David Fincher’s ability for perception is almost painfully accurate. His films are portraits of the dirty underbelly of human nature, where misanthropy, alienation and obsession all come into play. With subtle ease, Fincher has perfected the art of putting the audience at total unease. Rarely do you come out of one his films feeling uplifted; disturbed is more likely. And yet, bleak and brutal though his themes may be, his vision is still captivating. Be it madness (Seven) or paranoia (Panic Room), somehow Fincher humanises these dark subjects. With the release of his latest film, Gone Girl, now seems the perfect time to take a better look into the mechanics of this artful auteur. How does Fincher make danger look so good?
It would be easy to forget that Fincher’s cinematic eye stretches beyond cinema. Before he transitioned to the big screen, he was a highly acclaimed music video director with a backlog ranging from Madonna to The Rolling Stones. Even in these videos it’s easy to see his stylistic trademarks. Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ is a monochromatic work of magic, sharpened with all the poise, clean lines and brooding shadows which shape so many of his films. If you were to look at the Fincher fan club, you would find more of a niche following than a box office bandwagon, yet he was not always this successful. It took many years for Fight Club to reach the cult status it now occupies. When first released it was a financial failure, both rejected and condemned. With its bleak nihilism and outright disgust for consumerism, many audiences were left feeling alienated. Perhaps it is this ability to unnerve the viewer which is what makes Fincher’s films so arresting. The denial of satisfaction leaves you thinking, questioning. When he does make more commercial ventures, they seem to lack the same depth. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, despite the more overt gratification of award nominations, is possibly one of Fincher’s least provoking films. Slow moving as it is, the audience finds themselves focusing more on the stellar CGI of Brad Pitt’s reverse ageing than other less aesthetic elements.
Despite his propensity for the bleak and barren, there is a deep emotion to Fincher’s work which could reflect how he manages to get away with such provocative themes and unlikeable characters. In The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is simultaneously ruthless, egotistical, arrogant and, in short, unlikeable. Yet Fincher draws tinges of regret from Eisenberg which somehow save him from total alienation. This humanism, coupled with outbursts of cynical humour and, more often than not, a brilliant soundtrack, is Fincher’s way of keeping his films just within the boundaries of acceptability.
The transition from novel to big screen is never an easy one, but Fincher’s past work shows he is undeterred. While his English-language version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo might lack the authenticity of the 2009 original, it is no less powerful, largely due to Rooney Mara’s vulnerably haunting turn as the inscrutable, irreducible hacker, Lisbeth Salander.
Indeed, Fincher is well-known for his painstaking deliberation when shooting, often taking multiple shots to complete one scene (the opening scene of The Social Network was taken in 99 takes). Yet it is out of this deliberation that such raw performances as Mara’s are created, providing a driving force to all his films. Who could forget Helena Bonham-Carters star turn as the wild-eyed, witchy-haired seductress who drifted in and out of Edward Norton’s insomnia in Fight Club?
Gone Girl has as cult a following as Fincher himself, but if anyone can take on this challenge, he surely can. Never one to stick with convention, Fincher has said: “My whole career has been pervy books, pervy scripts… It wasn’t so much about finding a niche. It just didn’t seem to me like there was any need to be doing any more of what everyone else was doing.” Suffice to say, however he chooses to adapt Gillian Flynn’s novel, we can rest assured it won’t be what you expect.