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The David Fincher Exit Survey

To kick off Fincher Week, contributors explain what they find so fascinating about the man behind ‘Fight Club,’ ‘The Social Network,’ and more

Harrison Freeman

On the cusp of the 25th anniversary of Se7en and the 10th anniversary of The Social Network, The Ringer hereby dubs the next five days David Fincher Week. Join us all throughout the week as we celebrate and examine the man, the myth, and his impeccable body of work.

As a starter, we asked several contributors to Fincher Week to sum up their feelings and thoughts on the director’s best movies, best music drops, and most disturbing moments.


1. What is your favorite Fincher film?

Sean Fennessey: Zodiac.

Mani Lazic: Zodiac.

Alan Siegel: Se7en.

Adam Nayman: Zodiac is Fincher’s masterpiece, as well as one of the most troubling movies ever made about the relationship between obsession and self-destruction.

Chris Ryan:

1a. Zodiac

1b. The Social Network

2 (but it’s really close). Mindhunter’s Season 1 finale.

Katie Baker: For a long time I would have said Se7en, but these days it’s The Social Network. Between its subject and its cast of nascent stars, this is a movie that only gets better with age and one in which every element is firing on all cylinders. Like, not only is this a movie that effectively introduced the world to Armie Hammer, it’s also a movie that introduced the world to twin Armie Hammers rowing crew to the sonic boom of Trent Reznor’s version of “Hall of the Mountain King.” Not only is this a movie that covered one of the most influential companies of our time, it’s a movie that did so while featuring—credibly!—Justin Timberlake drinking appletinis. You could press play at any minute of The Social Network and you’d land on a banger of a scene.

2. What is your favorite Fincher shot?

Siegel:

Alien 3
20th Century Fox

Fennessey:

Zodiac
Paramount Pictures

Lazic:

Gone Girl
20th Century Fox

Baker: I am a sucker for when the camera goes through walls.

Panic Room
Columbia Pictures

I haven’t not thought about trying to recreate this shot from Panic Room with my kids’ dollhouse.

Ryan:

Mindhunter
Netflix

Nayman:

The Game
Propaganda Films

3. What is the best music drop in a Fincher movie or show?

Nayman: The use of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” at the beginning of Zodiac is one of the great weaponized pop-music cues, taking a song about a mystical encounter with a peace-and-love guru and using it to encapsulate something pitch black about the Summer of Love counterculture.

Baker: HURDY GURDY HURDY GURDY HURDY GURDY GURDY, she sang. (Two times!)

Siegel:

Ryan: When Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” plays over the time-lapse building of the Transamerica Pyramid in Zodiac.

Lazic: Led Zeppelin’s “In the Light” at the end of Mindhunter Season 1.

Fennessey:

I want to go to the dive bar that plays Tom Waits’s Bone Machine and hosts fight clubs for disaffected consumers so as to exorcise my confused notions of masculinity. (If I’m being honest, I’d settle for any bar right now.)

4. What is the most disturbing moment in a Fincher movie?

Siegel: Four words: “What’s in the box?”

Nayman: I’ve always loved Morgan Freeman’s terrified delivery of the line “John Doe has the upper hand” right before Se7en shows you what’s in the box. The idea of the bad guy in total control—even when he’s bound and kneeling at the business end of a pistol—is nightmarish stuff. The thing about Se7en is that it goes there, and you go with it. David Fincher has the upper hand.

Ryan: Paul Avery’s final moment in Zodiac: washed up, washed out, living on a houseboat, living in a bathrobe, playing Atari. This is what following your obsessions gets you. It’s a fate worse than death.

Baker: There are a whole lot of twisted, depraved murders in the Fincher canon broadly, and in the movie Se7en alone (“I have demons you can’t even imagine,” Fincher joked (?) to the actress who played the “Pride” murder victim in the film as he doused her with fake blood), but the one that has always left me, well, sick to my stomach is that film’s “Gluttony” killing. From the puke bucket to the (real!) roaches crawling everywhere (some crawled down the actor’s drawers during filming!), this scene was so visceral that I could practically smell it, and so psychologically harrowing to contemplate that I’ll never forget it. Well, I guess that’s not entirely true, because I can still eat pasta.

Fennessey: Oh, the choices. Heads in boxes. Xenomorphs drooling acid saliva. Technocracy in the form of pajama-clad monomania. But it’s difficult to top the stabbings of Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard at Lake Berryessa featured in Zodiac, a broad-daylight vision of pure, inexplicable horror.

5. What is the most underrated Fincher work?

Lazic: The Game rules.

Nayman: If we’re talking about the wider mainstream, Zodiac deserves way more love, but I feel like in Ringer-ville its reputation is solid, so I’ll put in for Panic Room, an amazingly fluid and controlled piece of filmmaking that also accesses very contemporary anxieties about class and capital via a slyly digitized, look-ma-no-hands aesthetic that was ahead of the curve in 2002. Plus, Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart as mother and daughter is one one of the great passing-the-torch bits of casting ever—all the more amazing since neither of them were the original choice for their roles.

Ryan:

I defy you not to go out and play sports immediately after watching this.

Fennessey: Panic Room is loads of fun. The Game rips. Benjamin Button is painterly, Fincher’s bid to create a new formalism in digital filmmaking. And even the “assembly cut” of Alien 3 has its moments, despite Fincher essentially disowning it. But we might look back on Mindhunter as a kind of summation. In the wave pool of streaming television, it’s been easy to let that show roll in and out, one more splash of content. But there’s major craft and a deep exploration of procedure that undergirds all of Fincher’s work in it, and far outstrips your typical TV show. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s consistent and persistent. He makes movies about killers and cops, the helpless and the hopeless. The protagonists are always trying to correct some perceived wrong—a slight at the hands of a lover; a social order corrupted by greed; an irreconcilable killing. But I don’t think any of his movies have heroes, only victims. Mindhunter shows the people who are obsessed with figuring out why.

Baker: As someone who spent entire days flipping back and forth between VH1 and MTV as a kid, I’d say it has to be one of Fincher’s music videos. And since “Vogue” feels pretty properly rated, I think the answer here is the music video he directed for the George Michael song “Freedom! ’90.”

Michael’s goal with this song was to transcend his past work and fame; he wouldn’t even appear in the video. Instead, it memorably featured five of the biggest supermodels of their day (Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, and Tatjana Patitz) lip-synching George Michael’s words, as the symbols of his past (the leather jacket from the “Faith” video, his guitar) go up in flames. And, this being a Fincher work, it all takes place in a location that looks like it could double as the setting of a murder scene.

Siegel: Yep—it’s the “Freedom! 90” video.

6. In sum, what do you love about David Fincher?

Ryan:

Baker: That he is the man who directed Steve Winwood music videos and Se7en. (But also, that every time I learn about something new he worked on back in the day, no matter what it is, I just nod and think: “Ah, makes sense.”)

Siegel: His movies are as stylish as the music videos that he used to make, but usually much, much more bleak. That’s an entertaining combination.

Lazic: His precise and detached approach to the most horrific and incomprehensible human behaviors makes them even more troubling—and reveals that he’s not so cold and inhumane after all.

Nayman: He’s an incredibly gifted technician, and nobody combines speed and clarity in the same way. [Extreme John Doe voice]: I feel like saying more, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

Fennessey: Obsessive cynics need a god, too. This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.