Ever since his smash hit Se7en, David Fincher has been one of Hollywood’s most skilled and artistic directors. From the nihilism of Generation X in Fight Club to the dawn of the millennial in The Social Network, Fincher is a generation-defining director. One who studies and captures the ideas of human loneliness and struggle for a connection in the modern world. Let’s take a look of some of the best (in my humble opinion) scenes from a few of his films.
This is one of the most heart-stopping hold-your-breath moments in the film. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is still on the hunt to solve the Zodiac mystery, and his search has led him here, in a creepy stranger’s house in the middle of the night.He claims that the poster is the closest they’ve ever gotten to the Zodiac’s handwriting. The stranger answers that it is his handwriting, and we slowly see the fear creep on Jake Gyllenhaal’s face.
The camera work stands out specifically in three moments. The camera holds on Gyllenhaal’s fearful face as the stranger stands watching him from behind on the left side by his shoulder. We feed of Gyllenhaal’s fear, but we can see what is lurking behind him. Then, we cut from behind Gyllenhaal as he turns into the camera, “Not many people in California have basements.” Cut to the stranger. “I do.” What have we gotten into now??
As he follows the stranger into the basement he grows even more afraid, the music building up in suspense. We follow Gyllenhaal as he starts to exit, paranoia and fear rising to a climax. Then the camera cuts from his POV as he slowly backs away from the stranger, who is illuminated under a single beam of light. He shuts the light off and Gyellhaal runs for his life. This is one of the most masterfully suspensful and terrifying moments of the film. You are on the edge of your seat wondering what is going to happen next, if this is the culmination of Gyellenhaal’s search, and will it end badly?
The second great scene from Zodiac is the lake scene, where we see a reenactment of the brutal and infamous Zodiac killings. Set on an idyllic California fall day, a beautiful couple relaxes by a crystal blue lake. The young woman peers into the distance remarking that “Someone else is here”. We cut to a shot of the Zodiac standing behind a tree. Cut back to the couple. Cut to the tree again, nothing. Then another shot where he walks slowly towards them, all in back. What’s so terrifying about the beginning of this scene is the quietness. All we hear is the chirping of cicadas, the swaying of the breeze. There’s no DUN DUN soundtrack as the Zodiac makes his way towards them, just a small recognition as he enters the frame. Slowly it dawns on us, as it does on the young woman, that he has a gun and he is something to fear. As the young man tries to coerce him, the Zodiac just stands there, all in black, face covered with a black mask, as the grass sways in the breeze. The dark black of his outfit against the bright colors makes it even more visually unsettling.
Tied and on their backs, the man faces his girlfriend and tells her, this is all going to be okay. If it was a typical horror film, I feel that as a big scare or jump moment we would’ve suddenly seen him screaming from being stabbed. Instead, Fincher cuts to the Zodiac taking out a knife, quickly and quietly. Before we know it, he is stabbing the man in the back and then the woman. The shot of her facing the camera as he stabs her in the stomach and chest is quite unsettling, there is no shying away. The eerie silence we once heard is now filled with screams and stabs. This scene is quite an unsettling depiction of the murders- something so horrid could happen on such a beautiful day.
“WHAT’S IN THE BOX???” Pitt famously screams. You don’t want to know…
This is the most famous scene in the film. This shows the beginnings of Fincher’s skill at thrills and suspense. As tensions rise, the camera shakily observes the frenzy of Pitt’s character, but remains still on the cold and calculating killer. The ending just keeps rolling with the punches, he’s killed his wife, he didn’t know she was pregnant, and Spacey’s sin is envy while Pitt will complete the cycle by committing wrath. This is one of the most memorable twists and endings in film history, and marks the true beginning of Fincher’s incredible career.
The Social Network
Featuring a rhythmic and innovate score by Trent Raznor and Atticus Ross, this scene probably defines the film. The camera glides from scene to scene of the college nightlife, girls making out, playing strip poker. The slow motion effects paired with the music is a perfect hybrid. There’s one shot of a guy leaning over the stairs looking at a group of students looking at their computers, effectively showing how quickly the Hot or Not-esque page was spreading. Fincher captures the college culture, cutting quickly between the different scenes and reactions to the spread of the site around campus.It’s hard to make people sitting around staring at a computer exciting, but Fincher succeeds.
Truthfully, it’s hard to pick just one scene out of Fight Club. Visually stunning, this is perhaps one of Fincher’s most stylish and significant films. There’s not just one scene that stands out, it’s all of the scenes. But, for the sake of choosing, there is one scene in particular that demonstrates Norton and Pitt’s chemistry and defines Tyler Durden’s character. This isn’t a hyper frenzied fighting scene in a dark basement, it’s a relatively quiet scene. (Despite that little thing called a chemical burn).
The camera remains still on Pitt and Norton, while Norton shakes and wriggles trying to escape. We cut between shots inside Norton’s mind, close-ups of dictonary words and dream-like visuals in his ‘happy place’ – a cold cave with Marla. Durden preaches his dogma, as each shot reveals the characters getting closer and closer to the screen. This shows how The Narrator is getting closer to being enraptured with Tyler’s preachings.
This is just one of the many, many striking scenes of the film. It’s hard to narrow down just one when the entire film is dripped in Fincher’s incredible vision.
In the hands of any other director, Panic Room would have probably just turned out to be another been-there seen-that invasion thriller. Fincher elevates the story with his, as usual, striking visuals and direction. This is one of the many suspenseful, heart-pounding scenes in the film. Shot in slow motion, we cut between the thieves downstairs and Jodie Foster taking a chance to get her cell phone. The music captures the feeling of what adrenaline sounds likes. We hear the lamp fall, but it’s muffled. More sound kicks in as the thieves run upstairs. The audience hangs in suspense -Will she make it? Will they catch her?- as Foster runs back to the panic room just in the nick of time.
David Fincher will go down in film history as one of the greatest directors. Even with these few snippets from his work, it is easy to see why. His current film, Gone Girl, also features a scene that is probably one of the most thrilling and shocking scenes of his career. I will be sure to come back and analyze it once it is released on DVD.