "'think about the really terrible music you hear in massage parlors.' The way that it artificially tries to make you feel like everything's OK. And then imagine that sound starting to curdle and unravel."

Reznor has been causing listeners to unravel since 1989. His flawed existence continues haunt, not only music lovers but now filmgoers.

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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil