Se7en (1995) IMDb
A David Fincher film can be identified immediately by its style. He has a distinct signature that transcends through all of his films. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what makes a David Fincher film.
The color palette of his films are all very similar — they tend to consist of the combination of black and a complimenting color tone. Along with the black, this color tone offers symbolism that relates to the topic of the film.
Zodiac (2007) IMDb
In his film Zodiac, Fincher uses his usual black in combination with a dry, washed-out color tone. The black is used to illustrate the darkness and mystery associated with the Zodiac killer. The Zodiac’s face is never seen and his identity is never uncovered, we remain constantly in the dark to this character.
The washed-out tone is used to reflect both the time period of the film and the emotional state of the characters. When asked about the look that he aimed to achieve in the film, Fincher responds by saying, “reality is good enough for me, and that’s what we did” (Knapp, 118). The dry color palette offers a realistic and believable representation of the 1970’s time period in which the movie is set in, which establishes an authentic film environment that the audience can accept as reality.
The tired, washed-out tone also provides a direct reflection of the character’s emotional condition. The characters, specifically Robert Graysmith and Dave Toschi, have dedicated years of their lives in attempts to apprehend the killer. Their desperate and failed searches exhaust the characters and the people around them, this is clearly illustrated through the stale, worn color palette.
Fight Club (1999) IMDB
In Fight Club, the color palette does include the typical black. However, in this film, Fincher incorporates a blue tone to compliment the black. Resilvering is used in the film and according to Fincher, this technique “makes it really dense. The blacks become incredibly rich and kind of dirty” (Knapp, 57). This method enhances the dark, rough, and grimy environment of the film, whereas the addition of the blues eludes to a more industrial and masculine setting while also playing on the “black and blue” color combination that is associated with bruises obtained from fighting.
Fincher is famous for his use of low-key lighting and heavy use of shadows. This combination of lighting and shadows works together nicely with his use of restricted narration. The darkness of the lighting and the cloak provided by the shadows help create the surprise that is achieved through restricted narration.
Se7en (1995) IMDb
Since most of his films incorporate an element of mystery, this technique proves to be quite successful in keeping the audience “in the dark” throughout the film. His tendency to obscure the faces of his characters in shadows provides a sense of mystery to the characters but it also illustrates specific information about them, “I look at the shadows as being as important as the light, and the production design to be as telling as the costumes or acting… the lamp should be telling you something else, and the tie they’re wearing should be telling you something” (Knapp, 37).
Fincher realizes that every detail about a film is a chance to communicate with the audience, and concealing a character in a shadow can reveal aspects of their character psychology. In Se7en, John Doe’s face is usually obstructed by a shadow, conveying a dark and enigmatic personality; not only is John Doe’s way of thinking corrupt, but it is also twisted in a way that seems impossible to understand.
Lengthy tracking shots are a common tactic used by many different directors to add a stylistic camera element to their films. Therefore, this is not a trait unique to Fincher’s films. However, Fincher does extensively use this technique and places emphasis on the use of a dolly or boom.
He uses this camera action frequently not just because the movement is necessary to capture a scene properly but to add an extra layer of style and edge to his films. Fincher employs a fluid tracking camera with unlimited access to the environment — it appears to have the ability to travel through walls and solid objects.
Panic Room (2002) IMDb
Fincher knows that “the camera is completely unencumbered while the people are”( Knapp, 76). In Panic Room, the camera seems to move by its own free will. It flows up the stairs, inside the vents, and through even the impenetrable walls of the panic room.
Likewise, in Fight Club, Fincher deploys a tracking shot in which the camera smoothly pans down from an office where Tyler Durden is peering out a window, then continues the shot below to a parking garage, through a van, and then through another building.
These shots give the camera complete power over the scene, and as Fincher explains, “I think that there is something about that that tells the audience, “scream all you want no one can hear you. You can only watch” (Knapp, 76). This technique hands all the power over to the camera and reminds the audience that they have no control over the film; they may only view what the camera chooses.
The use of common themes is another trend that appears in each work directed by David Fincher.
Through his films (and film-quality series), Fincher enjoys exploring corruption in seemingly perfect, affluent environments. In an interview regarding Gone Girl, he explains that most people possess a “salacious interest of “what’s going on in that house at the end of the cul-de-sac? It can’t be all that it appears to be” (Taubin).
The Social Network (2010) IMDb
Gone Girl, The Social Network, and House of Cards all center around a prosperous setting: a wealthy neighborhood in Gone Girl, the Harvard campus in The Social Network, and Washington D.C in House of Cards. All three environments are associated with successful and well-off citizens.
However, in all of these works, Fincher chooses to focus on the corruption that occurs there. The elaborate lies in Gone Girl, the disloyalty in The Social Network, and the political corruption in House of Cards all place a spotlight on the flaws in these seemingly ideal settings.
Fincher also seems to be fond of unreliable narrators, which he incorporates in both Gone Girl and Fight Club. Both films make use of a narrator, Amy in Gone Girl, and the unnamed narrator in Fight Club, which leads the story astray. This use of an unreliable character helps achieve a sense of surprise in Fincher’s films and compliments the restricted narration that is also commonly used by him.
Gone Girl (2014) IMDb
It seems that a rebel character is also always incorporated into a film directed by Fincher. In Se7en, detective Mills is not a typical tweed-wearing detective; he wears wrinkled, unbuttoned shirts with leather jackets and will attempt to solve a case using any means possible.
Similarly in Zodiac, cartoonist Robert Graysmith disregards his job to solve a case that he should not have any involvement in. This character trait is echoed yet again in Mindhunter, where we see Agent Holden Ford continuously disobey FBI protocol. In all three cases, the characters neglect to follow the standards normally assigned to their roles.
Mindhunter (2017) IMDb
A film directed by David Fincher can always be identified as his work. His integration of dark colors combined with the use of a fluid camera and common themes that appear in all of his work supplies Fincher with a specific signature. Although Fincher chooses to direct a broad range of films, these elements are consistently present and allow Fincher to leave his unique stamp on every work he directs.