A Dreamer Walking

David Fincher – An Observation – A Cynical Man

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on May 17, 2011

Maybe Fincher’s cynicism started after his first full length film experience, where he basically got screwed by executive producers on  Alien 3 and reportedly “swore he would rather have colon cancer then direct another picture”. Actually, the only David Fincher movie I have not seen is Alien 3 but it is no secret the directing experience was not a good one for Fincher. Honestly I am not interested in how David became so cynical. Although Alien 3 did not help, I am sure it is not the only reason why David is cynical about this world. It is obvious when studying David Fincher what stands out probably more then anything else about him is his cynicism and how it is expressed through his movies.

There are so many places I can point to in order to express Fincher’s cynical view of this world. Like any good director Fincher creates his best work when he follows his convictions, no matter how cynical they might be. Se7en is a good place to start. Se7en was Fincher’s second full length film and in it we see a world consumed with filth and sin. The main characters, Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt), both work in a profession where their job is to find the people who have committed the worst kind of crimes imaginable. They live in a world full of lies, violence, and murder. Fincher creates in Se7en a dark world where the screams of the city are never silenced and we are bore down by rain and darkness. At the end of Se7en it is not good that prevails but evil. The people who end up being right at the end are the old cop, who has all but given up on hoping the world will ever become better, and the serial killer, who does not think the world has any good left in it.

I consider Se7en to be one of David’s greatest films because I can see the conviction he had in the story he was telling. Every frame seemed to be supporting the theme of the film. I can understand why the old cop Somerset has given up on the world. I understand the serial killer John Doe’s explanation on how perverted it is to call anything in this world “innocent”. After about an hour of being immersed in the world of Se7en, the character who still believes in justice, Mr. Mills, starts to seem like the most naive person in the movie. Ironically at the end he is the one to express his naivety for what it really is.

Fincher’s career is full of cynical movies where we see some of the worst qualities of this world and humanity, prevail. His movie Fight Club, seems to give the finger to the concept of “The American Dream”. His movie Zodiac is full of frustrations and failures where we begin to think at the end nothing can be completely solved or brought to full resolution. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Fincher gives us a love story that concentrates more on the loss love creates then its benefits. Even when the main characters finally get together the music is not relishing in the moment but rather leading the audience to think the moment will soon end, as it does. Fincher’s last movie, The Social Network, might be his most cynical film to date. The film is full of deception and betrayal. We are given three different points of view which all try to twist and change what everyone else is saying to make themselves look spotless. It is the ultimate tale of narcissism where each character is consumed with themselves, all in their own unique ways.

In the commentary on Se7en Fincher said, “I am so not interested in what people say. As far as I’m concerned language was invented so people could lie to one another”. This is a very important concept to understand about Fincher if you want to understand most of his movies. A movie like The Social Network, which is full of heavy dialogue, is all about the ways people say what they say and how they react to what is being said. Dialogue should never be taken at face value in a Fincher film. We are always seeing hidden motives and double standards. In Se7en we see detective Mills claim he believes in justice but betray himself at the end of the film. In Fight Club we see the main character express his need for fulfillment through possessions but get more depressed the more things he tries to hold onto. In The Social Network everyone has an agenda for why they say what they say. During the testimonies Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) says he was Mark’s (Jesse Eisenberg) only friend because he knew it would give him sympathy in the case. Shaun Parker (Justin Timberlake) tries to convince Mark it is in his best interest to get rid of Eduardo because he knows he would become more important to Mark that way. Mark goes through the film making fun of final clubs because he wants to be in them. Mark tries to demean the other people’s contributions to Facebook because he wants to see himself as the site’s sole creator.

Thankfully there are only two movies of Fincher’s I would call formulaic. When he begins to go down the road of trying to satisfy the audience rather then himself, he runs into problems. The two movies I consider Fincher’s worst are The Game and Panic Room, both of which ironically have a happy ending. The fact is Fincher relishes in the deceptiveness of humanity. He is at his best when concentrating on the cruelties of this world. “Happy Endings” at the moment just do not seem to be something Fincher really believes in.

In some ways I find Fincher’s situation to be a very sad place to be. I personally can not imagine finding much happiness in a view that hardly believed in the goodness of human nature. However, Fincher’s view I believe is more realistic of the times we live in. I also believe his point of view needs to be expressed. I am glad there is a David Fincher who is able to concentrate on how many of us are consumed with the evils of this world, so I do not have to.

Although movies like Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network are cynical at heart, I see glimpses of light. The creativity of Mark in The Social Network is inspiring. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an absolutely beautiful movie. The movie has characters that express to us some of the simple beauties of life. The freedom we see come to the members of Fight Club is also exciting and in some ways even hopeful.

Fincher’s movies make statements about society which are quite legitimate and worth conversation and debate. It is easy for me to learn from his films. He gives me motivation even through his darkest of movies, to be creative and push for what I want to show no matter what the world might think.

Fincher has had many battles with Hollywood studios and executives because of his cynical points of view. Typical Hollywood is just fine with the formulaic “happy ending”. Fincher has enough skill, he can create cliche’ stories that people will go in droves to see. I have yet to run across a movie of Fincher’s where I was bored. Fincher is an absolutely gifted filmmaker. He knows how to use the camera and the rest of the elements of cinema to create a stimulating picture. However, the movies which will last the longest are the ones which were the most risky for him to make. These days Fincher’s goal seems to be less and less about making the audiences and studios happy and more about following the convictions for what he thinks his films should be. For this I applaud him. His goal is not to make us feel safe. His goal is to have us realize the reality of evil in this world. He does not believe in a right side and wrong side. Fincher’s films are more about the grays of life.

The most important thing for a filmmaker to have is conviction. The director needs to follow his heart. Fincher said several years ago in a Esquire interview conducted by Brian Mockenhaupt, “Some people go to the movies to be reminded that everything’s okay. I don’t make those kinds of movies. That, to me, is a lie. Everything’s not okay.”  This I believe shows exactly where Fincher’s heart is at the moment.  He said in the interview that he did not consider himself a cynic; just a realistic. His goal is to express to the world that even in Hollywood everything is not okay. “Entertainment has to come hand in hand with a little bit of medicine“, he says.

Fincher’s heart goes to some dark places. I can’t say I like all those dark places but at least they encourages me to think. At least his passion for what he does is something to look up to. I am far from being a cynical man, however that does not stop me from being inspired by David Fincher’s films. My greatest hope is for Fincher to keep on following his heart. And, maybe someday his heart might break from the depressing view of mankind and see something worth making a film about that gives us hope for the future… At least that is this optimist’s point of view of this brilliant cynic 😉

(Here are links to my other two Fincher Observation posts. 1. Exploring the Scene 2. Finding the Meaning Behind the Movement 4. The “B” Movie)

Let The Conscious Be Your Guide!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 4, 2010

In every film there is at least one type of conscious that is expressing some kind of eternal debate that is going on in the main characters head. Above you can see three of the more obvious individual conscious’ that have been used in film business. With animation you have a little bit more liberty to visually show the conscious as a individual character. Anything is possible in animation so having a living breathing character telling the main character what is right or wrong, is not too extreme for the audience to buy into. With Obi-Wan from Star Wars  it is explained that he can guide the lead character Luke Skywalker, through the power of the Force. All three of the characters above, Gusteau from Ratatouille, Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio, Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, are used to be the Conscious of the main characters and are vital to moving the main character and Story forward.

I explain the conscious as being the visual example of what is going on deep in the characters head. In essence the conscious is what tells the main character the difference between good and wrong. Sometimes the conscious comes in the form of a other character such as the ones you see above. Sometimes the conscious comes from many, maybe even a community such as in The Last Samurai where the lead character Nathan Algren is completely changed through the community of Samurai he is forced to live the winter with. Characters like Jiminy  Cricket are used when the main character does not have much interaction with the rest of the world. Characters like Remy, Pinocchio, and even Luke Skywalker, have a lot of screen time where they are essentially alone and need something else to interact with in order to understand the conflict that is going on in the characters head or in order to move the story along.

The conscious is used to be the guide of the film, so if the conscious is represented through a  character or through a community, you need it to to stay relatively the same. The whole point of a conscious is that foundation that gives the audience grounding. In most films you want to see a good representation of a foundations that can ground your story, the conscious can often do that for you. If you watch a movie like Lord of the Rings, you will see that there are characters that stand for what is right through even the hardest of times, a example of this would be Samwise Gamgee. Sam is sort of used as Frodo’s conscious, standing for what is right even through the hard times. There are many places where Frodo is about to quite or his reasoning is clouded because of the burden he bears (that being the ring). But with Sam, Frodo is able to see a constant light that keeps him on the right path. Because of Sam, Frodo is able to keep moving forward, witch in turn keeps the story moving forward.

You do need to make sure you do not use a conscious as a way to preach at the audience. The conscious is used as a guide the main character and move the story forward. Even though the conscious represents the difference between right and wrong, it could be different from our perception of what is right and wrong or the reality of what is right or wrong. A great example of this would be Fight Club, where the main character Jack, is guided by his sort of “conscious” Tyler. In the end of the movie Jack realizes that Tyler’s perception of right and wrong is not exactly in line with the reality of right and wrong, in essence Jack finds out that his guide or “conscious” was leading him the wrong way.

There are many movies that don’t like to draw a clear line, there are movies that draw the line in a completely different place that our society is used to. However, in almost all the movies you watch there is some hint of what the director considers to be Truth. There is often a character or two that represent the Truth that resonates with audience at very deep level. Just because there is that truth, does not mean the main character needs to follow it, actually the interesting parts of most stories is when the main character rebukes his or her conscious.

(Tell me what you think? This is sort of a concept that I have been thinking of fore a while, however I do not claim that all my thoughts are completely accurate. If there is some confusing parts or things that you want to add onto in this blog, please comment 🙂 )