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The David Fincher Syllabus

A collection of things to listen to, read, and watch about the director behind ‘Fight Club,’ ‘The Social Network,’ ‘Mindhunter,’ and more

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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, starting with some of the pieces on Fincher that The Ringer has already produced.

The Birth of Fight Club

But after a meeting with [Laura] Ziskin, [Fincher] considered returning to Fox for Fight Club—so long as he could make it in the grandest way possible. “I said, ‘Here’s the two ways you can go: you can do the $3 million version of this movie and make it on videotape and make your seditious little sharp stick in somebody’s eye.’” But the real “act of sedition,” he told the studio, would be to invest tens of millions of dollars “and to put movie stars in it and get people to go and talk about the anticonsumerist rantings of a schizophrenic madman.” —Brian Raftery

Zodiac, One of the Greatest Films of the Century

More than any American movie of the past decade, Zodiac accepts and embraces irresolvability, which may be why it’s so hypnotically rewatchable. If it’s a cosmic drama, it’s one that works on macro and micro levels. Its depiction of the hunt for the most notorious and mysterious serial killer of the 20th century is at once suggestive of larger cultural shifts while also being detailed down to the inch. Reviewing the film for the Village Voice in 2007, Nathan Lee perceptively called it an “orgy of empiricism,” noting that for the first time, Fincher’s micro-managerial directorial style was being applied to historical material. The same fanaticism that held up production on Alien 3 and pushed Fight Club over budget was now angled as a guarantor of authenticity.

Fincher is a scrupulous blue-printer with a reputation for control freakery. What Zodiac represented was an attempt to leverage those skills in the service of ambiguity—to make a work more open to interpretation than its predecessors. In Se7en, Brad Pitt finds out whose head is in the box; in Fight Club, Edward Norton finds out who’s really in his head (spoiler: it’s Brad Pitt). In those films, Fincher orchestrated sharp, jagged storytelling twists that tore their narrative universes apart. In Zodiac, the fabric of reality is stretched so tight over the action that it threatens to break at any moment. Except that it doesn’t. The twist is that there isn’t one. —Adam Nayman

The Rewatchables: Zodiac

Matt Damon, on Set With David Fincher

Fincher has that Kubrick thing—he can’t unsee what he sees. So I sat behind him one day while he was directing [Gone Girl]. It was this scene where Ben [Affleck] and Rosamund Pike walk into this bookstore. And so the camera was down the aisle of books, so it sees them down the aisle, open the door, and then come in. And then as they walk down, the camera dollies with them at the far end of the bookstore, and then they eventually enter an aisle—the camera stops—and they walk towards the camera, and they end up kissing each other in this section of the bookstore. So it’s probably, like, a 90-second shot, while they’re talking … And when the camera rolls, Fincher’s got this big monitor in front of them—everything is exactly as it’s gonna appear in the movie; he’s set all these levels himself. And he’s sitting there, and I’m behind him and I’ve got headphones on, so I can hear the scene. And he calls, “Background”—which is for the extras in the scene—and then he calls, “Action.” And when he calls “Background” and “Action,” a background actor walks across the frame, then Ben and Rosamund enter the store—the scene is about to start. But Fincher’s already monologuing. He’s going, “Who the fuck walks like that?” It just instantly caught his eye—“I mean, what the fuck was that? Who the fuck walks like that? Nobody walks like that.” Now Ben and Rosamund are on the other side of this bookstore and they’re doing the scene, but Fincher’s still talking about this. And I’m sitting here going, “Oh my God. They’re definitely gonna do the scene again. This take is shot.”

The Rewatchables: Gone Girl

Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne, a Classic Fincher Villain

The Haunting Uncertainties of Mindhunter

Given Fincher’s imprint—he helmed the first three episodes of Season 2—the perpetual uncertainty that Mindhunter creates throughout the second season evokes the director’s masterpiece, Zodiac. The film’s encyclopedic detail of the Zodiac Killer and how the murders manifested into a nationwide phenomenon with no definitive answers underlined how some cases are never meant to be solved, even if the clues are unpacked and deciphered to infinity. Like Zodiac, Mindhunter’s second season embraces a world where enduring mysteries don’t always have satisfying conclusions. —Miles Surrey

The Flat Circle: Dissecting Mindhunter

Jonathan Groff, Star of Mindhunter, on Fincher

He is so into it. That really is what it is—I mean, he’s not this insane genius petting a cat like Dr. Evil, making you do things over and over again and you don’t know why. He’s very practical and pragmatic. He gets rap for doing multiple takes and sometimes we do a lot of takes and sometimes we don’t. It just depends on—he wants to do it in as many different versions as he can, and cover it with as much coverage as he can so that he has many options when he goes to edit it. It’s just very practical. He inspires this kind of—like, when it was over, I thought the crew was gonna be like, Oh my God. That was so hard. Because he asks a lot of everybody, especially of the crew—everyone’s gotta be on their A game. But the crew was all saying—and I felt this way too—that, God, he really reminds you why you did it in the first place.

The Rewatchables: The Social Network

The Rewatchables: Se7en